Nathan Haas on his Tour debut: ‘I’m hoping to create a bit of a narrative along the way’
When the Tour de France begins in Utrecht on Saturday, most teams will go into the race with one designated rider for the general classification. Cannondale-Garmin, however, has three — Andrew Talansky, Ryder Hesjedal and Dan Martin.
Among the riders supporting the team’s GC ambitions will be Canberra’s Nathan Haas who is lining up for his first Tour de France. CyclingTips editor Matt de Neef caught up with Haas ahead of the Tour’s Grand Depart this weekend.
UTRECHT, Netherlands (CT) – It was no great surprise when Nathan Haas entered the WorldTour ranks with Garmin-Barracuda in January 2012. He’d had an extremely impressive 2011 season, winning the Japan Cup, the Herald Sun Tour, the Tour of Tasmania and Australia’s National Road Series overall. Now, three-and-a-half years later, Haas is about to line up for his first Tour de France.
“It’s an honour for anyone to do the Tour de France but I think for the Antipodeans, like Jack Bauer and myself, we really are another world away,” Haas said at today’s Cannondale-Garmin press conference in Utrecht, The Netherlands. “The extra distance makes it [even] fonder for me to be part of it here this year.”
In his own words, Haas was “quite green” when he first turned pro, and found the step up to the WorldTour to be a considerable challenge. He’s now recognised as the winner of the 2012 Tour of Britain (then-winner Jonathan Tiernan-Locke was stripped of his victory for doping) but it wasn’t until 2014 that Haas really started to find his feet.
He finished fifth overall at the Tour Down Under that January, won a stage of the Herald Sun Tour en route to fourth overall, rode and finished both the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a Espana, and ended his season with a second win at the Japan Cup in October. To Haas, these peaks — and the troughs that preceded them — are all part of his journey to the Tour de France.
“My lead-up to this obviously started three-and-a-half years ago when I signed with Slipstream Sports,” Haas said. “I think I was always signed on potential as opposed to what I was doing at the time. Last year I won a few races and really learnt a lot doing two Grand Tours.”
“I feel that the confidence from finishing two Grand Tours in the year … has really cemented in my own mind that I’m not here at the Tour de France to finish. I’m here to do a good job and finishing is just part of that.”
Well, there it is. On my way to the Grand Depart. Time to Brie Happy? Non? Le Merde… Thanks to all that have helped pic.twitter.com/ETfNATLg6j
— Nathan Haas (@NathanPeterHaas) July 1, 2015
Haas is yet to hit the winners’ list in 2015 but he does have a number of top-five results to his name: second on the opening stage of the Circuit Cycliste Sarthe and fifth in the race overall, third in the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race and fourth on stage 2 of the Tour de Romandie. But the former Genesys rider suggests we shouldn’t just look at the results sheet to get a sense of his form ahead of La Grande Boucle.
“I feel really strong actually. I had probably the best spring of my career so far but the results didn’t actually reflect what I was doing in the races, which was unfortunate,” Haas said. “I had another great race at the Dauphine [but] I was in a role where I wasn’t riding for myself.”
Haas will be cast in a supporting role at the Tour de France as well, riding for one or more of Andrew Talansky, Ryder Hesjedal and Dan Martin, depending on how the first week unfolds. According to Cannondale-Garmin sports director Charly Wegelius, having three leaders is at least partially a case of risk-reduction.
“The way the Tour’s gone in the last few years has shown that spreading risk is probably a prudent thing to do,” Wegelius said, hinting at the presence of cobblestones on stage 4 and the race-ending crashes to Chris Froome and Alberto Contador last year.
According to team director Jonathan Vaughters, Cannondale-Garmin will be looking to be “more aggressive” at this year’s Tour than they were last year.
“We’ll see how the first couple days go, obviously trying to protect Andrew’s interests and trying to set Dan up for a stage win on the Mur de Huy [ed. on stage 3]. At that point we’ll assess where we are and, as we go to the cobblestone stage, if we’re going to be more focused on protecting [a] defensive GC position or if we’re going to be more offensive with some guys like Dylan [van Baarle] or Sebastian [Langeveld]”.
Vaughters suggests that Andrew Talansky is probably the most well-rounded of the team’s three GC options, being “a little bit better at crosswinds and positioning and cobblestones”.
“He’s a little bit better at managing those than Ryder and Dan,” Vaughters said. “But … if we all make it healthy and no crashes and no time losses by the time we hit the Pyrenees, then, to me, that’s even more interesting. We’ve got three cards to play.”
For Nathan Haas, it’s in the mountains of the final week that he hopes to have the biggest impact, not least because of a training camp he attended after the Criterium du Dauphine.
“I went to altitude with [Andrew] Talansky for 10 days up into Andorra, doing one-, two-hour long climbs all day long,” Haas explained. “I think that’s going to give me the ability to maybe get over some of those climbs in that third week and really be a big part … when the genuine fatigue starts creeping into people’s legs.”
While Haas will spend much of his time riding for his teammates, he’s also hoping to take and make some opportunities of his own.
“[I] have quite a distinct ability to get over climbs with climbers and then have a sprint at the end,” he said. “If there is a large breakaway that’s unimportant in GC terms and I can place myself into it, I really do back myself to win a stage from that situation,” he said.
“If all goes to plan and the team gives the freedom to try, I really hope I can capitalise on those opportunities.”
At the very least, Haas is hoping to play a role in the complex and multi-threaded story that will make up the 2015 Tour de France.
“Everybody wants to be there winning for themselves but I think the Tour is all about the magic behind the story of the day,” Haas said. “I’m just hoping I can create a bit of a narrative along the way for us and [for fans] to enjoy back home.”