Nathan Haas (Katusha-Alpecin) followed a lesson from Fabian Cancellara to take his first victory in some 17 months on stage 2 of the Tour of Oman. Haas beat Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) in Al Bustan after launching his sprint up the right-hand side of the road, taking his team’s first victory of the season in the process.
Cancellara won on exactly the same finale at the 2015 Tour of Oman and Haas had done his homework on the Swiss man's sprint in order to nail his manoeuvre perfectly.
"I did some research on the race. I realised that I'm not one of the phenomena of the cycling world and I have to be a little bit smarter and a little bit more prepared," Haas told the media after the stage.
"I knew that if I came a little bit from the back, you don't want to be first or second when you sprint because the drag was quite high up, you can get that slingshot. Cancellara won it on the right by going the shorter line so I put a little bit of his work into what I did today and it paid off."
Haas and his team were tested to the maximum on the undulating and often brutally steep roads in the latter third of the stage. BMC Racing and Astana both put the peloton under a serious stress test with much of the bunch cracking under the pressure. Haas had to dig deep on the last ascent of the day to hold onto the pace. He broke the ride into more manageable chunks to ensure he was in the select front group.
There was little doubt that it was Haas that had taken the win when he let out a huge roar as he crossed the line before getting off his bike and lifting it in the air.
"I've been telling everybody that if I win a bike race then they'll know it because they'll hear," he joked. "I woke up this morning and I had a really good feeling about today. My legs felt fantastic all day. I love coming to Oman.
"Today my team Katusha-Alpecin were just amazing. It was the first time in a long time that I've been able to sit in and not have to think. I just had to sit behind some big dudes on red bikes and they guided me to where I got to do my thing.
"Once we hit the final climb… I was fourth on this stage when we finished on the top last year and I knew that I could suffer but today was a different kind of speed. I just had to kind of lock onto the wheels and just forget about the next part which was the sprint. I had two finish lines to the top and then to the finish line."
Rebuilding the car after the Australian heat
The win is a big boost for the Australian after he got his season off to a rocky start at the Tour Down Under.
"It was like my radiator blew in the heat and I had to rebuild the car so to speak. It's a huge confidence boost. It's a reaffirmation for me that I actually was ready and sometimes you have a bit of bad luck and today I had the opposite."
Thanks to a few handy bonus seconds at the finish line, Haas now leads the overall standings by four seconds over Van Avermaet with Alexey Lutsenko (Astana) a further two seconds back.
There are some challenges over the coming four stages, with Thursday's finish to Wadi Dayqah Dam and Saturday's queen stage to Green Mountain. Haas crossed the line with Tour de France podium finisher Romain Bardet on the last visit to Green Mountain and he says he's not going to give the red jersey away without a fight.
"I think I was seventh [it was ninth –ed] on Green Mountain last year and I think that I'm climbing a bit better than I was last year. I'm a little bit lighter, my bike's awesome. I'm going to fight to the end and whether or not I can hold it until the end and maybe even get onto the podium, who knows, it's cycling. You can do pretty special things when you're in front and, hopefully, I can channel something into going fast."