Jack Haig | Finding His Bearings
The 2018 Giro d’Italia didn’t end the way that Mitchelton-SCOTT might have hoped. After thirteen days in the lead, Simon Yates' campaign to win the Corsa Rosa fell a few days short. But, it's another important step forward for the squad, now becoming a fully-fledged GC team with several potential grand tour winners, all on the upswing of their careers.
This year’s squad is likely the most well rounded they’ve carried into a three-week race, highlighted by the dual option of Yates and Chaves for the overall. They also had a stunning array of world-class domestiques, Mikel Nieve and Roman Kreuziger to name a couple.
Mitchelton-SCOTT also had another Grand Tour revelation in Jack Haig, who emerged from the race with his reputation strengthened as a true climbing talent. If you had a domestique MVP for this year’s Giro, Haig, FDJ’s Seb Reichenbach, and Team Sunweb’s Sam Oomen probably make up your boxed trifecta. Haig was superb over the course of the three weeks, shredding the bunch in service of the Mitchelton-SCOTT leaders on more than one occasion.
It’s part of the steady progression that Haig’s seen over the past few years. He's now reaching the point where he’s playing a crucial role in some of the world’s biggest races.
“It was really cool to feel properly a part of the race. I always hoped I’d be able to reach that level or be that type of rider, but until you do, it’s only like a hope or dream," he said.
“I had a moment down one descent where Simon was in the Pink Jersey on my wheel, and we’re at the front of the small-reduced group. When I watched the TDF or I watched the Giro, it was like Andy Schleck or Alberto Contador in the leader’s jersey with their team. You watch thinking it’d be pretty cool to be part of that team, and I’m actually that person now."
The three-week race, where Mitchelton-SCOTT held the Maglia Rosa longer than any other team, proved to be a true test for Haig.
“In under-23s I had some hints that maybe I have the ability, but until you do it in the World Tour peloton, it’s just a dream. That was a real confidence boost, a real reward for all the hard work I’d put in. It clicked a little bit, I’m actually where I want to be in cycling.”
His influence was race-changing on several days throughout the tour. One stage, Haig said, was particularly memorable. It was Stage 11 from Assisi to Osima. Yates won that day in a hectic rolling finale, with Mitchelton-SCOTT shaking the race up over the final rolling climbs, setting the stage for Yates to attack up the finishing ascent.
“Everything finally clicked there, and I felt like I was a decisive person in that stage, making an effort and Simon finishing as well as he did. At the end, I was like 'oh, that's pretty sweet, we basically decided the stage.' The start of the day, we said we want to win with Simon, and it happened. It couldn’t have gone much better than it did.”
The commanding lead that Yates built in the first few weeks was largely due to a team that maturely coped with every situation handed to them. Mitchelton-SCOTT had stepped up to the plate.
“On the whole, everyone on the team stepped up when we had the jersey. We were never in too much trouble. We always managed to have the right break, or get the right combination. We were never in an “oh shit” situation," Haig said.
"It’s a nervous, excited atmosphere; everyone’s in awe of the fact that we’re leading the Giro… Every day was pretty cool; you’re on the bus and there’s Simon putting on his Pink Jersey; you’re in the peloton, and you’re riding next to Simon in the Pink Jersey.”
This year's Giro d'Italia shows Mitchelton-SCOTT's clear intent and their growing firepower for future Grand Tour challenges. Their ambition of becoming a GC squad is finally taking shape. With 5 stage wins from the race (3 from Yates, 1 each from Chaves and Nieve), and spending so long in the jersey, made this race an immeasurably valuable experience. Mitchelton-SCOTT have had Grand Tours where they’ve been in the mix before, however, this was the first time they’ve carried a jersey for so long, or been the leading team during the pivotal moments of the race. Their ability to handle that is a massive step forward.
“We were quite confident in the form they [Esteban and Simon] had, going into the Giro. The team started with a quite realistic goal; finishing with one of them on the podium. So it wasn’t a surprise when they started going well. What did surprise us, was how well the whole team did; everyone on the team was in super form, and everyone stepped up to another level,” Haig said.
Mitchelton-SCOTT were huge contributors to the full-on racing seen at this year’s Giro. It was one of the hardest and fastest in recent memory, thanks to a punishing course, back-loaded with the toughest stages right up until they reached Rome. Just watching it on the TV was tiring; actually riding it would be something else entirely.
“Almost every day was full gas. We had one easy-ish day, but if you ask anyone in the peloton, it’s the hardest Grand Tour they’ve ever done,” Haig recalled.
“It was the course, but mainly the way we raced and the way cycling’s evolving now. Everyone’s so hungry, and everyone’s trying to get results, and there’s more pressure and it leads to more aggressive and hard racing. Gone are the days not racing until TV comes on, because there’s TV from start to finish now. There’s so much more pressure now."
A role as one of the lead domestiques, for a main contender at the Giro, provides a valuable experience. It’s also a fairly obvious stepping stone on the pathway to future leadership roles at these races. With Haig ascending to this point in his fourth year as a pro and aged only 24, leadership opportunities aren’t too far away.
“Every year, I’ve progressed steadily, and the Giro was definitely a bigger step that I’ve made previously. But I’ve always taken little steps at every single race or in every single year.”
“The entire Giro I was rooming with Simon. Just seeing how much time he spends with the media, hanging out with him, and just talking about his day is really insightful. You just try to absorb every little bit of information he passes on.”
The immediate future holds a leadership opportunity too. Haig will be at the Tour de Suisse, starting this Saturday. Unsure of his form, the team hasn’t heaped on pressure. It’s hard to know how the body might react to the efforts of the Giro, and the two weeks since.
“You can try and do everything right in the two weeks between the Giro and Suisse. You can tick all the boxes, get sleep, eat well, train well. But when you go to Suisse, your body can just go 'yeah, nah, not happening mate'. Or, you might do nothing and think you’ve done everything wrong and then get to Suisse, and go 'oh wow I’m going good'.”
If he’s got the form, there won’t be many better races to jump in targeting the overall; the World Cup’s June time slot means the TDF is starting a week later than usual. As a result, there’s a stacked field at Suisse: Richie Porte, Nairo Quintana, Jakob Fuglsang, and Mikel Landa to name a few.
“I’ve never done Suisse before, I’ve always done [the Critérium du] Dauphiné. It’s quite an interesting course. There’s a Teams Time Trial which should suit us; we’ve always done well in them and we have a strong team going. The last stage is a really long individual time trial; there are two summit finishes, with the rest are lumpy circuits."
A varied course means the nine stages through Switzerland should have something for everyone and provide a good test of Haig’s capabilities, should he arrive there in good condition.
“I’m not putting any pressure on myself, and nor is the team, for me to perform well. We’re going to go in hoping I have good legs, and use it as a bit of a learning experience.”
See you back at the Social Club,