Since Jack Haig moved to Bahrain Victorious at the start of the 2021 season, one goal has dominated his career, his dreams and so his season: the Tour de France.
This year, however, the Australian’s Grand Tour ambitions have changed from chasing yellow to chasing the maglia rosa at the Giro d’Italia.
Haig is not a great time trialist revelling in this edition’s heavy dose of kilometres in the discipline, or a pure climber that is suited to the steep ascents in the Alps and Dolomites but there is nevertheless a very good reason behind his change of Grand Tour goals.
“Because I crashed the last two times at the Tour de France and I was a bit fed up with it,” Haig tells Cyclingnews, quickly breaking into a bout of laughter, adding – just in case there was any doubt – “It’s basically the only reason.”
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Who can blame him, the last two years at the Tour de France have been unequivocally rotten.
His first foray as Bahrain Victorious leader in 2021 came to a grinding halt when he broke his collarbone on stage 3 to Pontivy, an injury that also took him out of the Australian Olympic Games road race team. However, at least that year he could redeem his season, and in spectacular fashion.
Haig lined up at the Vuelta a España not even knowing he would be there until ten days before the start, but at the end was standing on his first Grand Tour overall podium.
However his misfortune returned at the 2022 Tour de France when he was knocked from the bike on stage 5, suffering a multiple fractures in his wrist that ended not only his race but his season.
“To be honest the most frustrating thing is that the two crashes I had at the Tour de France I don’t think were of any fault, it was just bad luck,” Haig explains.
“Normally, touch wood, I don’t actually crash very often. Those two injuries – the collarbone and my wrist – are the only two injuries I’ve had in cycling, I think, so it’s kind of frustrating.”
Early season struggles
Haig’s wrist injury lead to a full six months without racing, and almost ten weeks without riding outside which the 29-year-old said is “I think the most time I’ve ever had off the bike”.
After that there was no stunning bounce back, like he delivered at the Vuelta in 2021, when Haig started his 2023 season in January at the Vuelta a Andalucia Ruta Ciclista Del Sol. There he came 11th overall, then headed to Paris Nice in March where he moved one step up the results table to tenth overall. After that it was Volta a Catalunya where his best stage finish was 18th and he, along with many others, registered a DNF in the final stage.
“I really struggled this year after coming back from the wrist injury,” said Haig. “I was really hoping to have better results in Paris-Nice and Catalunya and for whatever reason it just didn’t work out and I didn’t have the level.”
The Tour of the Alps, however, delivered a much more reassuring tone. He often went on the attack on the mountain finish, hurting the Ineos Grenadiers mountain train that was riding for Tao Geoghegan Hart.
“It’s coming now, more or less, which is nice,” Haig said, referring to his form. “But I was struggling a little bit the first part of the season, not really knowing what was going on, why I wasn’t more at the front.”
Haig walked away from the five stage Tour of the Alps with third overall, behind Tao Geoghegan Hart (Ineos Grenadiers) and Hugh Carthy (EF Education-EasyPost). More importantly, he was reassured that he is coming into the type of form that will help him target the maglia rosa and the top five in the overall classification at the Giro d’Italia.
“I wanted a confirmation that the work I’d done in the altitude camp in Tenerife was on the right track,” said Haig during the Tour of the Alps.
“The idea is not to be going 100% here but to tick the box and go right, I can go home, relax, not stress too much about trying to chase form or chase anything then come to the Giro with fresh legs, fresh mind.”
Giro d’Italia goals
Haig rode his first Giro in 2018 while riding with the Australian GreenEdge squad – its current incarnation being Jayco-AlUla – where he impressed with his staying power on the climbs in aid of his team leaders Esteban Chaves and Simon Yates.
He then returned to the race in 2020, but the Australian team left that late season edition early, withdrawing due to a cluster of COVID-19 cases within it.
This time, after having established himself as a team Grand Tour leader when he made the switch to Bahrain-Victorious in 2021.
Remco Evenepoel and Primož Roglič are expected to set the standard for the race as the clear favourites for the maglia rosa, though when it comes to that final position on the podium it looks to be a much more open battle.
“There is probably a group from third to eighth that is really quite close,” Haig predicts.
“If any of us want to beat Evenepoel and Roglič we probably need to look for opportunities and bad moments those two might have and for the racing between ourselves, it is obviously quite tricky and also opportunistic as well.”
Haig will line up at the Giro as a supported rider for the first time. sharing leadership with Italian veteran Damiano Caruso and Colombian climber Santiago Buitrago. Gino Mäder also on the final eight-rider roster but Bahrain Victorious have plenty of strong rivals beyond the two favourites.
They include the two riders that he finished on the podium with at the Tour of the Alps, Geoghegan Hart and Carthy, João Almeida and his UAE Team Emirates teammate Jay Vine, Lennard Kämna and Aleksandr Vlasov of Bora-Hansgrohe and 2018 Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers).
“If I can make top five I’d be very happy with the result to be honest, I think realistically looking at the names on paper,” Haig says.
“To finish in front of Primoz or Remco, if they have no problems, I think is incredibly difficult so top 5 would be something that I would be super happy with.”
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