Nathan Haas (Katusha-Alpecin) has brushed off a poor showing at the recent Tour Down Under as his focus turns towards the spring campaign and another tilt at several targets, including the Ardennes Classics.
The 29-year-old regularly aims to hit form at his home race, and finished fourth two seasons ago. In 2018 he was the victim of extreme heat conditions and slipped out of contention, but this year the all-rounder admitted that his condition simply wasn't up to scratch. No excuses; the legs simply weren't there.
"I did plan to be good here but I find form in January to be an elusive thing," Haas told Cyclingnews at the race.
"It either happens or it just doesn't quite get there. I put a lot of effort into this race but I've not had the form for a good result. The good thing is that the work has been put into the body but it's just hard to time it with January."
Haas finished the Tour Down Under 125th overall but came into the race on the back of a respectable fourth place in the national time trial championships. However, the root of his Tour Down Under woes may have been down to his preparation.
A late finish to the 2018 season - where he finished third overall at the Tour of Turkey - meant that the turnaround for 2019 was relatively short. Training camp commitments back in Europe, while a number of his Australian rivals were able to train in warmer weather back home, may not have helped.
"I don't think that anything is missing. Timing-wise, I finished with the last race in Turkey, which doesn't give you much off-season before you start training again. When you have a bit of a rushed approach it either works really well or you just miss the boat. There's a level of accuracy in January which isn't as easy to hit as it is in March or April. I'm not worried. I'm disappointed but I'm not worried as it's just the first race of the year. I've not been able to deliver but it's coming."
Finding form is always a difficult task for a professional athlete, especially at such an early phase in the season.
"Sometimes your body is in fitness in January, and sometimes it's not. And sometimes the more relaxed approach has given me the better result here."
Haas refused to align his Tour Down Under ride with pressure. At times the rider has thrived in such circumstances.
"In some ways that could be true, but pressure is inherent in cycling if you want to try and get a result. I take my job very seriously so that pressure is innate, but too much pressure, I don't think that's the case," Haas said. "The pressure I put on myself is often what brings me success. Pressure can be the fuel for a fire but it can also be the fuel for success."
Haas will race the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race this weekend before taking on the Tour of Oman - where he won a stage in 2018 - and the Volta a Catalunya in March. He will skip Tirreno-Adriatico in order to build up for the Ardennes and the hope is that a slightly lighter programme will help ensure that his elusive top form is reached in April.
"To get to the Ardennes in good form, from my perspective, you either have to not do the Australian stuff, and then you can a normal spring, or you do the Australian races and then you back it off before the Ardennes."