Nathan Haas: talking about his move to Katusha-Alpecin
We catch with Nathan Haas shortly after it was announced that he’ll be moving to the Swiss-registered Katusha-Alpecin team for two years starting in 2018. It’s a long interview but plenty of topics are explored…
“I’m a cyclist for the love of racing more than anything.”
– Nathan Haas, 8 August 2017
The news came through on Monday evening in a press release from a team that has a strong link with Russia even if it’s now registered in Switzerland. Katusha-Alpecin was excited to announce the signing of Nathan Haas. The 28-year-old has a contract for two years starting in January 2018.
“He brings to us his strength in both the Ardennes Classics and one-week races,” said the Portuguese general manager, José Azevedo.
“He’s an interesting rider as he is basically an all-rounder in that he is strong and experienced in sprint finals but is also an option to support a leader in a key role for stages races.”
Haas will become the second Australian to compete under the Katusha banner, the first being Robbie McEwen who was part of the team for two years, 2009 and 2010.
There’s little similarity between Katusha then and now. No riders from McEwen’s generation remain on the roster, but Guennadi Mikhailov has moved into the role of directeur sportif.
It acquired a German co-title sponsor, Alpecin, in 2017 and launched its own clothing brand. There are other initiatives, including an associated holiday company, that are part of the Katusha stable. It seems that the conglomerate that began life with the slogan ‘Russian Global Cycling Project’ is intent on capitalising on the investment required to be part of the WorldTour.
Haas joins a particularly cosmopolitan cast as he prepares for his seventh season in the WorldTour and he’s excited about the prospect of having more of a leadership role at his next team.
RIDE spoke to Haas a day after the Katusha-Alpecin announcement to find out more about his change of teams.
Read the transcript of the interview below…
After two seasons with Dimension Data, Nathan Haas will move to Katusha-Alpecin in 2018.
Photo: Laura Fletcher
Q&A with Nathan Haas
RIDE: It’s the day after the night before when Nathan Haas was declared to be a future member of the Katusha-Alpecin cycling team. Big news for you…
Nathan Haas: “Yeah absolutely. It’s a pretty big change from the kind brands of teams that I’ve been on in the past and I think it came as a bit of a surprise to a few people.”
Does that mean that the relationship with Dimension Data is over? Do you see yourself racing much more this season?
“The relationship is certainly not over. It sort of came to almost a bit of a natural end. The team is prioritising, I assume, to try and resign Louis Meintjes and I believe that probably took a lot of the budget… and also they only have a guaranteed budget – I learned when we were doing the negotiations – for one more year.
“Other teams that I was speaking to had two and three year offers on the table, so I think we came to a natural understanding that it wasn’t going to be possible for me to stay on with the team.
“But there are certainly no hard feelings and when it comes to racing at the end of the season, it was always going to be a light program because if I had actually done the Tour de France like was planned I would have probably been on my knees by this point in the year and just focussing on the one-day races.
“In the end it’s been easily my lightest ever season of race days but I think still not having many race days for the rest of the year gives me ample time to rest and really rebuild for [the early season] in Australia next year.”
It was a flurry of activity at the beginning of the season so it’s not like you were idle in 2017.
“It was insane all the way up to the Giro. There was just race after race after race… there was no break and any time I did have off the bike it was always because I was sick or injured.
“I certainly didn’t get any mental respite until I started the Giro.
“I think I started the Giro pretty well but by about stage five or six, I just knew that all hope was gone from actually pulling a result. (His best place was fourth in stage three.)
“The real rich run of form had come to an end and the concept for me starting the Giro was to always try to do 10 days, try to get a stage win, and then pull out and reset for the Tour de France.
“Up to the Giro I had lots of race days but since then I’ve had I think I’ve had eight or nine days and I only have three [race] days left for the rest of the season so the second half of my year has been a lot about just training.”
Does that mean that we don’t see Nathan Haas at the world championships again?
“I don’t know what’s happening. I’ve heard some strange rumours about what’s happening with Cycling Australia in terms of how many riders are even going to the worlds so…”
So they haven’t really invited you or spoken with you about that concept?
“No. I’ve been spoken to but I think it probably goes without saying that they speak to a long list of guys just to see who is motivated.
“I definitely gave my intentions that I’d be ready if they need me this year but you also need to know a little in advance.
“During the whole Tour de France I took myself up to the top of a mountain [for an altitude training camp] which was boring as bat shit but I got myself really fit to take on the second half of the season just through training super hard. And I’m about to go back up to altitude for another few weeks before I hit Plouay, Quebec and Montreal which will the last races for me this season.
“I’m still totally full-gas and really focussed on a big result in those races, if I can.
“But I guess the world championships is 12 days after [the Canadian races] so if I get called up to go, I’ll be super focussed to be there.
“I think ‘Bling’ (Michael Matthews) showed this year that there’s no chance that he’s not going to be in the deep final and who knows he could have the rainbow jersey.”
Haas splits his time between living out of a suitcase at races, a base in Girona, Spain, and – when back in Australia – Sydney and Canberra…
Well we’ll watch this space with interest. It could be fun [in Norway] but the big news is Katusha-Alpecin. Tell us a little bit about how those negotiations came about. I know that you’ve never been… ah, let’s say: hitting big numbers when it comes to salary demand. Katusha has got a reputation of paying their riders well. Is it a good step up for you?
