Nathan Haas has amassed a 250-point lead on his rivals over the opening five rounds of the National Road Series, the latest being the Geelong Tour where the 22-year-old claimed his fourth overall victory of the season. Together with his Genesys teammate Steele Von Hoff, who claimed two stage wins to boost his tally to 10 for the Series, the pair is proving to be the formidable combination in domestic racing in 2011.
Rival team director sportif, Pat Jonker from Jayco-2XU was frank about the abilities of Haas and Von Hoff following the Geelong Tour.
"Nathan and Steele – these guys are really world class," he told Cyclingnews. "They're amazing bike riders that will soon be professional I would say."
Both have only recently turned their attention to full-time racing and are admittedly slightly older than most riders hoping to make it as a European professional. With his results coming thick and fast, Von Hoff admits that the "quicker" his rise up the ranks can happen "the better", especially give he will turn 24 in December.
"I'd always wanted to go and do it but it was more of a dream but now that I'm getting the results it's looking like it's about to become a reality," he explained. "I didn't expect to be getting the results that I'm getting but it's a tribute to the team and how strong we're riding at the moment, together."
Haas told Cyclingnews that while his transition is potentially not as simple as his teammate, he's not put off by the challenge.
"I know without even needed to be told that I'm not even close to where I need to be in all of my qualities to be an all round rider," he admitted. "I'm a jack of all trades but master of none. In cycling you're fulfilling a job and I still need to find my domain. For me it's going to take a little bit longer than what it might for Steele to progress but at the same time I'm really driven."
Taking cues from former teammates
It's not surprising that both Haas and Von Hoff are eyeing the path worn by Richie Porte (Saxo Bank SunGard) and Will Clarke (Leopard Trek) who both rode for team when it was known as Praties and are now forging ahead in ProTour teams.
"He [Porte] showed that the AIS system is not the only way to turn professional because it sort of did look that way for a number of years before that," said Haas. "It's inspired a whole new generation of Australian rider who maybe did start a little bit later and didn't get on the bandwagon with the institutes. Richie's a phenomenal athlete but psychologically he went through a lot of challenges taking this new route – it's not an easy one but he's shown that it can take you to the highest level in the sport."
Von Hoff, like Haas knows there's work to be done.
"If I went over to Europe, I'd start off slowly, like Will Clarke's doing this year and build my way up. At the moment I can get over the hills but I need a bit more work," he said before adding that the last 18 months of the career of Matt Goss (HTC-Highroad) has proved to be an inspiration.
Keeping the orange train on a winning track
Haas (515 points) and Von Hoff (265) currently sit at the top of the NRS individual ranking with another Genesys rider, 2010 champion Pat Shaw in third on 255. Genesys meantime has amassed a 234 point lead in the teams' rankings over nearest rival Jayco-2XU. The orange train has been the undisputed stand-out team so far.
Talking to any members of the team, the constant is that the results are coming due to their teamwork and that is showing no signs of abating.
"There's no selfishness in the group and we're happy to ride for one another," Von Hoff said simply. "If someone's having a bad day, then their day will come.We're not a class above the rest, it's just that we work so well together at Genesys."
Still, the Geelong Tour was evidence that Genesys can be beaten with the right approach, with the wins of Scott Law and Ben Kersten (Fly V Australia) and Ben Hill (Jayco-2XU) proving the best examples.
"This race we were a little bit disappointed in some of the stages where we might have run second," admitted Haas. "But even then, we like to set a high standard for ourselves as bike riders – as individuals and as a team. When we don't win and you do come so close, that's almost more painful than finishing off the podium."
Von Hoff agreed: "We had five guys at Anakie [Stage 5], four in the front bunch, make it around the course which put us 1, 2, 3 on GC whereas they [Fly V] saved themselves for that last stage. When we get there and we're so knackered and we're competing against fresh legs it makes it very difficult. They were just too strong."
Over the next few rounds, the standard of racing in the NRS will continue to rise with the inclusion of teams like Rapha Condor Sharp set to make their mark on the Australian domestic season. Haas won't be riding the Tour of Murray but is confident he can continue in his winning ways.
"My form's showing no signs of slowing down," he said. "I feel like I don't even need the break – I'm not that tired and am still riding really strong so when I come back, if I can still keep the lead that's awesome."
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As a sports journalist and producer since 1997, Jane has covered Olympic and Commonwealth Games, rugby league, motorsport, cricket, surfing, triathlon, rugby union, and golf for print, radio, television and online. However her enduring passion has been cycling.
Jane is a former Australian Editor of Cyclingnews from 2011 to 2013 and continues to freelance within the cycling industry.