Thursday, May 3, 2012

Giro d'Italia Rider Profile: Juan Jose Haedo...

The 95th edition of the Giro d'Italia begins this Saturday, May 5th, which means it is time for another rider profile. Argentina-born Juan Jose Haedo celebrated his 31st birthday earlier this year, and kicks off his tenth year in the professional peloton. Before he turned his attention to road racing, Haedo competed on the oval of the velodrome, where he developed the power, speed and jump which would later aid him in becoming a top-class sprinter in the peloton. During those years on the track he captured both Junior and Senior National Championships in Argentina, as well as multiple medals in the Pan-American Games of 1999 and 2000.

the author's photo of Juan Jose Haedo at the 2011 Amgen Tour of California

By 2003 Haedo had become completely focused on the road, and between that time and 2006 while based in the United States, he contested many of the most prominent races on the domestic circuit, where his powerful sprint frequently propelled him to the podium's top three steps. Among, but not limited to, those placings during 2003 and 2004 were 1st at the 2003 Colavita Bolla Cup in Florida, 3rd at the 2004 McLane Pacific Cycling Classic, and 1st at the 2004 American Airlines Pro-Am Challenge.

The year 2004 saw him pick up stage wins at the McLane Pacific Cycling Classic, Redlands Bicycle Classic, Fitchburg Longsjo Classic, Tour de 'Toona, and 1st overall at the Bank of America Invitational Criterium. Haedo's run of prominent wins continued through 2006 and included stage wins at the San Dimas Stage Race, Redlands Classic, Tour of California, Tour of Georgia, Cascade Cycling Classic, and Tour de 'Toona, along with wins at one day races such as the Spartenburg Criterium, Sunny King Criterium, Tour of Somerville, and Manhattan Beach Grand Prix.

Haedo's impressive wins and placings allowed him to land a place with the UCI Pro-Tour Team CSC (now Saxo-Bank) for 2007. The move allowed him to spread his wins across two continents. In the States he claimed two stages of the Tour of California, as well as the Points Classification, a stage and the Sprint Classification at the Tour of Georgia, and the top prize at the Philadelphia International Championship. In Europe wins were gathered at the Rund um Koln, the Colliers Classic in Denmark, and stage 2 of the Deutschland Tour.

Haedo has remained with Team CSC / Saxo-Bank up to the present. Likewise, he has continued to acquire wins and top placings. 2008 saw him rack up two stages of the Tour de San Luis, one in the Tour of California, and another at the Vuelta a Murcia. These go along with a win at the Clasica de Almeria. 2009 saw him take stage wins at the Tour de San Luis, Tour de Wallonie, Tour of Missouri, the Circuit Franco-Belge, and a 1st at the GP Cholet. In 2010 Haedo again claimed victory in the Rund um Koln, as well as stages of the Volta a Catalunya and Criterium du Dauphine. Victories in 2011 came at Tirreno-Adriatico, and perhaps the biggest of his career, stage 16 of the Vuelta a Espana (you might remember that stage for its confusing finish where a couple riders at the head of the field, including Peter Sagan, took a roundabout the wrong way during the run-in just before the line). Thus far in 2012 Juan Jose has one win to his credit, the Grand Prix de Danain, at which he beat out Alex Rasmussen and Andrea Guardini, after avoiding a crash in the final ten kilometers which knocked out three of his teammates.

With Alberto Contador serving time under suspension, and Team Saxo-Bank's backup GC contender, Rafal Majka recovering from injury, Haedo's team (Matteo Tosatto, road captain) will focus on sprint stage victories, clearly playing to Haedo's strength. Juan Jose, nicknamed the Slowmotion Sprinter, will be aided in the run to the line by his younger brother, Lucas Sebastian Haedo, as well as teammates Luke Roberts, Volodymir Gustov, and Jonas Aean. rounding out the Saxo Bank squad are Anders Lund, Mads Christensen, and Manuele Boaro.

