Nathan Haas (Katusha-Alpecin) came just a few metres away from taking a spot on the Tour of Oman's overall podium. Haas finished fifth on the final stage, but had he taken third, the bonus seconds would have been enough to catapult him onto the rostrum.
It was always going to be a difficult task for the Australian, considering the sprinting talent that finished ahead of him, and he could comfortably console himself with the points jersey and his stage 2 victory in Al Bustan.
"It's a shame I didn't sprint two places better because then I would have moved to third, but I took the green jersey so that's also a super nice thing to move into on the last day," Haas said. "We raced to win and today we had no pressure, we only had something to gain. We kind of wanted to get dirty and down to it. It was sweet."
The grin on Haas' face was hard to suppress as rolled back towards the podium on the Matrah Corniche after stage 6. It was a far cry from how he'd felt just under a month ago when he finished the Tour Down Under well down the classification after setting out to make the podium. He had suffered in the blistering heat of Adelaide, which left him feeling down and struggling with training.
"I was pretty down after Australia. It wasn't from the result and it was more from the way that it went down," Haas explained. "I just felt that it didn't go well for me. That's totally in the past now, I've put it to bed. The team was really in contact with me the whole time, even when I was training half an hour one day and asking mum to come and pick me up from a coffee shop or whatever. My body totally broke down, but the cool thing was that the coaches, and my own coach as well, were super positive and staying calm. As soon as I rested for enough days, and stayed calm for enough days, it just came around."
With his early disappointments firmly put away, Haas can now focus on the next part of his race programme, which builds up to Amstel Gold in April. Haas had made no bones about his desires to win the Dutch one-day race and finished fourth in the event last year, 10 seconds behind the winner Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors). After a strong week in the Middle East, Haas says that his focus on bike-handling skills and time trialling has helped him to make a step forward in his ability. He added that that the coming weeks are all about keeping healthy.
"To be honest, I don't think that I can get fitter than this, it's all about staying cool and healthy. That's really what it comes down to," said Haas. "I've really been focusing on time trialling and it's not for winning time trials, it's for the finals of races. So far, I've been feeling a big gear difference in how I'm riding. When you feel comfortable with the power then you make better decisions as well. I've been working on a lot of things this season and doing a lot of skills camps.
"There's this guy in Australia called Dylan Cooper, who I think is a level above Sagan in bike handling, he's just incredible. He runs a skills coaching course. I know that I'm seven years' pro, but I'm never too big to admit when there's a gap in competence between me and the best. I think that I've closed a gap in the last corners for sprints and in crazy downhills.
"You save energy there and you save energy by being able to stay cool in those finals. Maybe I can win a big race. Winning on stage 2 was already a bit of a pat on the back to say that I'm on the way, but it's still a long way from that to winning Amstel."
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