Nathan Haas heads into the final stage of Jayco Herald Sun Tour with a 10-second lead over nearest rival Jack Bobridge (Garmin-Cervelo) but is supremely confident of holding on despite his rookie status.
The tour's fifth stage heads to cafe cultured Lygon Street, Carlton for the traditional criterium finale. Fifteen laps of a 4.1-kilometre "H" circuit will be raced with more than enough bonus seconds available for Bobridge should he choose to enter a ruthless state of mind and his team keep him within a position to strike.
Despite the numbers game, Haas couldn't help but celebrate once he got back to his hotel room in Melbourne on Saturday night.
"I just danced on the spot for a little bit," he said, laughing. "All of a sudden it was just like, 'yeah!'" In claiming the overall lead late on Saturday afternoon, Haas had beaten a field littered with pro teams and a peloton stacked with some of the world's best who had been heavily favoured to take the yellow jersey. His life and cycling career, is without doubt, about to change in a big way.
Still coming to terms with the events on Arthurs Seat, where he had bypassed the Australian national champion en-route to second place for the stage, and into the general classification lead, Genesys' Haas is not concerned by any potential threat posed by Bobridge this afternoon.
"When you look back at the first stage when Jack Bobridge was racing intermediates, I beat him in all of those and the final sprint after 170km of swapping off - and today as well where I got the jump on him at the top of him at the top of the hill," the 22-year-old told Cyclingnews. "I don't think he's going to be going into the criterium with much confidence to be actually able to out-sprint me for those time bonuses.
"So I think for Jack he's probably going to be running a more time kind of a deal and just hoping that his abilities and his team are there to put the smack down against me."
It's a scenario Haas and his orange train of Genesys teammates have had plenty of practice at throughout what has been a highly successful 2011, where the Canberra-based rider has won six events on the National Road Series - Tour of Mersey Valley, Canberra Tour, Tour of Gippsland, Goulburn to Sydney Classic and the Tour of Tasmania - with most having a heavy schedule of criterium racing.
"Abso-bloody-lutely!" Haas exclaimed when asked if he'll feel comfortable in the familiar pressure of the circuit race. "I think we're pretty sick of going for intermediate sprints and jumping out of every corner but having done so many now, I think we're pretty good at it."
Haas has the innate ability to be able to continually accelerate, a skill honed during his mountain bike days and so should, in conjunction with the dialled-in, naturally aggressive Genesys team, be able to remain in control of his destiny and walk away from the five stage tour, the overall winner.
"I think I'm really well suited to tomorrow, and I've certainly got a team that's suited and very much up for it," he said frankly.
While he may not be in the final bunch sprint for the stage win in the inner-city suburb of Carlton, Haas gives teammate Steele Von Hoff a real chance of bettering his second placing behind Skil-Shimano's Marcel Kittel from stage 3 in Drysdale.
"You never rule Steele out of any sprint," he said regarding the powerhouse sprinter who's bolted to an unprecedented 17 wins in the NRS this season. "He's so fast and he proved that against [Marcel] Kittel on Thursday and Steele was by himself for the last two kilometres of the race. That sort of shows his class as a sprinter in pure ability, but also his ability to fight for his own position."
The versatility of Von Hoff throughout 2011 was particularly evident during the decisive stage on Arthurs Seat when the 23-year-old guided Haas through relatively minor gaps to maintain position in the peloton over the three-lap climb. Haas credits the tutelage and guidance of Pat Shaw for the growing confidence within the sprinter, nicknamed "Stainless".
"I would say there's no one on the Australian scene doing NRS who's as talented as Pat at reading races," Haas said. "When Pat says at a team meeting that he's going to get in a breakaway that day, he always does. Nothing's an accident for Pat; it always just happens. He's taught us all a lot. He's the perfect leader."
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.
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