Under any other circumstances, Nathan Haas’ (Garmin-Sharp) fight for the podium would be making Australian sporting page headlines. But while Aussie heavyweights Cadel Evans and Simon Gerrans wrestle for control of the Tour Down Under’s ochre leader’s jersey, Haas, who was sitting in fourth position just nine seconds off third place Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida), has now dropped to fifth overall and is no longer in podium contention. But that has not dampened Haas’ spirits and what has become a feel-good story of the race.
Haas now trails race leader Gerrans, who re-claimed the ochre leader's jersey from Evans in a brutal battle on the infamous Willunga Hill. Haas is behind Evans, who is one second behind Gerrans, Diego Ulissi and stage winner Richie Porte.
"If I am currently sitting fifth on GC and guys like Gerrans, Evans and Porte are ahead of me then that's not bad company to be around," said Haas, the 2011 Herald Sun Tour winner. "And to have guys like Robert Gesink at the moment behind me then I’ve outdone where I thought I would be this time of year anyway," he told Cyclingnews.
The 24-year-old mountain biker-turned-road cyclist has replaced teammate Rohan Dennis as Garmin-Sharp's general classification leader, after Dennis failed to find form following a nasty spill during the Australian men’s National Time Trial Championships in Ballarat earlier this month.
Haas, who missed the Australian nationals due to a season-ending injury, told Cyclingnews that his "move up in the pecking order was completely organic" and that Rohan had asked him if he had the legs on stage three and when Haas told him 'yes,' Dennis said the team ride for Haas.
"Rohan is an amazing guy and I am lucky to have the support of himself and the team," he said. "I take the job of working with the team very seriously, so to have some of the world's best riders working for me, I can't say how much that means to me."
Haas explained to Cyclingnews after Stage 5 that he gave it all on Willunga to stay in GC contention and within reach of the podium, but the second of the two ascents up Willunga proved to be a bit too much too soon in the season.
"Honestly that was just a massive blur of pain," said Haas, who collected his first WorldTour points of his career on Stage 2. "That was sickening. I just unclipped and fell over at the finish."
Haas emptied the tank over the 3-kilometre ascent averaging 7.6 per cent gradient in a courageous attempt to stay with the race leaders. "I started winding my sprint up with a kilometre to go," he said. "I got to the 150- metre mark when they started to sprint and I just went deep and tried to hang on."
Haas says should he retain his fifth place position, eels both he and the team would be happy with the results of the Tour. Haas told Cyclingnews "we just have to make sure I stay with the sprint tomorrow and we are all good."