For Nathan Haas, the Australian summer of cycling finished without him claiming a win and declaring in frustration: “I don’t want to be known as ‘Nearly There Haas.’"
But as he stood in Geelong last Sunday after placing third in an action-filled Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, Haas, 25, was still able to look at the positives from his spell of racing in Australia at the Santos Tour Down Under and Evans’ retirement race.
Firstly, Haas (Cannondale-Garmin) said that his third in the CEGORR behind Belgian winner Gianni Meersman (Etixx-QuickStep) and Australian Simon Clarke (Orica-GreenEdge) showed he is at least in strong form, despite the lingering soreness of a crash in the Tour Down Under. He then cited how well his team rode collectively.
After a testing month, especially in the Tour Down Under in which he placed fifth overall last year against a problem riddled 60th this year, Haas said: “To come back here [to Geelong] and all of a sudden have good legs and good sensations … I’m kind of proud of myself for pulling myself out of a hole that I shouldn’t have been in.”
Haas, a former mountain biker, turned professional in 2012 with Garmin-Sharp (now Cannondale-Garmin) after a terrific 2011 season in which he dominated the National Road Series in Australia with teammate Steele von Hoff and won the Herald Sun Tour and Japan Cup with Australian Genesys Wealth Advisors team now named Avanti.
His first two years as a professional were challenging, even though he won the 2012 Tour of Britain. But last season he turned the corner with some impressive results that included 5th overall in the Tour Down Under, 4th overall and a stage win in the Herald Sun Tour, sixth in Brabantse Pijl and a season ending win in the Japan Cup.
A frustrating and bruising start
When the 2015 season dawned, Haas had hoped to continue the momentum of 2014.
But at the Tour Down Under fate dealt him a poor hand. Reflecting on the tour in which Haas sustained whiplash in a crash in the finale of stage four to Mount Barker, he said: “It’s always a hard pill to swallow, but really I had it pretty hard at Down Under. I came in with a lot of pressure on myself. The team was there to back me and they did a fantastic job, but I just wasn’t good enough. A lot of factors go into that.
“I hadn’t raced yet, or it didn’t play into my hands on stage 3 when I lost time on that horrid climb (to Paracombe) …Then to crash like I did on stage 4 after fighting out of the breakaway and all that … that was a shit day to be honest.
“I didn’t quite realise how bad my neck felt until the next stage. As soon as I hopped on my bike on Willunga day (for stage 5) I knew it was bad. I won’t lie … I was pretty upset about the whole thing, especially when you back yourself.”
Looking ahead with optimism
Haas offered no excuses after his third in the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race behind Meersman and Clarke, saying of the sprint between nine riders: “Maybe I went a little early, but I felt it was the right moment and it felt like the legs were there.
“It’s always a shame not to win, but he came with some serious heat from behind. You have to give credit to someone when they win a race. It’s never because you messed up. It’s because they did the right thing.”
If anything, Haas was buoyed knowing he was in such good form with one eye on the season to come – a season including the classics and, hopefully, the Tour de France.
Haas was also full of praise for his Cannondale-Garmin teammates who rode for him in Australia, especially for how they strongly raced collectively in the CEGORR.
“We smacked it down 90km into the race, just before the circuit and we really split the race,” he said.
“I think we put a lot of hurt into a lot of peoples’ legs. Then we kept going. We were in every move, then we were pushing every move and then …There is probably no debate that the strongest team in this race was Cannondale-Garmin.
“I didn’t come away with a win, but as far as the good sensations and the good relationships go, we are building them. I think we are going to be a force to reckon with come the classics."
Rupert Guinness is a sports writer on The Sydney Morning Herald