King can boast two Vuelta a España stage victories while Haga has a final day Giro time-trial win to his name, as well as being on domestique duty for overall winner Tom Dumoulin in 2017. Their success has made them two of the most recognizable North American racers.
Now both 33, both parents and back on the program where it all began, King and Haga have expressed the fact they are the happiest they’ve been in years.
There are a number of factors that play into a rider’s form, but being happy when they’re not actually in the saddle is a major one that can’t be ignored.
We spoke to the pair about finding happiness, and how that makes their lives as pro cyclists better and easier.
What is it that you feel has made this point of your career a particularly happy one?
Chad Haga: I’ve achieved a lot that I wanted to, I got to do the biggest races in the world and help teammates win some of them, and just dive fully into bike racing and make it the all-consuming part of my life. Along the way, I met a girl, got married, had a kid, and family life starts coming in and that was also another goal. As my career progressed, my aspirations shifted and I started looking for better ways to balance both sides of my life, my career and my family life. It feels like with this team I’m able to have it all.
Ben King: Comparing it to other periods of my career, I wasn’t unhappy by any means, I had a lot of great years on other teams and each season was sweet in its own ways. Now I’m on a team that has an incredible atmosphere with a bunch of Americans, so that’s just fun. I have great friends from other countries all over the world, but there’s definitely an added level of comfort riding for a team that’s largely North American.
How big of a part does your family play in your wellbeing?
BK: When you’re 23 and single it’s not a big deal to fly around the world and live out of a suitcase, but with a family that’s so much harder and a lot to figure out. But on top of that, there is so much more purpose to everything that I’m doing and there’s something that’s more important to me than racing. I’ve always kept people around me that support and love me no matter the result but now more than ever when I come home from a race and my family is waiting, I know that I can put the week of suffering behind me and enjoy their company.
CH: It definitely tugs at me every time I have to leave, but I enjoy that the job also offers this lifestyle where we get to live in another country and have all these other friends close by who also race bikes. The career offers a lot of opportunities, but I’m happy my family can be here with me and I can share this experience with them.
When I’m at home it’s full-time dad life and I train as well as I can while fitting everything in, and then find that switch when I go to a race. It has also made me more diligent and focused because I no longer have hours to plan the perfect route or do all this other time-killing stuff.
How does happiness make your life as a pro cyclist better and easier?
CH: So much of performance is tied into the mental side of things, and if you’re stressed out all the time or not happy or not enjoying it, it really eats away at what you’re able to do. It’s a balancing act. I feel like now my training time and ability to focus 100% on being a bike racer is not there, but the mental side of it is in balance so it’s resulting in better performance. Now I’m on the happier side, I feel like I’m performing better than I ever did.
BK: I can see the value that my having raced for so many years at the highest level brings to the team. It’s also what helps me appreciate the leadership within the team and the way that they communicate with the riders.
What are your tips on how to strike a work-life balance to achieve greater happiness?
BK: Away from racing, photography has allowed me to get out wherever I am and enjoy wildlife. When I leave the camera at home the training is more focused, efficient and productive but when I have it with me it’s very freeing. When I come back and look at the power file it looks exactly the same as a two-hour ride with a break but instead of stopping at a coffee shop I’ve stopped in a marsh somewhere looking for an interesting bird. It allows me to share my ultimate passion for nature with others. The better I am as a photographer, the better I can capture and present a species or environmental scene, and the more potential it has to inspire admiration and appreciation.
CH: Planning helps a lot. Integrating your training calendar with your life calendar goes a long way toward not overdoing it. Being in tune with your body and knowing ‘okay, I wanted to do a long ride today, but it’s been full gas all week so I’m going to have to adjust to an easier day.’ Knowing when is the time to do that is important because sometimes life takes precedence.
King is currently racing the Giro di Sicilia and the pair will be back racing with each other at the end of May in Greece at the Tour of Hellas.