Jack Haig and building a home far from his comfort zone

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Jack Haig has done a lot of living for a 30-year-old. Most cyclists have by the time they reach that age. Like athletes in many international sports, cyclists go through lots of passport stamps.

Yet, out of all cyclists, Australians like Haig have even longer journeys, without the luxury of a continent full of professional racing on their doorstep.

For Australians, that circumstance often leads to one pretty uncomfortable choice: move continents or straddle two sides of the globe, two identities and a fractured lifestyle.

“It’s changed a bit since I started as a professional,” Haig told GCN in Canada ahead of the GP Québec.

“The world has become smaller so it is easier to be a professional from a non-European country. But it’s also harder to live in Europe.

“Back when I started my career, I decided that my life would be in Europe. A lot of riders tried to go to and from the US, UK, and Australia in the off-season, but now you see guys spend more and more time in Europe. With that comes a better overall level.”

Read more: Matteo Jorgenson and the blessings of a life-time of near-misses

Yet, that level increase has a cost for foreign riders who have to cross an ocean from their homes: “The last time I was in Australia was 2016. It’s been so long that I don’t really have a network in Australia anymore.”

That, according to Haig, is the big personal cost incurred by Australians in the WorldTour.

While the cost may have been high, to begin with, Haig has taken to it well. He has moved to Andorra, got married, had a child and become an experienced rider on the WorldTour after years of being slated as Australia’s next big hope. Haig has crafted a nice career for himself, but still, it has come at a price – one that he could only recognise at this point in his journey.

“When I get a result it might get some coverage, but if I would go back no one outside of my family and friends would know me. Fortunately, I have had a good enough career to make a good living, but for a lot of Australians, it is a big risk to go to Europe and move away from your network instead of going to university or something closer to home.”

Even still, looking back now, with more of his career as a cyclist behind him than in front of him, Haig feels like he wouldn’t change a thing. In fact, for Haig that big life choice started as quite a small one, before his life in Europe snowballed into what it is today.

“The way that it came about was that I was riding for GreenEdge and it’s normal for the team to ask the Australians around September when they would like their plane tickets back to Australia,” he explained about the start of his European adventure.

“By then I had my residency in Andorra and I kind of had more things in Europe than in Australia. I kind of knew that if I was going to be a successful professional cyclist I needed to make Europe my home and stop living this transient life.”

That off-season in Europe brought with it some time for Haig to set up shop in Andorra even further, outside of the frantic day-to-day lifestyle of an in-season cyclist. Before long, Haig felt a foothold in the Pyrenees and it quickly became home.

“After that, I accumulated more life things and I met my wife and we got a dog and it all got a bit hard, so I just kept staying.”

The pathway forward

Considering the sacrifices made, Haig is ultimately very happy to be a bike racer and felt like his path to being a bike racer really could have only gone one way. The future, like it was for Haig when he was a young pro turning down the ticket to his childhood home, is an exciting unknown.

“That’s a very strange question and it’s one I get a lot in the off-season when I am going to dinner with my wife’s friends or going to school with my kid,” Haig said when asked what are things he might want to do when the time comes to hang up his wheels. “Honestly, I have no idea.”

“It really comes down to what network I can have after I am done with cycling and what opportunities there are, whether we stay in Andorra and I do some remote work or if the easiest thing is to move back to Australia where everyone speaks the language I am most comfortable with.”

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In fact, even if a university degree is something Haig let go of with his move to Europe, it is ultimately immaterial to Haig personally.

“Honestly, I am not someone who sees a ton of value in a university degree,” Haig said. “Most people don’t use their degrees for their careers. It seems like it’s more a confirmation of the skills that they have. It’s the way of checking a box as a way of telling someone on a resumé that you can do something, even if it’s unrelated.”

That is not to say university degrees are not important for everyone, it was just not something that Haig saw himself doing in the first place. So while he recognises that that, for some, is a big hurdle to overcome, for him moving from Australia and choosing to put roots in Europe is more about the sacrifice in a personal sense.

“For me, I never enjoyed school because I didn’t see it as a means to an end to getting a good job and living a good life. There were maybe more things that I could have done to network and take more opportunities outside of the bike – not be so focused on just the sport. But there is always the flip side that if you are not as focused on the sport you don’t get so far.

“When it comes down to it, I think it really comes down to communication skills and problem-solving. If you can do those things, and demonstrate that, all you need to do is meet one person that opens a door to some opportunity. Then, you can go from there.”

The path behind

Where Haig has come from and where he might go after his career is, at this moment, truly secondary for the Australian, with many of his good racing years still ahead of him.

Nevertheless, for Haig and his whole Bahrain Victorious team, 2023 was a season where looking at the bigger story of life was inescapable. With Gino Mäder’s death at the Tour de Suisse, each rider on the team had cause to reflect.

Yet, in cycling teams, it can be a challenge to foster a collective spirit beyond the small groups that do the same races since there is so much mismatching of race programmes and travel throughout the calendar. This makes things like processing a collective season or reflecting as a group, challenging.

“It’s quite different because, in cycling, you might not see a teammate for the year,” Haig said. “So, some of the guys I am racing here with I haven’t raced with, so you can’t reflect with them. Others, like Matej [Mohorič] who I did the Tour with, we can talk a bit, but really you come here and enjoy being a bit calmer at a race.”

Read more: Matej Mohorič and the pursuit of selfless cycling

As for Haig himself, his season was just about wrapped up at the GP Québec. While he did not have quite the success of past seasons in the Grand Tours, he made consistent showings in the one-week stage races across his calendar, with a third place at the Tour of the Alps, a fifth place at the Critérium du Dauphiné and a 10th at Paris-Nice. He also built a wealth of experience through riding the Giro d’Italia, Dauphiné and Tour consecutively.

Most importantly, Haig has two more years guaranteed at Bahrain Victorious to try and find success in Grand Tour racing. As he was about to line up for his final races of the season, Haig could only look positively at the off-season ahead.

“Normally there are a couple of phases to the off-season, so for example this year my last race will be the GP Montreal,” Haig said. “After Montreal, I fly directly to Lisbon and meet my family. We will spend some time in Portugal enjoying the beach without my bike.”

“The off-season has changed a little bit. When I first turned professional, I enjoyed doing more adventure-style holidays. We went to Hong Kong, Japan, India Sri Lanka, and Morocco, we’d kinda travel and backpack around. But in 2021 we had a kid and having a kid makes it a bit more difficult to do adventure-type holidays, so we’ve calmed that more. A year after I podiumed the Vuelta we hired a camper van and went travelling around Portugal for three weeks without a bike, surfing, running and hiking – living like an old person, basically.”

Then, as November comes around, it is back to the grindstone for the new season – and camps, camps, camps.

“Generally I take about four weeks without the bike, but it’s four weeks of active things. Then slowly you get back to training. It gets quite cold in Andorra but now with cycling, you do so many training camps it is hardly an issue.

“At Bahrain, we do a two-week training camp in December, a two-week training in January and then, with the Australian races coming back, you go to Australia and you escape quite a bit of the winter. In February you go to the Canary Islands for two weeks and then you’re racing. The winter passes quite fast.”

This season, the winter will fly by even faster as Haig will return to Australia for the first time in over seven years for the Tour Down Under. Beyond that, Haig will be going into the unknown, with his programme still to be determined.

Nevertheless, when Haig lands in Adelaide, what is certain is he will look at his former home countries with different eyes from the last time. A visitor, if you will, to his own homeland.

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