RODEZ, France (CT) – Never mind that he had been out front for almost two hundred kilometres on stage 13 of the Tour de France, infiltrating a six man move and then pushing on alone inside the final 25 kilometres. Never mind that the bid didn’t come to fruition and he was caught and then dropped by some of his breakaway companions, then overtaken by the main bunch.
Never mind that Nathan Hass eventually crossed the finish line over five minutes behind the winner Greg Van Avermaet.
The Australian might have been forgive for being shattered, worn out after a tough day mentally and physically, but instead he appeared elated.
When Haas spoke to the media at the finish it was clear that he was very encouraged by what he had done.
“I have always been an enthusiastic guy,” Haas answered, responding when former pro and current SBS commentator Robbie McEwen asked how he still had so much morale left after several tough hours in the heat.
“I just love doing what I do. I think keeping a smile is what gets you through these big races with more big opportunities.”
Haas’s presence in the break came almost two weeks after he fell sick at the Tour de France start in Utrecht. He battled through the race until Friday’s stage, then his legs finally started firing as he wanted them to. His performance showed the value of persistence, and shows the kind of determination Tour debutants need to show.
“I seem to have not had the best of luck in any of the four Grand Tours I have done now,” he accepted. “The first one I did, I have to admit I was green and I didn’t know how hard it was. I came in very underdone and suffered my way through to stage 16 and crashed out.
“Then the next Giro in 2014 we crashed in the team time trial. To be honest, that has probably been the hardest moment in my career, to actually push through that first week.
“So in retrospect, coming into the Tour this year and getting sick on stage two, while it is super disappointing, it is something that I almost had in the reserve bank.
“Okay, just knowing that it is such a horrible thought to think, ‘oh no, I have got 19 stages to go, I am sick and I don’t know if this is going to swing around.’ But I have just learned that you can get through nearly any stage now. And when you do bounce, you can bounce pretty well. It is all about just trying to stay cool.”
Team-mate Dan Martin rooms with Haas and said that he had been through a lot. “He had really bad stomach problems. When you have stomach problems, you can’t eat, basically. He was not getting the nutrition he was needing and he was suffering through each stage.”
He said that his recovery was due in part to the structure of the race. “He was very fortunate that it was quite an easy run of stages leading up to the team time trial, and then he had the team time trial and the rest day to recover. I think if it happened in the mountains he would never have made it through.
“He still had to suffer a lot, though.”
“I sort of put the art of war into play”
The move went in the opening kilometre when Alexandre Geniez (FDJ), who grew up in the finish town of Rodez, attacked with Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal), Cyril Gautier (Europcar) and Wilco Kelderman (LottoNL-Jumbo).
Haas and Pierre-Luc Périchon (Bretagne-Séché Environnement) missed the initial jump but bridged across by kilometre five.
“I had a mission this morning from when I woke up – I was going to be in that breakaway,” he said. “I put my head down and went hard.
“A rider like myself in a Grand Tour doesn’t get too many opportunities to really try for the win.”
The break opened a maximum lead of approximately four and a half minutes, but hard chasing from teams like Giant-Alpecin meant that the advantage never really ballooned. Haas rolled through, but said that the temperatures of 35 to 40 degrees required him to be judicious with his efforts at times.
“It is something that you really can’t describe…the feeling when the heat gets so deep inside you that it feels like it is in your bones,” he said. “It can happen before you even realise and it can take a long time to come out of.
“Today I really struggled at a few moments. On TV it probably looked like I was trying to be a bit soft in the group, but I was just doing everything I could to stay in there.”
He said that his team helped him to cope with the conditions. “Fortunately by the end Robbie Hunter, our director, was nursing me with ice socks and cold drinks to pour over my head. I think I got the body temperature down just enough to try to have a play in the end.”
Haas made his move with 24 kilometres to go; perhaps earlier than he would have liked, but he felt he had to take his chance before the attacks started.
“I sort of put the art of war into play and tried to be away from the guys who are faster than me in the finish.
“I just thought I would give it a crack and see where they were. I was away for a little bit but they started working. It was unfortunate but they were on good days too. You don’t get many opportunities at a race like this.
“We really wanted to come out today firing. I was on a mission this morning to get in that break and I was not letting it not happen.
“So once I was there, I had to try.”
The others behind were giving him no quarter, though, and reeled him in after approximately six kilometres. He tried again on an uncategorised climb 15 kilometres from the finish, but this move was hampered somewhat by the effects of the earlier attack.
Kelderman then countered and was joined by Gautier and De Gendt, while Haas slipped backwards.
The efforts didn’t pay off, but he took a philosophical approach. “It is going to make the first big victory so sweet,” he reasoned.
It’s a glass half full outlook, but also a very wise one.
“We are here to have the rides of our life”
Martin said he was very pleased that his room-mate was mixing it in a race as big as the Tour. “He is a really good friend of mine and to see him in the breakaway today made me incredibly proud.
“And to hear about him on the attack in the last 20 kilometres….there was an incredibly strong group of riders up there, experienced riders. He is in his first Tour de France and he made a Tour de France breakaway.
“I think people underestimate how hard it is to get in a break when probably 150, 160 riders want to be in one. Most of us never make it into a breakaway during the Tour.
“He did a great job today. He has been out there in the heat all day, I can’t even imagine what he is feeling now but I am sure he will recover during tomorrow and be back in the game.”
Speaking to Haas after the finish, he appeared to have taken a lot from being up the road in the Tour. As McEwen noted, his motivation was sky high and he was energized by the thoughts of what he had done.
Fair enough, he didn’t clock up a win, but the clear impression was that he will try again soon, and with increased confidence.
“It is the Tour de France, man. We are not here to lick stamps,” he said. “We are here to have the rides of our life, it is where riders make their name. It is where you find a bit of your own character and today I wanted to do that.”
Although he accepted that there may be more opportunities for the climbers on the team rather than him in the days ahead, he jumped at the suggestion that he too might find another chance between now and Paris.
“Absolutely. I am hungry! Today was nice to have a little bit of the old legs back. I still felt like I wasn’t at my 100 percent, but that is still stage 13 of a Grand Tour. It is all very relative to how you are feeling.
“There are other stages. Guys in the past who are very much non-climbers have won big climbing stages just by putting themselves in the right opportunities. Someone like Jens Voigt attacking at the most ridiculous moments can sometimes be what no-one predicts.”
What’s important, he said, was motivation. “There is nothing stronger than a soul on fire and when you are in front, it is burning. Sometimes when you are in front you can find pretty superhuman efforts…”