Back to basics: Jack Haig on his breakthrough win and the importance of fun

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On a hilly stage 6 of the 2017 Tour of Poland, Jack Haig (Orica-Scott) got himself into a group of GC favourites, attacked on his own with about 20km to go, then rode his way to an impressive solo victory. It was a significant win, not just because he’d beaten some of the world’s best along the way — Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), Wout Poels (Sky) and Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin) were in the group behind — but because it was his first win as a professional. And all in a WorldTour race, no less.

“It’s a really good feeling,” Haig said at the time. “I think to do it on a stage that was so hard and with so many good guys preparing for the Vuelta, it made it even more special.”

Special it was, and also the culmination of many years’ hard work.

The final kilometres of stage 6 of the 2017 Tour of Poland.

Haig joined the WorldTour ranks with Orica-Scott (then Orica-BikeExchange) at the start of 2016 after an impressive rise through the sport. He’d started his career as a mountain biker before switching to the road with the dominant Australian setup then known as Huon-Genesys (now IsoWhey SwissWellness). There he secured some impressive results, including overall wins at the Tour of Tasmania and Battle on the Border in Australia’s National Road Series, a series he won in 2013.

He rode strongly in his time with the Jayco-AIS WorldTour Academy in Italy as well, highlighted by his second overall at the 2015 Tour de l’Avenir.

He impressed as a neo-pro too, highlighted by his second overall at the 2016 Tour of Slovenia. But it was with his stage win in Poland this year that Haig proved to the cycling world — and to himself — that he had what it takes to compete at the highest level of the sport.

“You sort of always think you can make it, when you’re coming through, but until you actually do it you don’t 100% know,” Haig told CyclingTips at the recent Tour of Guangxi. “You’re always like ‘Oh yeah, I reckon I can maybe one day … give it time, I’ll get there’ but it’s not until you actually do it that it sort of clicks.”

Haig has taken a significant leap forward in 2017, and not just with his stage win in Poland. He finished that race in eighth overall, before going on to a very respectable 21st at the Vuelta a España. He managed to get inside the top 20 on six occasions at that race, including 10th on stage 6, in a group of the race’s best climbers.

Haig agrees that he’s progressed well this year, but he’s quick to add that it’s not just on the bike that he’s starting to find his place.

“I think being [a] first year [pro], there’s so many other things you have to organise when you come from Australia to Europe,” said the now-second-year professional. “You organise your residency, your visa, or your house — all this kind of stuff. And in the second year I sort of had all that stuff organised and I could focus on just the riding and the training.

“I think that helped take the next step in the cycling. But also just feeling more comfortable within the team. You’re just happier.”

All of these factors led to Haig’s breakthrough victory at the Tour of Poland, a result which gave the 24-year-old added confidence going into the remainder of his season. And it’s been a busy back-half of the year for the Victorian, with the Tour of Poland being followed by the Vuelta a España, the Road World Championships, three one-day races in Italy (culminating with Il Lombardia), and, finally, the inaugural Tour of Guangxi.

“I sort of went into those Italian one-day races or to the Vuelta, instead of being like ‘Oh maybe I’ll be there, close to the finish’ I’m like ‘No, I should be there. I showed that in Poland. So I should be there.” I think that confidence helps a lot.”

Speaking at the Tour of Guangxi, Haig admitted he was ready for his season to be over. But that didn’t stop him riding strongly in the Chinese tour, finishing 19th on the race’s queen stage en route to the same placing overall. Haig also got up the road on stage 3 in a breakaway that would lead for much of the stage.

But as the Tour of Guangxi ended, so too did Haig’s 2017 season. He headed to Hong Kong afterwards for a week-long holiday, before returning to his European base in Andorra. Just as he did after the 2016 season, Haig will remain in Europe over the off-season, rather than returning to Australia.

“It’s hard to have anything that feels like ‘home’ with so much travel, but the closest thing I have is my house in Andorra,” Haig told CyclingTips from his base in the tiny European principality. “I really enjoy just unwinding up in the mountains, enjoying the quiet and sometimes alone time I can have here.”

Haig plans to make the most of his off-season before training begins for the new season.

“I really enjoyed getting back into skiing last winter, so I will be doing some more again this year to help start my training for next year when the weather is too cold for riding,” he said. “Maybe I’ll head to Nice in France for a little bit to see some friends there. Then I’ll drive up through the Alps doing some hiking and camping for a little bit before I get back onto the bike.”

Haig skipped the Australian summer of racing this year and instead began his season at the Abu Dhabi Tour in late February. While the specifics are yet to be confirmed, he’ll likely take a similar approach in 2018.

“At the moment the race calendar isn’t 100% set, but I’m pretty sure I won’t be racing in Australia,” he said. “After finishing so late this year with Tour of Guangxi it’s hard to have a good off-season and then build back into really good shape for the Australian summer.”

Instead, Haig will work towards other goals later in the year.

“I would really like to do the Giro next year,” he said. “After doing the Vuelta the last two years it would be nice to set a new challenge and head to the Giro. I also still really enjoy Italy after I spent one-and-a-half years there with the national team. It’s a place I always love going back to.”

Also among Haig’s goals for 2018 is a return to the Road World Championships. The 2018 event will be held in Innsbruck, Austria and will feature a very challenging road race course. It’s a challenge Haig is keen for.

“After doing my first elite Worlds this year and with a really hilly course next year I would like to set a goal of making the Australian team again and having another opportunity to represent the country.”

But as Haig heads towards his third season as a professional, it isn’t just specific races that he’s got in mind. He’s also trying to get his general approach right, to “just keep progressing”.

“I think something that I tried to focus on a lot this year was just doing the basic things right,” Haig said. “Just making sure that I train hard, I rest and I just try and do nothing silly. Just the basic things.

“I think as long as you keep consistently working hard and not doing anything crazy you’ll just slowly keep progressing. And I think it’s overcomplicated a lot of the time.”

Speaking to Haig, it’s clear he’s enjoying his racing, and the life that professional cycling has afforded him. That positivity is something he’s keen to harness, to help guide him through next season and beyond.

“I want to keep having fun, enjoying, smiling and taking in all the experiences we get as professional cyclists,” he said. “I think if I can keep doing all those things, continue to keep learning and putting in the hard work, I can hopefully have another good season.”

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