Nathan Haas could be set to become the latest rider to make the cross over from road to gravel racing, the Cofidis rider telling Cyclingnews that he dreams of being able to ride an alternative calendar like his compatriot Lachlan Morton of EF Education-Nippo.
The 32-year-old Australian, who is coming to the end of his tenth year as a professional on the road, confirmed his passion for the ascendant gravel discipline at the Arctic Race of Norway.
Haas told Cyclingnews that his ideal career path for 2022 would be to balance both road and gravel racing, dedicating portions of the season to each discipline.
"I've sort of got a little bit of a sparkle in my eye to maybe take on gravel," Haas revealed to Cyclingnews.
"It's something I'm really considering. For me it's a huge passion. One of the best things I've ever done in my life is the recent Nova Eroica in Tuscany.
"It's just a beautiful sport and I think it's going to explode. I don't think it's going to be as profitable as road cycling but life is not all about making money.”
"An alternative program would be kind of my dream, I have to say. Like Lachlan, but I think with a bit more focus on getting results on the road. That's no disrespect to Lachlan because he's really good at both, obviously, but he's a bit of a unicorn in the way he goes about things.
"I'd love to seriously focus on some parts of the season and then just tie in as much gravel racing as I can."
In recent months Haas started a podcast dedicated to the discipline called The Gravelog.
He described the series as a passion project and said that he's learning from his interviewees, who have included former Trek road rider Peter Stetina.
Haas has past experience in off-road riding, having raced mountain bikes – including at two World Championships – until making the move across to the road in 2009 with Continental team Genesys.
On gravel, he only has two races under his belt, both in Europe, but is keen to take on the major American races like Unbound, SBT GRVL, and the Belgian Waffle Ride.
"I did one race in Catalunya and one in Siena. But they were both timed section races. I haven't managed to find a race in my schedule yet, that's like a point to point," he said.
"To be honest I can't wait. I'm hoping to get over to the States and dip my toes in the water there and just see how I shape up against these guys.
"With my background in mountain biking - I did years in the World Cups - I noticed even just in Italy that skillswise I was leaving everyone for dead. I think that finding a course with a bit more of a technical aspect is going to be something that would play big into my favour. I just want to see where it goes."
Unfinished business on the road
Haas' enthusiasm about gravel racing doesn't mean he's planning on switching focus altogether, as the likes of Stetina Ian Boswell and Dutchman Laurens ten Dam have done.
He is coming to the end of his second year with Cofidis and his contract is set to expire, but he's fully set on extending his career on the road.
"I don't feel like I'm done yet on the road," Haas said.
"I think I've got a lot of energy and experience to bring to teams. I still feel like there are a few bits of unfinished business at a few races.
"It's just been unfortunate that the last year and a half has been so affected by this stupid virus and pandemic. To be honest it'd be a really shitty way to leave the sport knowing that I didn't get a fair – not that the team didn't give me a fair run – but that circumstance didn't give me a fair run to really go guns blazing. There's a lot of opportunities on bikes and I'm there to take every bit of them."
Haas said that he's in discussions with Cofidis and other teams, but that there hasn't yet been any firm agreement on his future a week into cycling's transfer window. After a tough season which saw him battle COVID-19 and pneumonia at the same time in spring, he's looking to the final run of races to prove his worth once more.
"I'm hoping to renew. We're still talking. Of course we're talking with other teams. It'd be nice to stay. Change isn't always a good thing. I think I'm getting a bit older and it's nice to have that continuity.
"I think a lot of it comes down to being able to show that I can get back to my level that I know I can be at and the team knows I can be at. It's been a nice honest conversation about that. It's a hard thing in sport. You have to perform, you can't just enjoy it. I'm still loving what I'm doing but I just need to find that little run of good luck that I've been missing this year."
After the disruption of the 2020 season, Haas has been one of the unlucky few riders to be laid low by COVID-19 this season.
After catching both the virus and pneumonia in March, he was out of action for a month, ruining his spring campaign.
He admitted that it took some time to get back to fitness after his illness, while it's possible that it's still having some lasting effects on his racing.
"It's definitely taken me a long time to get back to the point where I could train properly," he said. "It wasn't like all of a sudden I was well. But I still think sometimes at the moment after a hard training block it feels like the whiplash is a little harder than it has been in the past.
“I think my top end is still there but I think at strange times that I feel a bit more fatigue than I had done, but that could be a lot of things – it might not be COVID."
Haas' end of season revolves around the Road Race World Championships in Belgium, where he's hoping to make up part of the Australia team supporting Michael Matthews.
He's basing his training around that goal, he said, though the remainder of his 2021 schedule remains up in the air.
"I'm just making the last dash for the end of season results and I'm super motivated. I'm really also working towards the World Championships to be there to support Michael Matthews. Most of my training now is really focussed on doing the best I can for that particular event.
"I've asked to do as much racing as possible. I feel fit, I feel like the next part is race fitness. Once I get started, I feel like I don't want to stop until the last race of the year. I want to go all in.”
"I've got a lot to do still and motivation is high to really just kick this last part of the season in the arse and prove to my team that I'm a good bet to keep going into the future."
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