• Nathan Hass will be given a leadership role in the Ardennes races. (Getty)Source: Getty
The irrepressible Nathan Haas was in a buoyant mood on the eve of the Amstel Gold Race as he takes the next step in his career, leading the Dimension Data squad in the Ardennes classics.
By
Jamie Finch-Penninger

Source:
Cycling Central
16 Apr 2017 - 11:50 AM  UPDATED 16 Apr 2017 - 12:01 PM

Haas began his season with a strong run of results in Australian racing in January. He appeared at the Bay Criteriums in superb condition and put that form to good use at the nationals, Tour Down Under and the Cadel Evans race, where he was consistently a major player. Haas spoke to Cycling Central ahead of what shapes as one of the best chances to take some of the top results in his career. 

"The year started off great," said Haas, "when you put in the work it normally pays off. The team's been great, working well with me for the Ardennes then moving on for the Giro. We actually backed it off after the Tour of Oman, a few weeks either off the bike or taking it easy. Then it was a lot of long, hard work on a building phase."

"While I might be a little under-raced, I feel that the big form that I have building up will come through. I had a nice race at Brabantse Pijl, I got a flat on the last corner so I didn't get the result but the legs were there and I think they'll be even better for Amstel. The staff and I have come up with a nice plan for this and if anything I'm feeling stronger than when I was in Australia."

The Dimension Data squad will head into the Ardennes week with Haas as the leader of the squad. The team was dealt a blow with the withdrawal of Steve Cummings, who suffered multiple fractures in a nasty crash at Pais Vasco, but Haas is confident in his ability in all three races. 

"Amstel's the race where I think I can most realistically get a result, but I've not pigeon-holed myself my whole career into any particular race or style. We saw over the summer that my best results came at the mountain top finishes like Paracombe and Willunga. So we'll see how I go at Fleche Wallonne."

Years of experience as a domestique are what the Brisbane-born Haas will rely upon when it comes to making split-second decisions under pressure. 

"In years past I've always been Dan Martin's right-hand man, taking him into the bottom corner and I know the race really well... how it needs to be ridden. This time I get to race for myself and get to test myself on the Mur de Huy.

"Liege is the same, I've always been a worker there but I'm a firm believer that you have to do your time. I feel pretty confident. I've learnt how to do these races and how it needs to be raced if you are going for a top result. The endurance is there and at the end of the day, you have to have the balls to race. I'm going to enjoy having a go this time around."

Organisers of the Amstel Gold have never been entirely settled with the presence of the Cauberg in the final kilometres of the race. The finish line used to be at the top of the famous climb, then it was pushed back over a kilometre from the summit. This time the Cauberg will last be crested with 16km left and the run into the finish will be easier than recent editions. When asked how he could see himself winning on the revamped course, Haas was his normal, joking self.

"Cycling's pretty easy... you just have to be the guy that crosses the line first! I think it's difficult to go into Amstel this year with a plan. It's a bit of a shame that the Cauberg isn't in the final."

"For an Australian context, it would be like racing the V8s in Bathurst without the hill or playing the AFL grand final away from the MCG. I don't know why they've taken the final climb out, it's what makes Amstel so iconic."

"In saying that, it might play to our advantage. If our team can have numbers in the final, it's going to become a more tactical game as opposed to just outright ability. We'll see how the race pans out but you can get sidetracked if you have your blinkers on too much and you think about only one way of winning. You have to keep your mind open and see when the opportunity opens itself and risk it. That's what is going to win Amstel this year."

The late build into the racing in the Ardennes will allow Haas to extend his form into the Giro d'Italia, where the Aussie will be on stage-hunting duty for the team.

"You have to take advantage of form when you have it. The Giro is up next and being the 100th edition, I think it's going to be a pretty special one. I will be hard to beat a group of very motivated Italians. That's the next step, but I'm looking forward to the rest of the season as well." 

Haas won't go in as a big favourite over the next week, but he's a very canny racer and he'll use that anonymity to fly under the radar. It could lead to the big result he has been building towards for some time now.