It's a bumper field in the fight for the yellow jersey at the 2021 Tour de France and Bendigo local Jack Haig (Bahrain Victorious) is coming into the race with a formline that has gradually seen him improve across the season to the point where he enters the biggest stage in cycling as a contender to finish high on the general classification.
Haig spoke to SBS Cycling Central from his home in Andorra about the approaching Tour de France, his off-season switch to Bahrain Victorious and how the arrival of his first child has brought new perspective to his life and cycling.
"It's quite exciting for me this year, I've had a few more leadership roles in some of the bigger races and I'm slowly getting there with some results," said Haig. "We sat down at the beginning of the season and went through the pros and cons of each Grand Tour that's happening this year.
"(Mikel) Landa really wanted to target the Giro, the time trial kilometres in the Tour this year made it a bit hard for him to go for the GC this year. Then it was going to be myself and Wout Poels going to the Tour de France to potentially see how we could go on GC.
"But one of the big goals was to go to the Tour de France and be an active team, not necessarily have everyone there to ride for GC but to race a bit like we've been racing recently where we've been trying to put people in the breakaways, take opportunities where we can and be a bit more of an attacking-style team."
So while it won't be all-in for Haig at the Tour de France, recent experience with Damiano Caruso as runner-up at the Giro d'Italia and Haig himself riding to fifth at the Dauphine, has shown that Bahrain Victorious can manage a GC bid along with an attacking focus. Recent success for the team was far from an assured thing at the start of the season, with the departure of general manager Rod Ellingworth from the team seeing a disrupted start to the year.
"The first few months of the season were... not a disaster, but didn't operate super smoothly," said Haig. "People were in new roles that maybe they didn't expect to be in and maybe now those people are more comfortable in those roles.
"When I was in contract negotiations we were talking with Rod and thinking that Mclaren was going to be involved in the team for the forseeable future. I had to adjust my expectations and maybe that meant there was more of a transition period than would be normal.
"But it's been really good. I've met a lot of new people with new ideas and exciting things have happened. Every team has a good and a bad side to it. I do miss the Mitchelton (Team BikeExchange) guys quite a bit. I always go over to the bus at the start of races and have a chat to the staff and the riders, they're still really good friends of mine."
With Sonny Colbrelli, Caruso, Haig and Mark Padun lighting up the results sheet and the road for the Bahrain Victorious squad, there's an air of ambition heading into the Tour de France. It's a race that has attracted a stellar cast of candidates for the yellow jersey in Paris and Haig hopes to make the most of his chances in a stacked field, watching out for points to attack in addition to a focus on the time trials.
"One thing I've put some pressure on myself to improve this year - as there are not so many mountains opportunities in the race - is my time-trialling," said Haig. "There's 55 kilometres of time-trialling, over an hour and that's where a lot of time will be made and lost. I think you can see through the year that I've slowly improved each time trial and I was happy with my performance in the one at the Criterium du Dauphine.
"The team's invested more into research and development there because the technology side of the sport is becoming more important, especially in time-trialling and you see that with the top teams."
The dynamics of the top riders coming to the race is one that Haig hopes to benefit from, he referenced having to follow the best teams mountains trains for most of the race, but is looking to also exploit those key moments when the race splits up.
"We have a lot of teams coming to the Tour with multiple leaders, INEOS and Astana and I think you'll see more of this attacking style like we saw at the Dauphine. One rider going up the road and the others playing the numbers behind. I think it will be more of a tactical race and you'll have to pick and choose your moves wisely.
"You also have Movistar with Lopez and Enric Mas, who have to gain time ahead of those time trials."
The preparations for the Tour are essentially done for Haig, who now has a bit of time to spend his family, having recently welcomed a child with wife Ana. It's a shift in perspective for Haig, who freely acknowledges the 'selfish' focus imposed by his career, having to adapt to a new priority within the home.
"We've been trying to spend some time together as a family and getting to know the new routine of having another person in the family," said Haig. "Cycling's not that team sport, where if you play soccer or football you go to the club and have food made for you there, all your training there, all the resources you need in that one place.
"I think in cycling your home life and how your partner at home and your family has a massive impact on the performance you can do in races. It's something that I've been very lucky with, my partner has been very supportive of what I do and we've made a lot of sacrifices to do this sport.
"Athletes... in certain environments were incredibly selfish people, but it's the reality of the sport and sometimes you have to make those sacrifices to achieve what you want to achieve.
"It's difficult, adjusting to having a baby, because you're used to being the centre of attention as the athlete in the family. Having everything looked after for you, at least I was very lucky with my partner in that respect. Now, there's something more important than me in the family and we're having to adjust and take some more time but it's been quite rewarding."
With the hard work done, a strong plan of attack and a happy, healthy life at home, Haig is approaching the 2021 Tour de France in a very balanced frame of mind. The 27-year-old has long been tipped by Australians in the know to make a big impact in the top races in the world and he looks to be in a good spot to produce a top performance and hopefully a result to match on the world's biggest stage.
Every moment of the 2021 Tour de France will be live on SBS, with the ŠKODA Tour Tracker app, SBS TV and the SBS Cycling Central the place to be to catch all the pulsating action from France from June 26 to July 18.