Stage 1 of the Jayco Herald Sun Tour may have looked like on paper it was one for the "fastest man here" Steele von Hoff, but it was Nathan Haas who proved the quickest on the 116km route from Geelong to Ballarat.
Prior to the stage, Cyclingnews caught up with Haas who said, "Steele is easily the fastest guy here. It's not often that I make a big call like this but, we haven't done our job if Steele doesn't win today."
Haas leads the overall and points classification after his sprint win over Matt Goss (Orica-GreenEdge) and Jonathan Cantwell (Drapac) and having picked up 10 bonus seconds, he has a buffer over main rival Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge).
Gerrans has proven to be adept at picking up crucial bonus seconds in the past and Haas isn't taking his lead for granted. "I've got to see what Gerrans is doing and if they opportunity comes that I can take some seconds as well from finishes than I have to take them. We saw how important seconds were at the Tour Down Under and Gerrans is the world master at cleaning up bonus seconds and making up time here there and everywhere."
An issue with his chain in the final 100m ended any chances von Hoff had claiming a second Sturt St win in a month following his national criterium victory in January, but both he and Jack Bauer surrendered his yellow jersey after the stage and he now sits in second place overall, leaving Garmin with several cards to play as they chase their first stage win victory of 2014.
"We have to protect the lead for all of us, whether that's one of us in the breakaway that goes to the line because it's a big group or if it's a sprint," he said.
As a former winner, Haas is familiar with the race and style of racing at the Herald Sun Tour. He stressed the importance of teammates in achieving the overall victory.
"I came from this style of racing in Australia with the NRS with smaller numbers, shorter courses and aggressive riding so we know it's imperative to have options, because if you don't have options you're putting a hell of a lot of pressure on your team and that can blow up in your face.
"I'm here for the GC , but the best thing is that the guys have put themselves in an awesome position to take it as well from any opportunity that they get which takes pressure off me to do my job when it comes down to it."
Despite missing the Australians nationals as he recovered from the aftermath of a crash at the Giro, Haas is enjoying be able to race at his best again.
"For me, when the form is good, the confidence just follows. I'm a racer by heart and when the forms there to race for me, form and confidence go hand in hand. I'm always here to win a race when I can and coming to this race knowing how good my legs are."
With the change back to a 2.1-level race allowing international teams to compete such as his own, Haas explained that the threats to GC are bountiful. "I can't name them all because there are too many to name, so we're not counting our chickens before they hatch because they haven't even laid an egg yet," he told Cyclingnews.
For Haas, it was the Herald Sun Tour that launched his career after overall victory. He enters the race not so nervous but is just as hungry for the win. "This is my third season at WorldTour level. I've had some good results but the biggest thing is that I learnt how to ride and I've gotten stronger.
"Coming into this race, you begin to see things a little bit differently and it means just as much to me as it used to, but I guess that you're mental state coming into it is that you come into it in a far less nerveless manner."
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