After years of racing with a bad leg, Chad Harley is finally feeling “squared and balanced” and is excited to see what 2010 will bring with his new team Kenda Pro Cycling presented by GearGrinder.
The 28-year old went under the knife in December 2008 to fix his iliac endofibrosis which severely impacted the blood flow to his right leg. Hartley raced with the amateur squad GearGrinder last year where he won the overall at the Tour of America’s Dairyland.
Hartley, who finished ninth at the 9th Annual Hillsboro-Roubaix this year, describes himself as a good all-rounder with a finishing kick.
“I get over the hills better than the super quick guys and be the fastest guy left sort of thing. When I’m really fit, I can mix it up in the bunch sprint, always consistent, pretty smart and savvy when it comes to racing, I can hang on the hills and pull out a pretty good time trial here and there.”
Hartley started his career with the Jittery Joe’s squad in 2003 where he finished third in the U23 National TT Championships. After two years with the Georgia-based team, he joined TIAA-CREF in 2005 racing both track and road for the development team and seemed poised to bigger things.
But it all started to go bad in 2006 for Hartley when the first initial symptoms showed up at the Charlotte Criterium.
“The bigger problem was at the time I was living with one of my teammates Stu Gillespie and he had just been diagnosed with the same thing. But the way that this disease changes as it progresses, it goes from a really sporadic incidences, it happened infrequently and then as it progresses it gets more and more steady. So when I came home, I asked him about it, I was pretty familiar with what he had, when we started going through and comparing symptoms mine were different because I was just started so initially there was a period that we got thrown off because he definitely had it and I had different symptoms. Everybody around was a little bit unfamiliar with the disease and how it progressed because it takes a while, at first the arteries just kink and then as a defense mechanism the body grows tissue around it but later on the extra tissue is what shuts down the blood flow.”
The symptoms got worse. “A year or two down the road, it became more steady. I could induce the pain at will then it was more testable, finally I went and saw a doctor and he did a blood pressure test and it was diagnosed immediately.”
During this period, Hartley was racing with the TIAA-CREF team for two years and then BMC in 2007.
“My performance on Slipstream suffered because of it, and I was not performing to the level I needed to so I’m not going to say it’s what got me fired but it definitely helped a lot. The same thing with BMC. Jittery Joe’s was nice enough to take me back.”
He returned to the Jittery Joe’s squad in 2008.
“It literally took those two bad years. The first half year when I first started with BMC to come to grips that something was wrong and I need to change, learn to live with what ever is going on with me. By the time I got to Jittery Joe’s I had adapted to it and kind of changed how I raced and made the best of it but something was still definitely off.”
At the end of 2008, he finally had the operation to fix the problem, well one of the problems.
“It did fix the blood flow problem immediately but the bigger issue then became I had compensated with that leg for two and a half years, reduced blood flow, I had strength imbalances and I had a really badly rotated pelvis and so to get the balance back, basically it took about a year. Maybe a day or two after Valley of the Sun this year, I took out the last lift that I had in to balance out my pelvis. It wasn’t until two weeks ago where I really could say I feel squared and balanced like I did four years ago.”
“It was touch and go.” replied Hartley when I said I was amazed that he stuck with racing throughout the years. “At the end of 2008, I didn’t know what I was going to do, had I not found that doctor that I found I was applying back to school, get a real job and hang it up.”
Hartley had been building bikes at a bike shop in Milwaukee and through the owner got in touch with a doctor in the club affiliated with the shop for “one last little look” at the problem.
“I emailed him and said I’m a cyclist, I think I might have endofibrosis and do you know anything about it or could you offer any insight and he just replied back I’m a vascular surgeon. It was serendipitous. I was in his office within two or three days, getting tested within the week and I was in surgery within twelve or fifteen days later. It moved fairly quick once we started.”
Even during this period, Hartley had good results such as winning the sprint jersey at Superweek when his Jittery Joe’s teammate Jon Cantwell won the overall.
And Hartley learned a lot throughout those years.
