There was little to be surprised about when Jack Haig crossed the finish line in first place atop the brutal climb to Mount Warning at Battle on the Border ahead of many who were expected to contend for victory in Stage 1. As a 19-year-old in 2012, he rode to victory atop Mount Hotham in the Tour of Bright and this, along with attending a pre-season training camp was enough to suggest Haig was ready to step into Australia's number-one domestic squad, Huon Salmon-Genesys Wealth Advisers with only two previous starts in the Subaru National Road Series. He wasted little time in confirming the decision of Andrew-Christie Johnston to make room for him in 2013.
Haig, near-fresh out of the junior ranks showcased his 'Orange Army' colours in the first month of the New Year when he took third-place in the U23 Road National Championships in Ballarat. Against a full complement of NRS riders he more recently rounded-out a stellar week at the Woodside Tour de Perth, won by teammate Joe Cooper, with third-place overall. With the leader's jersey firmly on his back at the Battle on the Border Haig is now in the hot-seat as one of the favourites to win the overall title.
The first-year Huon Salmon-Genesys rider is more than just a pure climber. His background in XC mountain biking, where he is the reigning U23 national champion, means he is extremely capable in tests against the clock. A top-10 in the Rottnest Island time trial was enough to suggest Haig could be more than capable of taking out the Battle on the Border tour after taking out the tough hill-top finish on day one ahead of notable climbers Jai Crawford, Eric Sheppard (search2retain-health) and Adam Semple (Satalyst-Giant) - who were all part of the winning move that formed with less then 25km in the first stage. The inclusion of a 9.3km time trial on Stage 3 should could also help to consolidate his lead ahead of the final stage on Sunday.
"A lot of my training after Perth has been tailored around being strong on the climbs and making sure, that if I got into a situation that I was in on Stage 1 that I would have a chance of taking the win", he told Cyclingnews.
The opening day's climb, appropriately named Mount Warning was of little concern to Haig who had tested his legs on the 4km ascent just days before the start of the tour - becoming the new leader on the popular website Strava.
"Actually, the person who is now in second his name [on Strava] is JC - Joe Cooper", who started the day in the overall NRS leader's jersey after his victory at Perth. "He did it earlier in the week and posted his time up so that was one of the reasons I did it."
Haig set-up his Stage 1 with after taking his place amongst a select group that formed after the final KoM of the day ahead of the ascent up the dormant shield volcano at Warning. In the final kilometre, where riders struggles to turn the pedals on the 25 percent pitches, was of little hindrance to Haig who simply rode everyone off his wheel to cross the line 22 seconds ahead of teammate Crawford.
"It was too steep to put in an attack because you would just go lactic and ruin yourself because there is nowhere to recover," Haig told Cyclingnews. "I just tried to set a hard pace for as long as I could and hoped that it was too much for whoever was behind me."
With four stages remaining Haig believes he has the ability to retain the lead until the end but he'll be looking for guidance from his more experienced teammates, admitting that while he clearly has the potential to win stages in the NRS, he needs some help when it comes to making tactical decisions.
"I hope that if I have a good time trial that I don't lose any time, maybe I can gain some time on some of the other guys around me," haig suggested. "Hopefully that means I finish the tour where I started.
"I actually said to everyone in the team 'look, I haven't done much road racing' and people kind of expect me to know what I'm doing because of how I'm riding. I'm the leader of the tour but I don't really know what's going on. The whole team just helps me out."