“Well, I think cycling is one of those strange sports where some guys have, early on in their careers, deemed to have a lot of potential and can be paid huge amounts of money for not having delivered results. And then some guys can be on the other end of the spectrum where they’ve actually been slowly getting those results their whole career and sort of not really been, I guess, ‘represented’ in their pay.
“I would never say that I was ever, you know, on a terrible wicket.
“But I think the nice thing was that I was really starting to hit my strides, not just in potential but I was having big rides in [some of] the biggest races this year, so it certainly wasn’t just Katusha-Alpecin asking me to ride for them in the future.
“Market rule: supply and demand – and there was quite a lot of demand for me coming into next year.”
It’s a nice compliment. You must be pleased with that.
“Yeah, that’s one aspect of it but I’m a cyclist for the love of racing more than anything and my goals aren’t small.
“The nicest thing when speaking to Katusha was that their goals for me – and the way they want to support me – confirm where I know I am in cycling.
“Having someone like José Azevedo almost telling me almost exactly what my race program would be is great; it was basically my Christmas wish-list of races and for all of those it’s actually to be a leader.
“For me, going to Katusha the biggest step was actually the sporting aspect more than anything. That’s truthfully the biggest reason why I went there.”
After two years racing on Cervélo bikes, the change of teams will provide Haas with a chance to sample Canyon’s road bikes… and possibly even offer an opportunity to ride some of the brand’s mountain bikes – which will surely appeal to this former downhiller.
We were trying to consider the kind of cast that you might have at your disposal. Is Alexander Kristoff still there in 2018? (Note: He’s not, he’s moving to UAE-Emirate after six years at Katusha.)
“Honestly, it’s not my place to say about any of those things.
“I know a couple of things that are going on into next year but it’s definitely not my place to send any rumours through this grapevine.”
It’s going to be fun to watch this space and see what develops of Nathan Haas… let’s say: 3.0. Or is it 4.0? I can’t really remember where you’re at.
“I don’t really know where I am at. I think maybe it just goes back to 1.0 – maybe it’s just part of the original plan.
“I think the nice thing for me is that I’m getting more and more confidence every year I’m doing this.
“I don’t feel as if in any season I’ve hit a ceiling.
“I always seem to breaking through multiple times a year.
“I haven’t hit that one massive result yet but I’ve been close so many times and I really feel that the difference is going to be riding for one of the biggest teams in the world where, for the first 200km of Amstel Gold you’re not in the washing machine of the peloton fighting all day; when you’re finally in the deep final, because you’re good enough to be there, you’re racing against guys who have been protected by teams with lots of riding having lots of numbers all day.
“That’s the league that I need to be in now for me to beat guys like Peter Sagan and Philippe Gilbert who are already physically better than me.
“What I need now is the support to actually be at least on an equal playing field to compete in those deep finals.
“I know the way Katusha rides and I know the way that Katusha has this sense of respect within the peloton… that’s where I’m going to be now.
“I think I’ve said it already but I think going to a team like Katusha is going to give me enough rope to choke myself on.
“If I don’t win the big races now there’s no excuses and I can totally go to sleep just knowing that I wasn’t good enough. But at this point in my career I had to go to a team that can give me the support – and, at the same time, the opportunity – to be a leader in those biggest races.
“There’s a tightrope that you’re walking between going to a team that’s big enough, with the support ability. At the same time, you can be on a pretty low rung if you’re already on a team that’s got too many credible riders like Gilbert, Van Avermaet, Kwiatkowski…
“For me, I think, Katusha is going to be a perfect fit.
“We’ll see what happens but I have a pretty good feeling about how it all is going to be.”
Don’t look back in anger… Haas has matured during his time with Dimension Data and leaves the team with a sense of satisfaction.
I think we decided that we would start this interview with a statement and that is: ‘We are all created equal, only that some are more equal than others…’ or something along those lines. This was your idea. Why?
[Laughs] “No. The team is not actually a communist team. I can’t be making those kind of statements.”
So do you think you’ll settle into the ‘Russian System’? You’ve been practicing your languages or where are you at on that front?
“I think there’s actually a bit of a misconception on what the team is now.
“It certainly was a Russian team. And it certainly was a breeding house for incredible Russian talent but now the team is registered in Switzerland. The official language within the team – and all the meetings – is English.
“I think there’s a predominant amount of directors either coming from Austria, Switzerland or Germany, so I think it’s evolving into something that’s much more international. And that’s why I opened my eyes to going to the team from a cultural and social perspective as well.
“It’s changing. It’s well-rounded.
“The sporting aspect is not changing but definitely other elements are and I think the team is really trying to engage in the world of cycling now.
“It’s not just trying to be a bike team that goes and gets results.
“They have started a travel company. They started a clothing company. They started a coffee club sort of thing at races as well to try to have people engaging with the team.
“I think there’s like a nice narrative of where the team is going.
“Without it being so blatantly so, it seems and feels almost like a bit of a rebranding of what the team is becoming.
“With a few of the riders that are about to be announced as having signed with the team – not that I can give anything away – I think we’ll start to see a much more endearing nature for the team and I think it’s going to be one of the cool teams to be part of and I wanted to jump on the bandwagon nice and early.”
– Interview by Rob Arnold