Bouncing back from a difficult start to the year at the Tour Down Under, Nathan Haas (Garmin Sharp) can take solace from his performance at the Tour de Langkawi, riding aggressively until the final kilometres in an attempt to leapfrog from sixth to fifth overall. The Australian was unable to improve his position but demonstrated huge inroads from his neo-pro season, attributing the Australian National Road Series for his "never give up" attitude. It's this unsparing approach he'll no doubt utilise as he plans his maiden ride at the Giro d'Italia this year.
Haas's role at the 10-day race was to primarily to support Garmin Sharp teammate Peter Stetina, who rounded out the race in fourth and while doing so managed to finish sixth - a significant improvement from 46th overall this time last year.
Starting the final stage with a seven-second deficit to fifth-place Meiyin Wang provided the 'sniff' Haas needed to go on the attack. He contested the intermediate sprints, picking up bonus seconds along the way but fell short by three-seconds as the peloton crossed the finish line at Kuala Terengganu.
"We come from Australian racing which by nature is aggressive and we never give up," Haas told Cyclingnews. Something I learnt from Genesys back in the day was you just have to fight for every second. If they are there then you just have to do it.
"Wang wasn't ready for it again today, he's not quick enough to get the jump. It was kind of cool to keep moving up but unfortunately I think I needed a time split at the end. He was smart enough to stay on my wheel and kept with me over the line. He kept fifth but I like to have fun in a race and never give up," added a satisfied Haas at the finish.
Haas had arrived at the 2012 edition of Langkawi fresh-eyed and willing to do whatever required to support his team. He showed encouraging signs at Genting but sacrificed his own chances to support his leaders. The team's GC ambitions ultimately fell apart but this time around a confident Haas is learning to take opportunities as they arise while learning to focus on the bigger goals of the season.
"One thing Garmin has really helped me with this year was looking at the bigger picture. You have to take the small steps to actually get to the bigger picture. They really helped me learn progressively this year so all of a sudden when the form is actually there, you can capitalise on it," said Hass.
"I still don't think I'm at 100% fitness. Tour Down Under was just a disgrace for me because I was so unwell this is really my first race back with half-decent preparation. It's nice to see signs of hopefully a really good year ahead."
The removal of an opening time trial like that seen in 2012 was a feature the 23-year-old lamented at this year's race. Looking at the riders who finished in front of his on the general classification Haas believes with the re-introduction of a chrono, he would have a serious chance to capture the overall at the 2.HC race.
"I'm really upset there was no time trial this year because I really think I could have ridden myself easily onto the podium," he told Cyclingnews.
"The guys in front of me were all tiny little whippet climbers, I don't want to get ahead of myself because Arredondo was so strong but I really think I could have gone into yellow if I had a slightly better climb, maybe 30 seconds and then in the time trial I know I could win this tour. If they re-introduce the time trial I'll be back next year to try and win.
Seizing opportunities and the Giro
It is a transformed Haas that leaves Malaysia ahead of his European campaign and it's not only the three kilograms that he's lost from 12 months earlier. There's a bolstered level of maturity Haas appears to have developed during his short time in the big league and yet he know there's still a long way to go.
"Last year I got a brilliant opportunity last year from Allan Peiper when he was on the team. He really wanted me to focus on the Tour of Britain because it was a lot like Tour of Tasmania which I won in 2010. That was a great opportunity and I took it and the nice thing is I'm starting to take them when they are there," said Haas.
Haas finished second overall at the 2.1 race behind Sky recruit Jonathan Tiernan-Locke before coming to Langkawi with hopes to perform well. The race program leading up to the Giro will see Haas in a support role where he'll be taking it all in and grabbing opportunities when they arise.
"This year I'm doing, if all goes to plan, the Giro. My racing up until then is learning how to become a brilliant support person and to take opportunities - but I'm still learning.