Fresh from his fifth Australian National Road Series win of the 2011 season, Nathan Haas (Genesys Wealth Advisers) showed he could go toe-to-toe with cycling's elite on the Jayco Herald Sun'sopening stage from Whittlesea to Ballarat on Wednesday.
Haas and teammate Pat Shaw found themselves in the opening day's break which began just 10 kilometres after leaving Whittlesea on Wednesday, a group of 15, where the domestic outfit gave themselves the best chance of posting a result against their ProTour and Pro Continental rivals. However, the pair weren't just along for the ride, with Haas going on to eventually place third for the stage and sit in second place on general classification, 15 seconds off the lead of Rhys Pollock (Drapac).
The 22-year-old Canberra-based rider fought hard for his victory at the Tour of Tasmania which concluded on Sunday. Speaking to Cyclingnews post-race on Wednesday, Haas revealed the win had in fact taken a toll and he had some concerns about starting the first of the Sun Tour's five stages.
"Yesterday, I felt absolutely horrible on Beach Road and I felt as though I should have sat down and called the car and I was even thinking about it," he said.
Lining up at the start in Whittlesea, Haas was back and pumped about the opportunity to race, and never took a backward step all race.
"On the Cat.3 climb [in Daylesford], [Jack] Bobridge was away with [Rhys] Pollock and I had to go with it," he said of the six points he claimed for third across the line. That together with the maximum points he collected on the day's two sprints, gave him the lead in the sprint classification, while he's second overall in the mountains classification.
When Shaw crossed the finish line and caught up with his teammate, he was able to share a case of mistaken identity which had the pair's breakaway companions worried, revealing that several thought it was another Genesys rider, prolific stage winner Steele Von Hoff who had joined them and not Haas.
"When I led you out for the sprint," Shaw told Haas of one of the intermediates, "They go: ‘it's the Steele Von Hoff guy.' I said: you'll get a shock because Steele's about 10 lengths quicker than that."
While that was cause for laughter all round, Haas was keen to soak up the moment.
"I know I was in a race for second in the end, which I got second in, I placed third but there's no hard feelings," Haas said of his end result, genuinely pleased and excited by what he's achieved. "Pollock had a good ride. I'm pretty proud of myself just to have matched it with the pros."
Given the time gaps created by the damaging group of 15, it's now going to take something truly exceptional for the eventual race winner to come from outside the top 10 with gaps of over eight and then 10 minutes from positions 11 and beyond. Haas, who has ambitions to race in Europe in 2012, knows that he will never have a better opportunity to show possible suitors exactly what he's capable of and says he's "definitely going for GC" this week.
"I think the biggest thing is, is that at the end of the day, you've got to have faith in yourself," he said. "I've always told myself that I've never wanted to be any other bike rider than myself. I don't look up to anyone and say, I want to be like him, I want to be the best rider I can be and I'm quite confident in my abilities that have grown this year. I'm not intimidated, but I'm a bit star-struck maybe. It's pretty cool to be talking with them but they're just humans and we're closer than we think."