Cannondale-Garmin entered the Tour de France with the triumvirate of Ryder Hesjedal, Dan Martin and Andrew Talansky to target the general classification. A jour sans on the first summit finish of the Tour ended any final aspirations the team had of a top-five overall, and the emphasis has now squarely turned to attacking the pack.
After Martin’s valiant efforts on stage 11, Nathan Haas took it upon himself to infiltrate the already formed breakaway with Pierre-Luc Périchon (Bretagne-Séché Environnement) to continue the team’s aggressive stance.
Haas spent the majority of the first rest day in bed recovering from the diarrhea that had him suffering through the first week. The Tour debutant, however, with three Grand Tours under his belt, found the strength in almost 40-degree temperatures during stage 13 into Rodez, to attack his breakaway companions and strike out on his own. It went just as he had planned at the Muret departure several hours earlier.
“I put my head down and went hard. It's not always something you can plan on doing, it's something you have to decide on the road,” Haas said. “I had a mission this morning, I was going to be in the breakaway.
“A rider like myself in a Grand Tour doesn’t actually get too many opportunities to go for the win so today I put the art of war into play and tried to be away from the guys who are faster then me in the finish. Unfortunately, they were faster than me in the end but it was fun trying.”
After Cannondale-Garmin’s’ disastrous day to La Pierre-Saint-Martin, director Charley Wegelius told Cyclingnews that the team would need to implement a new strategy for the remaining stages of the race. After Martin’s combative ride to Cauterets. Haas’ efforts reiterated that the team is going to be an aggressive fore to Paris.
“Opportunities are everywhere. It’s what you do to take them. As a team, Cannondale-Garmin, we came here with conviction and we came here with a plan for GC but unfortunately that unravelled due to a few different circumstances.
"I think what we really wanted to do as a team today was come out and really put some energy back in the team and I think the opportunities further down into this race might not be for me but for our climbers. Sometimes you have to lead by example and I really hope I inspired them to have a go in the coming days.”
While Haas maybe one of numerous Tour debutants in the race, the 25-year-old made it clear he is not here to simply pin on his dossard each morning with the objective of finishing each stage.
“It’s the Tour de France man. We are not here to lick stamps, we are here to have the rides of our lives. It’s where riders make their name and it’s where you find a bit of your own character, and today I wanted to do that.”
Haas’ ride was, to a degree, life-imitating art having helped friends with a kickstarter campaign for a cycling card game, ‘Attack the Pack’, that ends tomorrow. Explaining the origins of the game, Haas said,
“Me and my friends have put together this card game, they invented it and I am just sort of helping them get it off the ground and it’s a really fun thing to be part of but it's unbelievably like bike racing and I really hope that when it comes out people enjoy it.”
Like many cyclists before him, Haas is learning the limits of his body both mentally and physically, understanding further facets of his character through pain and suffering under the heat of the Tour de France. The memories of Garmin’s 2014 team time trial crash have also contributed to Haas’ ability to suffer and push through levels that he previously didn’t know existed.
“I really seem not have to have had the best of luck in any of the four Grand Tours that I have done now. My first Grand Tour I did, I have to admit that I was green and didn’t really know how hard it was and I came in very undergone, suffering my way through to stage 16 and crashed out,” he said of the 2013 Giro d'Italia. “The next Giro in 2014, we crashed in the team time trial and to be honest that’s probably been the hardest moment in my career to actually push through that first week.
“In retrospect, coming into the Tour this year on stage 2, while it's super disappointing, it's something that I almost had in the reserve bank. Knowing that I have 19 stages to go and I am sick and I don’t know if this is going to swing around, but I’ve just learnt you can get through almost any stage now, and when you do bounce, you can bounce pretty well. It’s just all about staying cool.”
Some riders are content to pass a race sitting in the comfort of the peloton, racing hard but not trying for success or to influence the outcomes of the day. Haas, who has never shied from making a impact in the races he had competed, could race out the Tour content with his TV time and the memories of breakaway but stage 13 was just an appetiser.
“I am hungry. Today was nice to actually have a little bit of the old legs back still felt like it wasn’t at 100% but that’s still stage 13 of a grand tour so that’s all relative to how you’re feeling,” he said. “There are other stages and guys in the past, who are very much non-climbers, have won big climbing stages by putting themselves in the right climbing opportunities. There’s nothing stronger than a soul on fire and when you’re in front it’s burning.”
Adding that while he can take pleasure from his efforts, today was also a test of mental fortitude that suggests Haas belongs on the biggest stage of all.
“I have done anything so to speak, a wins a win but getting caught with kilometres to go is a good morale booster. I was speaking with Dan Martin before the Tour and he said to me that 'one thing you get out of doing the Tour for the first time is you realise that maybe you are on that level', and after his first Tour, he had a few close opportunities in the mountains and he knew that he could win a stage and he did,” Haas said.
“Sometimes you just have to break through your own barriers and maybe today was a little bit of that."