In an interview with CyclingNews prior to his first Giro ride, in 2007, Haedo spoke realistically about his chances, saying "it's very important to know the races, know the roads, know the climbs, know how much more you can suffer, know how much less you can suffer." When Juan Jose won that 16th stage of the 2011 Vuelta a Espana he became the first Argentinian to stand atop the podium of a major Tour. When reflecting back on his youth, Haedo notes that cycling in his home country has long been a fringe sport, and as such he had no heroes to look up to (other than his father, who owned a bike shop). One would believe that as a result of his successes on the road, the next, and future, generations of Argentine youth will not suffer from that same deficit.

As usual I will follow Haedo's progress over the course of the twenty-one stage Giro with a daily recap here. And by the way, though I have given Juan Jose top billing here, don't discount the younger Haedo's chances. Both brothers matched up against many of the sports top sprinters, and shared numerous top 10 finishes at the recently completed Presidential Tour of Turkey.

Prologue: Not known as a time trialist, Haedo none-the-less put in a respectable effort to finish with the 99th fastest time, 56 seconds behind prologue victor, Taylor Phinney who rode the 8.7 km course in a time of 10 minutes, 26 seconds. 198 riders have started the 2012 Giro which runs through May 27. Following the prologue Haedo had this to say: ”I more or less felt Danish today due to the immense support from the spectators along the route and it made the painful time trial beautiful.

Stage 2: 206 essentially flat km in and around the city of Herning, Denmark. I tell you, if I were in a race with that much bumping and pushing going on in the last three to five kilometers ... ah, sprinters - they sure make it exciting. I don't think I would be anywhere near the front. A nasty crash at the end helped sort things out for those who were ahead of it, including the stage victor. Haedo sprinted across the line in 16th spot, apparently after being hit by one of the falling racers, caused him to clip out of his pedal and lose his momentum. Even so, he was the best place of the Saxo-Bank team, finishing in the same time as all ahead of him. Taylor Phinney, wearing the leaders jersey, put in a big effort to make it back into the peloton after dropping his chain with less than 8 km to go. Kind of reminiscent of another big chain drop last year during another big race. These guys really need to learn to fix things like that themselves. No harm done though, as Phinney retained the Rosa.

Stage 3: But first a moment of silence in remembrance of Wouter Weylandt. Well, another wild finish taking out some of the major players right at the end. Our man, J.J. Haedo took a big second behind Matt Goss. Poor luck for Mark Cavendish, wearing the Red Sprint Jersey, who went down in the big crash just before the line, and poor riding by Roberto Ferrari who shot across the road and straight into the front wheel of Cav. Poor luck also for Taylor Phinney, also caught up in the crash - initial reports say he was carted away by ambulance, unable to finish. Will have to wait to hear what the fallout from this will be. Protests at the least, I would imagine. Haedo's team Saxo Bank rode a good race today; Mads Christiansen, riding before the home crowd, was part of an early six man break, and then took off solo with about 30 km to go. This meant that the Saxo's, for most of the race were free from work, and could just sit back and let other teams drive. Once the escapees had all been brought back, Haedo's teammates moved up to the front in a supporting role for their sprinter. In the chaotic finale, though, Haedo was on his own, and did well to pick the wheel of Goss to follow. Goss himself was perfectly positioned in the Green Edge train and rode the rails to a well deserved victory. In Goss's slipstream, Haedo edged out Tyler Farrar  as runner-up. 

By the way I have really liked watching the British EuroSport coverage of the race so far. As much as I like Phil and Paul, I am at least equally enjoying Sean Kelly's commentary (I have not yet been able to make out who the English guy is - Harmon, or Duffield, perhaps?) Anyone know? Anyway it is good to hear the master, King Kelly, and his take on things.

Stage 4: After three days in Denmark, the Giro transported itself en masse to Verona for the fourth stage, 33 km team time trial. Haedo's Saxo Bank team exceeded expectations, finishing the course in a time of 37.26 minutes, the fourth quickest time of the day and 22 seconds behind the winning Garmin-Barracuda team. Haedo, never really expected to be in contention for the overall, so I will just skip that, however, there is potential for him to be well placed in the Points Competition (Red Jersey); in those standings he sits in 9th spot with 20 points. Matt Goss leads on points with 45.

