With a lumpy circuit and the possibility of a selective sprint on tap at the upcoming UCI Road World Championships in Bergen, Team Sunweb's Michael Matthews looks to be a viable contender for the next rainbow jersey. Cycling Australia announced their nine-rider selection earlier this week with a team clearly built around their one featured name, but the rest of the list was not without a few surprises.
Having spent more than a month training "on top of mountains doing the whole altitude thing," Nathan Haas (Dimension Data) hoped to finally get the call for a debut Worlds appearance in his sixth season as a pro.
His skillset and the season he's had so far, with a fourth-place finish in the long and lumpy Amstel Gold Race to go along with other solid results, would seem to make him a reasonable candidate for the squad. But the 28-year-old won't be on the start line in Bergen. The selectors made the call to go in a different direction, a decision Haas accepts – but not one that he's thrilled with, especially considering the effort he'd put expecting to make the trek to Norway.
"That was a big part of why I was sitting up on top of mountains. Spending a lot of money. A lot of time away from home and my partner. I'm going to use the word 'very disappointing' – okay that's two words, but maybe you can hyphenate it," he told Cyclingnews with what could only be described as a 'wry smile' from the GP Montréal on Sunday.
"I was pretty heartbroken actually. Michael Matthews and I grew up together in the same town, and the reasons why I wasn't given a spot I was pretty hurt by because I don't feel it was fair. But it's not my decision to make."
Haas preferred not to go into detail on what he was told, but he did offer some indications of the explanation he was provided for not getting the call.
"It's not up for me to discuss those reasons, they're entitled to those opinions, they're the ones making a selection for the race and making a strategy. I was still pretty blown away that I didn't fit into any of the strategies," he said. "Knowing that there's nine guys and knowing I'm the third highest Australian in the WorldTour rankings and it's a course that suits my exact abilities, I was sitting there pretty dumbfounded if I'm honest. Always makes me wonder sort of where I sit in the eyes of Cycling Australia, which is upsetting because I feel like I've put in six pretty good years as a professional and to not be taken, it's hard because I want to be there. Not only for myself but for a good friend in Bling."
Back in 2015, silver medalist Matthews gave credence to hints of tension within the Australian squad at the Richmond World Championships when he pointed out that he felt he was sprinting 'against' teammate Simon Gerrans. Gerrans did not ride in Doha last year, and the Orica-Scott veteran told Cyclingnews this week in Canada that he 'didn't put [his] hand up' for selection this year either. It's clear the team has shifted gears from its past two-pronged approach and is 100 per cent behind Matthews now. Haas won't figure in those plans this time around.
"I felt that I was going to be one of the guys there in the final for him, but maybe as well that's the reason I'm not going," Haas hypothesised. "Maybe he or the team don't want to have anyone else as an option to go with late move. Maybe they just want big engines. And it's fair enough if that's what they want but it doesn't change the fact that I am upset about not going."
All the same, he was not interested in the what-ifs of comparing himself to his compatriots who did make the team, steering clear of directing his frustration toward any of the riders who might have taken one of the spots he could have had on the squad.
"There's no one in the team that doesn't deserve to be there. It's an amazing team. I think with Australia we can put together four or five variants of that thing and still say it's a fantastic team," he said. He did acknowledge, however, that if his lack of Worlds experience played a role in him missing out, it was something of a self-fulfilling prophecy to continually miss out on the selection.
"Maybe [experience] is a small part of that. But if you don't get to go to Worlds, you don't get the experience. So it sort of seems to be a rate of diminishing returns thing right now."
Knowing now he won't be a part of the team's plans in Bergen, Haas gave his take on the team's possible role and what the course might have in store. When asked if the Australian squad would be among the favourites, he did not sound entirely convinced that putting all the eggs into the basket of a selective sprint would guarantee success.
"I don't know. 270k in the wet, I don't know if controlling the race is a good idea."