Nathan Haas – The end-of-season success…
This is a follow-up from another debutant columnist, Nathan Haas. The Genesys Wealth Advisers team member offers his take on Australia’s National Road Series (NRS) in RIDE #54 which goes on sale this week. His first article for RIDE begins on p.110, but this piece offers some insight into how he came to be part of the WorldTour and what he expects from 2012 and beyond.
From the NRS to the WorldTour…
In the closing months of competition for the 2011 road racing season, the name Nathan Haas was repeated over and over again – often as a winner, sometimes as a team-mate held in high regard, generally as a good bloke. His time racing NRS events has come to an end and in 2012 he’ll make his WorldTour debut with the Garmin-Cervélo team. Here’s what he had to say after his successful trip to Japan which included a victory for Genesys team-mate Steele von Hoff in a criterium in Utsunomiya and victory for himself in the Japan Cup…
By Nathan Haas
“You lied to me,” said Ivan Basso, “You said you were a sprinting team, but you get over the climb and you win. Well done.” These were words shared with me after recently winning the Japan Cup. For me it’s just fun even to say that I have now spoken with, let alone raced with a guy like Basso. I have looked up to in an almost rock groupie fan kind off way, embarrassing as that is.
It’s fair for me to say that October 2011 was somewhat surreal.
As recently as September I was preparing myself for the Tour of Tasmania, hoping that it would give me some good form to go to my biggest race start for the year, the Jayco-Herald Sun Tour. Without blowing my trumpet, I have had a pretty successful year of racing locally, having won five of the six stage races I started before the Tour of Tasmania – so I was pretty confident to win this race as well. However, I never in my wildest dreams actually thought that I could win the Jayco-Herald Sun Tour. I thought of this race as a good experience for me to see what the level is at the top, to give me something to train hard towards.
After racing in Tasmania, I was feeling more fatigued than I would have liked, to the extent in which I was contemplating telling my director to replace me the night before the start as I felt like I would have been taking a spot over someone who deserved it more than me.
After taking myself to bed, where the word comatose could only explain how deep my sleep felt, I woke to a message from Richie Porte – a good friend of our team, as it is where he also came from. His message basically said, “Don’t let these guys scare you. You’re as good as them… back yourself”.
Those words, even though I didn’t quite believe them, made all the difference in the end. When a small group rode off the front on the first stage, I made sure I was in it.
In a pro race, there is no sitting on. It’s either work, or enjoy the gutter. There is no mucking around. It’s 100 per cent go. If you can’t ride it, you’re not welcome.
It honestly felt like it was a day of motor pacing, except I was behind guys who were as cut as a niçoise salad. Pleasantly, as the genuine fatigue grew in our break away group of 16 which had established a race winning gap, my strength relative to the group seemed to stay true as the bigger climbs in the later part of the race began to shed riders. Before long we had cracked the break away to a field of six guys.
It was only then – after having made the selection in a group that contained only two of us who weren’t from WorldTour teams – that I slowly begin to back myself. The rest as they say is history.
Later that week I went on to take the yellow jersey on the penultimate day after winning what felt like an epic dual between myself and Jack Bobridge on hill-top finish… then we defended yellow in the final stage and won the title.
The whole time I was racing, as corny and stereotypical as this may sound, it was an outer-body experience. It was really overwhelming racing for the win against some incredible athletes who I’ve watched race the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France on DVD as I do my indoor training.
To have backed up that win the following week in the Japan Cup was a fantastic experience – it still took me a while to realise the magnitude of the journey I had taken for the month. But it didn’t really start a month ago…
My career as a bike rider started much earlier than 2011, initially as a dirty little downhill rider!
The impression most people have is that I began riding in 2010 when I signed with the Genesys Wealth Adisers team, but it’s been somewhat neglected in the media that I was, in fact, first and foremost a mountain biker.
Beginning in 2006 I picked up the bike bug and got addicted to riding. I was riding, building trails and racing every chance that I had. My first competition was at a national level and I had some success that saw me get offered a spot in the national team’s MTB program. I raced two world championships for Australia – in both 2007 and 2009, though with little success. I was living and travelling throughout Europe, predominantly on my own with the few dollars I’d saved over the Australian summer to support myself. These years were by no means easy.
Committing a wholehearted focus to a sport whereby your best day may produce a top 60 result in a World Cup is not synonymous with positivity. It was really difficult to muster the extra drive in competition to race for 63rd rather than 64th in the last lap, when all I could feel was horrific pain. There was no real trophy for putting that extra per cent into the ride. Nor were there races which offered a medium level of competition to develop like there is on road. For example, there were no UCI 2.2 events.
Every weekend, everywhere I raced, it was the same guys winning. On a personal level, it seemed as though I was pushing a fridge through sand and getting nowhere. At the time when I was contemplating throwing in the towel, I was approached by Andrew Christie-Johnson and asked if I wanted to ride with his team on the road. For me it was a fresh breath of air.
The most beautiful aspect of road racing I have found is that it has room for guys who aren’t always in the best of form. Athletes, with the exception of a rare few, do not have the ability to be at peak form all year and therefore must target races. Being part of a team is fantastic because, regardless of your form, you have a job to do. You feel both useful and successful at the same time, as the unified goal outweighs any personal ambition. As you soon learn within this sport that it is teamwork which wins races and, being part of a team which works together, is an amazing feeling which absolutely inspires the small per cent of extra effort at the end of a race… it’s what makes the difference between winning and loosing.
My recent race in the Japan Cup was a great example of this, as my team worked all day to get me through the race, sacrificing any personal chances of winning to deliver me to the last few laps in good condition. When the smack went down in the last few laps, with Damiano Cunego and Ivan Basso tearing up the climbs I was in more pain then I’ve ever felt. Literally vomiting at the top of the hill, I wasn’t thinking about the win. I was thinking about how I better do the job as they did theirs for me. It’s this pure motivation to share success which is the quintessential difference between the sports I’ve done, and this is why I love racing on the road.
Looking back at my time as a mountain biker, to the time I spent developing my ability after first signing for the Genesys team, I’d never have imagined being where I am now.
The end of 2011 has been a massive period of acceleration within my career. Having now signed a two year contract with Garmin-Cervélo, I realise it’s my whole journey as a bike rider which has shaped me – both mentally and physically.
Whilst I am still feeling very much as though this isn’t real yet, I am very excited to keep moving forward to keep the results coming and hopefully it will all sink in soon. As a friend told me before the Jayco-Herald Sun Tour, “These will be the five hardest days of your life.” I think the next few years will feel very much the same, though I don’t look at it with any fear, only excitement to be a professional in the most incredible sport in the world.
By Nathan Haas