Stage 5: Today was a 207.2 km run from Modena to Fano on the Adriatic coast, mostly flat until near the end, when at the 172 km mark a category 4 rated bump was thrown into the mix. That climb, plus a ramping up of the pace, was enough to cause Haedo some problem as he lost contact with the peloton and rolled across the line in 179th spot, 13:24 down on stage winner, Mark Cavendish. Lucas Haedo's oops moment of inattentiveness within 40 km to go, brought down another Saxo Bank rider, who commentators thought might have been brother J.J., but now appears to have been Manuele Boaro. The Giro is set to hit some more significant bumps now for a few days, and we are likely to see even more of the pure sprinters joining Haedo out of contention for the stage wins. That is until the mostly flat 9th stage when we can expect they will come roaring back.

Stage 6: A hilly 210 km between Urbino and Porto Sant'elipidio - no big climbs, but a jagged profile, continually up and down, often steeply. Not the kind of stage to find J.J. Haedo at the front. No, instead he finished in 164th spot, as part of a large group which rolled across the line 23:53 behind the stage winner.

Stage 7: Another day for the mountain goats to stretch their legs, test each other, in anticipation of the higher mountains to come. The sprinters were massed at the back, Juan Jose Haedo finished up in 138th spot on the day, 17:21 down on stage winner Paolo Tiralongo. And for the second consecutive day, brother Lucas finished alongside in 139th spot.

Stage 8: Without a true climbing specialist at the Giro, the Saxo Bank team decided to conserve their collective energies, rather than throw them into another hilly stage in which they would be unlikely to capture a top placing. Instead, as sports director Philippe Mauduit said, they will work to support J. J. Haedo and attempt to deliver him to the finish line with a chance to place.

Stage 9: Oh my. Haedo was well placed at the front of the bunch of today's finale when he was taken down in a crash while negotiating a tricky left-hand bend within the last 400 meters. Forced outside to avoid riders going down in the middle, including sprits leader Matt Goss, J. J. could not miss the bike of a falling Quick Step rider. Cavendish, right behind, could not miss a falling Haedo, so at least three of the races top sprinters where there, but tumbled to the ground during the mishap. Tomorrow's stage, while not overly hilly, may prove just enough to negate the true sprinters, so we may have to wait for the flatter Wednesday stage 11 for Haedo to have another good shot. Or, perhaps he will prove me wrong?

Stage10: As expected the finishing hills proved just a little too much for the true sprinters, including J. J. Haedo, who crossed the line in 134th spot, five minutes, fifty-three seconds back of the stage winner. With some big mountains looming at the end of the week, the sprinters will be looking at two relatively flat stages before then, including tomorrow's 255 km run between  Assisi and Montecatini Terme.

Stage 11: It has to be frustrating. Everything was looking good for Haedo and the Saxo's today. Manuele Boaro put in a massive effort, first as part of a five man break, and then blazing away solo once the break came to an inevitable end. With a rider away, the Team could let others do the work of closing the gap. Once everything was together again, and within the final 5 km, the Saxo Bank train vied for space at the front with Team Sky. Cavendish was there. Ferrari was there. Haedo was there. But once again, a sprinters showdown was not to be, as a crash at the final turn slowed Cavendish and brought Haedo to a full stop. Ferrari was in front of the bottleneck, and the handful of other riders up with him could only watch him sprint away. Sometimes Lady Luck works for the other guy. With a category 4, two cat 3's and a cat 2 climb on tap during tomorrow's 155 km stage between Seravezza and Sestri Levante, the sprinters will be at the back of the bus, and looking towards Friday. 

Stage 13: Watching on Eurosport, both Greg Henderson (via Twitter) and Sean Kelly, have tipped J. J. Haedo to take the win today. 35 km still to go. Well, the Saxo train came together when they needed to, challenging Team Sky for position up at the front during the run in to the line. It seemed from my vantage that the train fell apart too quickly, and the back of it, including Juan Jose and brother Lucas just got swarmed by riders coming up around the sides and lost position. J. J. still managed a 16th, while Lucas better positioned at the end took 8th. So, it looked promising for a while, but ended rather disappointing. With big mountains looming and no further opportunity for the sprinters, Juan Jose has packed his bags to leave the Giro, and begin preparations for a hoped-for spot in the Tour de France.

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