• Jack Haig celebrates his third place overall at the Tour of Utah (Getty)Source: Getty
He is currently Simon Yates’s trusted deputy at the Vuelta a España, but could Jack Haig one day be leading his own red jersey campaign? And might he need to leave Mitchelton-Scott to do it?
By
Kieran Pender

Source:
Cycling Central
27 Aug 2018 - 11:45 AM  UPDATED 28 Aug 2018 - 10:38 PM

Jack Haig first entered the collective consciousness of the Australian cycling community in October 2013.

As that year’s edition of the Tour of Tasmania began, it was commonly believed the eight-stage race was to be a fond farewell for local rider Nathan Earle.

The Tasmanian dominated the National Road Series and was about to depart Huon-Genesys (now Bennelong SwissWellness), after securing a contract with Team Sky.

Haig had other ideas.

He took the yellow jersey from his more fancied team-mate on an early stage and rode with panache throughout the race. 

But on the queen’s stage near Devonport, disaster struck. Haig punctured halfway up the fearsome Gunns Plains climb, and it momentarily seemed his general classification ambitions were over. But, in an impressive display of perseverance, Haig recovered to finish fourth.

From then on, the Tour of Tasmania title – and his eventual elevation to the WorldTour – were never in doubt.

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Fast forward five years, and the Queenslander continues to go from strength to strength.

After a break-out 2017, where he finished 21st at the Vuelta, Haig is back in Spain as part of Simon Yates’ bid for the red jersey.

Already this year the 24-year-old has ridden the Giro d’Italia, where he helped Yates to three stage wins and two weeks in pink, and finished third overall in his own right at the Tour of Utah.

Mitchelton-Scott rewarded Haig’s 2018 form with a new contract, despite his existing deal not running out until next year. Haig will now be with the Australian team until the end of 2020.

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“Jack is for me definitely the next Australian general classification rider,” Mitchelton-Scott sports director Matt White tells Cycling Central in Spain. “For sure, for sure,” he adds for emphasis.

“He’s there already for one-week races, and is not that far away from riding high-level WorldTour races leading our team.”

It is high praise and echoed by Andrew Christie-Johnston, who was Haig's team manager during his formative stint with Huon-Genesys.

“It didn’t take long to realise that Jack had huge potential,” he explains.

“Right from his first few races, we knew we had a special talent in the team. Working with Jack was easy – he was an extremely dedicated athlete who never took shortcuts.”

‘ACJ’, as Christie-Johnston is known, has helped countless Australian cyclists through the domestic ranks and the World Tour.

But he believes Haig is truly special.

“I wouldn’t like to put a ceiling on Jack,” he says. “Even if I did no doubt he would just prove me wrong anyway.”

As if to prove the point, Haig finished 11th during a tough second stage of the Vuelta on Sunday and now sits 24th overall, just ahead of Team Sky's David De La Cruz and only 50 seconds behind race leader Michal Kwiatkowski.

“I believe Jack has the potential to ride general classification at a grand tour and I for one can’t wait to see him really progress over the next few years,” Christie-Johnston continues. “He has come on in leaps and bounds.”

It remains an open question, though, whether that opportunity will come with Mitchelton-Scott.

“He is a couple of years away from leading a team at a grand tour, but what we’re seeing with his numbers and his tactics – it’s just a matter of time.”

Currently, Yates, his brother Adam and Esteban Chaves all stand in Haig’s way. With three legitimate contenders and Mitchelton-Scott targeting the general classification, will the Australian get his chance?

“The season is long,” offers White. “At the end of the day, Jack has never podiumed in a World Tour event.

“If people are talking about development, you have to tick one box before you get to the next one. The Yates brothers come off contract in two years, Esteban in one year – who knows what the future will bring?”

White cautions against overhyping Haig.

“People get carried away – they see flashes of brilliance from guys and think they are the next GC guy. It’s certainly possible but you have to do it first at the WorldTour level, then up to the grand tour.”

That is not to suggest White isn’t confident of Haig’s potential.

“He is a couple of years away from leading a team at a grand tour, but what we’re seeing with his numbers and his tactics – it’s just a matter of time.”

Haig benefits from an all-around skill-set. In addition to his climbing skills, he can also time trial and descend.

“He has great handling – most mountain bikers do,” adds White.

If Haig goes on to become a true general classification contender, he won’t be the first Tour of Tasmania winner to challenge at a grand tour.

Other names on that illustrious honour roll include Tour de France winner Cadel Evans, BMC Racing’s Richie Porte and even legendary Sir Hubert ‘Oppy’ Opperman.

It’s a long way from Gunns Plains to the Alpe d'Huez.

Jack Haig has already impressed on one. In a few years, he’ll impress on the other.

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