Two of America’s fastest men against the clock, Tom Zirbel and Chad Haga, are fast friends after two seasons of racing with the Orange and Black. The duo has ridden their time trial bikes to incredible heights – Zirbel capturing the US national title in the discipline this year, and Haga recently finalizing a deal with ProTour outfit Argos-Shimano for the 2014 season. Zirbel, with his incredible power and size, and Haga with his silky smooth pedal stroke and sky high watts-per-kilogram output, excel at the race of truth for decidedly different reasons. The duo were immediately competitive with one another, and vowed to record the results of every time trial they competed in together and keep a running tally. After two training camp practice runs and seventeen competition time trials, Haga painstakingly tallied up their totals and splits with only one prize in mind: eternal bragging rights. The competition became larger than life for the duo as they battled for supremacy across the United States.
“As far as we were concerned, there were two races going on at every time trial, the actual race, and our race,” said Haga, tongue firmly in cheek. “Every victory was filled with other racers caught in the crossfire. Losses hurt less if we won our private race. We dealt in excuses like currency; we bartered our respective (dis)advantages for time bonuses.”
Haga Fires the Opening Shot at ’12 Camp
Jonas Carney knew he had a special rider in Haga after his first time trial run with the team on the pristine roads outside Fillmore, CA. Haga took 17 seconds out of Zirbel. It was practice, but still impressive.
“I think Chad blew everyone’s mind at camp last year. The skinny kid from Texas showed up and waxed everyone in our first little team competition. None of the guys knew that he could TT like that,” said Carney. “While it wasn’t a sanctioned event, it was a resounding shot across Zirbel’s bow. From there it was game on, and they did battle for two full seasons.”
Tom exacted his revenge directly following the ’12 camp at the Merco Cycling Classic, pipping Haga by .6 seconds, but Haga quickly countered on the roads of Boulder, Colorado, winning the Haystack Time Trial by a significant 20 second margin. At the end of the ’12 season, the rising star Haga had 20 seconds on Zirbel after 146 minutes and 30 seconds of racing against the clock.
The following year on the roads of Fillmore, Haga took the training camp trial run again, this time by 7 seconds. He carried his form into Merco, beating Zirbel by the slimmest of margins, just two tenths of a second. Following that, he continued to roll with a 7 second victory over Zirbel at Redlands. Zirbel took his revenge at Boulder’s Haystack TT, site of a demoralizing loss the year before. Haga quickly shot back at Joe Martin Stage Race, riding hard in the TT in an effort to seal up the yellow jersey and beating Zirbel by over 30 seconds in the process.
Zirbel Turns the Tables
With Haga enjoying a comfortable gap and the season slowly winding down, Zirbel decided to turn things up to 11. With strong winds and a favorable profile during the SRAM Tour of the Gila, he thundered across the course, taking 41 seconds out of the young Texan. Haga began to suspect Zirbel was avoiding the uphill TT’s which would put the nearly 200 pound Zirbel at a considerable disadvantage. His suspicions grew when Zirbel abandoned the Amgen Tour of California after a rough go in the early stages’ 110-plus degree temperatures.
“After a resounding loss in the first uphill TT at Joe Martin, Tom set to work to avoid facing me in the other two. He deserves an Oscar for his ‘overheating’ performance in California, going so far as to abandon the race before the race of truth,” said Haga. “I also suspect that he paid Jonas to leave me off the USA Pro Challenge roster. Oh, and don’t forget about how he broke his collarbone after I beat him in the Cascade prologue…certainly fearful of the upcoming Elk Grove smack down.”
Not phased by Haga’s slanderous remarks, Zirbel lined up at the crown jewel of American time trialing, the US National Championships, their biggest competition yet. On the form of his life and hungry for the stars and stripes, Zirbel had the run of a lifetime on the flat, power-friendly Chattanooga course. The Flying Z took 46 seconds out of Haga, and it became clear that Zirbel was the top time trialist on the team and in the country.
Haga remained stubborn after the loss, claiming that “Tom may have won on time, but I had more victories.”
Chad Haga wept openly after calculating the final results of the two-year long standoff with Zirbel.
Tired of Haga’s passive-aggresive remarks, Zirbel fired back at the young rider and closed the book for good.
“By Haga’s poor logic, his future teammate Kittel ‘won’ the Tour de France last year because he won a few sprint stages.The reality is that this battle was a test of endurance and consistency throughout the year. Despite clearly having the race organizers on his side by utilizing uphill TTs (Joe Martin, Tour of Cali, US Pro Challenge), there was just too much straight, flat road (i.e. TRUE time trials) for him to contend with in the end,” said Zirbel. “I couldn’t tell you how many races the team won in 2013 or even how many races I won, but I know my lead over Haga to the tenth of a second and all year. I’ve been visualizing the day when I would definitively prove my supremacy.”
In two years of competition, with over 6 hours of time trialing, the final difference between the duo was barely a minute. An incredible testament to their skill on the TT bike, and to the peak fitness both riders carry.
With Chad moving to the ProTour in 2014 with Argos-Shimano and focusing on a full-time European campaign, the possibility of a “serious” rematch between the two friends during the Amgen Tour of California and USA Pro Challenge is positively tantalizing. Zirbel will look to defend his national title in 2014 where his young ex-teammate and friend should be one of his biggest competitions for gold.
Congratulations to Chad on his move to the ProTour in 2014, and congratulations to Tom Zirbel for bringing home the national title for Orange and Black.