“I’m not looking at this whole thing as a bad thing because when I was limited it made me refine my racing style. I learned to stop wasting efforts that before I could make a hundred efforts and didn’t really care because I could do a hundred more. But when I really only had one match to burn I had to learn how to be a little more efficient and use it properly. It definitely made me a better racer because I didn’t have all the tools that I used to so then when I came back and even with the imbalances I struggled with last season I still had all those better racing smarts if you will and a little bit engine it definitely went a long way.”
Super excited about 2010. “I have the two guys that I raced with last year on GearGrinder on Kenda this year, and then reunited with a couple of old teammates Jonny Sundt and Stefano Barbieri, I had a full amazing off season in training. My numbers are comparable going into 2006 before I was …. I’m super excited.”
“Yes and no.” replied Hartley when asked if he felt this was a second chance. “The whole second chance thing came when I got diagnosed and yes there’s a problem and we can fix it. That’s when all the pressure came off, the Gear Grinder squad owner gave me free reign on how ever I wanted to do and which races I wanted to go to last year which was great because after a bunch of seasons, after 8 seasons as a pro you can get kind of, I don’t want to say jaded about the sport but kind of over it a little bit but I just got back to having fun and really loving to race my bike again. Go out there every chance and try to win every race, there’s no more this is going to be a training race. Yeah I’m definitely going to try and win regardless if it’s my style or not.”
There’s a handful of races that Hartley would like to do really well at to make this year a success. “All the crit series events, Speedweek, Dairyland which the GearGrinder team helps to put on I’d like to win that again. Events like that personally.”
And then there’s being a mentor. “We have a lot of young really talented guys and after being kind in a smaller management role last year with the amateur team I really found that niche, you grow up a little bit, you want to help people so I want to help bring the younger guys up a little bit and tell then what I’ve learned over the years. If everybody can have some success this year it’s going to be a good season. Basically if we all race the way we know how to race we can’t be upset with that.”
The Kenda Pro Cycling presented by GEARGRINDER team brought in a new directeur sportif Frankie Andreu, along with a revamped roster on its second year as a Continental team. The ten new and the four returning riders meshed well from the start.
“I think it’s meshing really well because despite that we’re all coming from different teams, all these new guys have a few guys that they’re all really tight with and then each of the few in the separate groups are all really tight with everyone else so the bond has happened really quick. More than probably any other team that I’ve been on we’ve started goofing off and being best buddies already. There’s always these little clicks on a team that get along really well but this is the first time that I’ve seen fifteen guys do it unbelievably well.”
“I do, I do.” replied Hartley when asked if he thinks his team will surprise this year. “I think we’ll surprise mainly from last year to this year, the roster has changed a bunch, I don’t know how many teams are going to pay attention to that. I definitely hope that we’re going to be underestimated and then everybody else is going to give us a lot of leash.”
With his leg back to normal, the imbalances gone, does Hartley consider himself better now than in 2006?
“Physically, power numbers wise and testing wise I’m pretty comparable to where I was in 2006. 2006 was a year where Splistream made the full move over to Europe for a good portion of the year. I started off going to Spain in January so I definitely upped the level of training for that, definitely some of the best form that I’d been in going over there and it’s comparable to this year. I’m right back to where I was and I think I’m just a little more polished and efficient in the tactics department.”
Hartley would not say no to racing in Europe. “If given the opportunity I would love to go back to race in Europe. The Kenda team has long-term plans of growth, they want to be Pro Continental in a year or two, depending on sponsorship if they can make that happen. I’m generally a pretty loyal guy I like to stay with the teams that supported me. If I have the opportunity and it’s with this team, let’s do it, I would love to be racing in Europe. There are some plans to do a lot more international racing at the end of this year and next year they want to do a lot more.”
That’s a pretty aggressive plan for the team but Hartley doesn’t feel pressure in the sense that he has to perform. “I feel pressure in the sense that if I can deliver what I’m capable of then the results will take care of themselves. I know I”m capable of, I’m secure in that when it comes down to the race it’s just a matter of doing what we’re able to do, we’ll win races this year.”
Hartley is currently racing in the USA Crits Speedweek series in the Southeast with his team.