The grass isn't always greener on the other side but for Nathan Haas the move from Garmin to Dimension Data has refreshed and revitalised the Australian despite a month off the bike following one of the more spectacular crashes so far this season. Fourth at the Australian national championships and sixth place at Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race were promising early season results but a 'stupid' crash on stage 4 of Paris-Nice saw Haas start back at square one in early-March. He may have been down, but Haas certainly was not out.
"I had a stupid crash at Paris-Nice where I attacked off the front on a downhill and went off the edge. I didn't think it was as bad as what it was," Haas told Cyclingnews of the crash that momentarily lit up social media.
The Aussie battler was back racing the following weekend at Milan-San Remo, for the third time in career, but quickly realised not all was well with the effects of the crash catching up with him.
"Athletes are really good at convincing themselves that everything is ok and on path or something is ok when it isn't. I couldn't turn my head to the right almost at all. After San Remo, everything went dark," Haas recounted. "I had four days in bed where I couldn't really move. Not that I tore anything, but I did some nerve damage and everyday one of my fingers extra was going numb.
"By the time that my whole hand was numb and my forearm could feel it, I went to a specialist who was basically like 'get off, you can't ride a bike for a while' and that slowly come back. Then I got the flu and then first day back training, I had a bit of an incident being hit by a tractor which threw me off for another week," he added. "In French there is the saying 'Jamais deux sans trois', never two without a third. I had my run of three but unfortunately it was just before my favourite races of the year which are the Ardennes."
With his Ardennes campaign compromised by the crash and subsequent time off the bike, Haas could be excused for feeling a bit miffed to be missing one of his season goals and having to rebuild his fitness base. However, with an 'awesome' medical team behind him and a team that was taking the long term view, Haas explained there was still plenty to take away from his Ardennes experience.
"It was actually interesting going to my favourite races without any pressure this year. It's quite a cool way to actually sit back and watch the race from a different perspective and I think I learnt a lot to take to the next seasons of giving Amstel a go and everything," he said.
"The team was really understanding with where I was at physically and they didn't say 'come to the Ardennes and just help the guys' then in the meeting say 'yeah but Nathan, maybe you can go good in the final'," he said. "They knew exactly where I was and didn't make me feel bad about what had happened. Obviously when you join a new team you want to go and kick arse and it was hurting me inside to feel like I wasn't pulling my weight yet. It was a hard couple of months but I've definitely pulled through and the body is almost feeling better than what it was before. You have to focus on your physio and rehab and now my posture feels better on the bike and I just feel stronger overall. In a weird way, it might have been a positive."
Missing the Giro and shifting the goalposts
On Dimension Data's Giro d'Italia team, to get the missing racing miles back in his legs required for the race, Haas jetted off to the Tour of Croatia and then the Tour de Yorkshire. However the night before the British race, Haas was told he wouldn't be starting the Italian grand tour. A decision he describes as a 'good call' due to him not 'being at my best' but one that was nonetheless, 'disappointing'. There was no sign of disappointment on stage 3 with an aggressive showing from Haas earning himself the KOM jersey and call up to the Tour of California.
While his 'heart was at the Giro in Italy', Haas notched two top-ten results in California, one those being a third place behind world champion Peter Sagan and Greg Van Avermaet on the Leguna Seca race track. Rather than ruminating on the 'what ifs' of his spring, Haas explained that keeping his season in perspective and remembering that there are plenty more race days on the calendar meant his approach to California was relaxed, which was then reflected in his results.
"I am going to target every race I can be fit at, that's the reality. If you're not fit, you can will whatever you want but you need a good run in and sometimes you can get a good run in by luck into a race like you weren't planning on, like California for me, and you just have a run with the form and trust that when you're in the final you make the right decision," said Haas.
"The year is always long and I think every athlete needs to remind themselves that you can have setbacks but you just have to change your goalposts and not care so much about that race anymore. Everyone tries to peak for the Tour, everyone is like 'the goal's the Tour', or the Giro but you don't hear that often someone say 'my goal is Tour de Romandie' or 'my big goal is to go to Tour of Poland, kick arse and get some WorldTour points there'. I think it's one of those things that more riders need to do, is if they've had setbacks or missed out on something like the Giro, is to think 'ok, what's the next one that is going to be suited to me being best suited to with less of the other guys at their best.' You have to be smart about plans, not just dream about winning a stage of the Tour. We are all dreaming about that."
Part of Haas' approach to the 2016 season can be attributed to his new surroundings at Dimension Data. After four years in the argyle of Garmin, it appears that thus far a new start has revitalised Haas and filled him new levels of self-belief and confidence.
"It's just different, the environment is different, the pressure is different," he said of the new team. "I feel like I have a hand behind my back pushing me this year. It's really nice. All the directors believe in me and we have guys like Rolf [Aldag] who are fantastically minded when it comes to what a good plan is. I've really enjoyed working with Roger Hammond, he's been an awesome director and definitely knows how I tick. And riding with guys with experience, there is no bullshit. Everyone gets what they got to do and are getting it done.
"I've had a lot of fun this year and it's not like I've taken pressure off, I put a lot of pressure on myself because I like to do well and want to do well. It's been a totally different environment and I am just loving it. I am really happy to have had the chance to come across."
Tour de France
Haas fulfilled a childhood dream last year when he made his Tour de France debut to complete the grand tour set. With Dimension Data yet to decide on the composition of its Tour de France squad, Haas will head to the Criterium du Dauphine, where there are a few stages he has he eyes on, to make his case for a return.
"Maybe the Tour, that's a possibility now but I am not holding my breath," said Haas who is currently a reserve. "For me as an athlete, I was always like 'I have to be a Tour de France rider' and then I did the Tour and I am like 'I've done that, I don't need to do it terms of the childhood dream'," he said of his current feeling towards selection.
However, should Haas get the nod for the Tour, he know's exactly what 'not' to do after the lessons of 2015.
"Last year I put too much pressure on myself and on in the run into the Tour and I was absolutely cooked when I arrived there," he said. "I trained for five weeks like an insane person before Dauphine last year, had a great race because I was ready and had the sort of form I thought I'd love to take to a grand tour. I got told I was going to the Tour after the Dauphine last year and went straight up to Andorra and trained again like a crazy person. All of a sudden, I'd had five or six weeks away from home before I'd even got to the Tour and then you're like 'alright, now we have a whole month and I am tired and really mentally tied.'
"I'd love to go to the Tour, if I go this time it will be on my own mental terms, I won't be killing myself to try and earn it. I either earn I or I don't, if I do I know I won't be overdone this time. I know exactly what not to do after last year."
Haas' relaxed demeanour comes to the fore when discussing the Tour. If he is selected, it will be on merit and there is no point stressing otherwise. Besides, there is plenty of racing across July and behind that there is still two months of racing and the Vuelta a Espana to boot.
And at 26, there is still plenty of racing to come for Haas and several potential Tours ahead.
"It's the Tour de France, it's the biggest race in cycling. It's the one that everybody knows but it's not necessarily the one that everyone loves the most and there are plenty of races out there that I would love to do," he said. "That aside, I don't think I would feel disappointment; you have to be a professional about it. The reason you're not going is because there are better guys on your team that are going to be better suited to the overall goal of the team of maybe you were better than some of the guys but they were better suited to the overall goal. That's part of being in a team that you want to be in, that they will always choose the best team for the race and take everything into account. If I go, that will be awesome and I'll be ready as hell but if I don't go, there is plenty left in the year.
"There is another grand tour, lots of one-day days, lots of one-week races so I am happy either way."