Haas aiming high after move to Katusha-Alpecin

Nathan Haas delivered top 10 performances in multiple WorldTour races in 2017, including fourth at Amstel Gold Race.

The 2017 season saw Nathan Haas deliver top 10 performances across multiple WorldTour races, but that only left the 28-year-old Australian wanting more.

He left Dimension Data behind this past offseason for Katusha-Alpecin, and he is hoping the change of scenery puts him over the proverbial hump this year.

“I was really lucky with the season I had last year. I had quite a lot of teams really interested in moving forward. But I wanted to be on the biggest team I could be and still be a leader,” he told VeloNews this week at the Tour of Oman. “I don’t want to be riding for the guys I’m trying to beat. [Katusha manager José] Azevedo has a lot of faith in what he saw in me as a rider. From the beginning of the conversation, the idea was, ‘You come to these races to try to win. If you don’t that’s okay, but you’re trying.’

“The ethos for myself is that I’m not done trying yet. I’m so hungry to try to win.”

Haas debuted in his new kit last month at home in Australia, but he struggled to make an impact at the Tour Down Under and didn’t finish the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race. He attributes the rough start to problems dealing with the extreme heat.

One month later, it’s a different story – Haas nabbed his first UCI victory, since 2016, on stage 2 of the Tour of Oman. He stayed in the mix throughout the week to finish fifth overall.

His biggest objectives await in the next two months. Packing a well-rounded skillset and a healthy finishing kick, Haas loves the lumpy one-days. He’s trying to stay open to opportunities throughout the year, but he’s got high expectations for himself as the classics season gets underway.

“I don’t want to have my blinkers on too much for my whole career because you can kind of forget to focus on the other chances around it, but my holy grail in cycling is Amstel [Gold Race]. If I win I could just retire and just be happy,” he joked.

Italy also has a few one-day offerings that Haas thinks could be in his punchy wheelhouse.

“I also really love Strade Bianche. It suits my skills from all the years’ mountain biking. I’ve done well there in the past, making front groups. I’ve not actually had the best finishing places at Strade Bianche, but I actually know in myself that it’s just a little bit of a difference in the final that could have me in the podium there,” Haas said.

“Then Sanremo is one of those funny races where you just have to be in your appropriate place on the Poggio and whether a group comes from behind with faster guys, that’s an unknown, but my plan is to be following the best guys to the top and see if I can’t blast them on the line.”

Haas readily admits his palmares may not point to a rider past his due for a big classics victory. That’s not stopping him from aiming high.

He’s confident that he’s not far off already, and he plans to do whatever it takes to turn decent results into actual victories.

“Some people might say it’s a bit unrealistic because I haven’t won any of those big races yet, but I’m always there,” he said. “I’m always tapping onto the podium or into the top five. I think a big reason I came to this team was to see if I can’t convert some of those into a win.”

Indeed, Haas is pleased with the firepower he has at his disposal with Katusha. He had chances here and there with Dimension Data, but feels happier with the support he says his new team has promised him.

“The majority of the support on [Dimension Data] was for Cav [Mark Cavendish] and for [Edvald] Boasson Hagen. Not that I didn’t have support, and there were some great riders, but I would say that majority of the resources were for different styles of racing, whether it be the cobbles or these pure sprint races,” he said. “It’s a pretty well-rounded team, Katusha. There’s no bad team that you can take to a race.”

Haas says that although a Swiss-German-Russian squad might stereotypically project a rigid exterior, he’s been pleasantly surprised by the very warm welcome he’s received. The talent and structure are there too.

Those qualities all have Haas feeling comfortable and ready to make a run at his big season targets.

“They stay calm, and they have the maturity of seasoned professionals, which is really lovely to be behind. To me, it sort of says that when I’m really ready and in my best form and we’ve built this cohesion together, we can go into the other races with a lot more confidence, knowing that I will be at the right place at Amstel at the right time. And then it just comes down to what legs I have at that point.”

With the Tour of Oman officially in the books, Haas won’t have long to wait to put those legs to the test on the big stage. Strade Bianche kicks off in less than two weeks, with Sanremo and the Ardennes classics looming on the horizon.

It hasn’t taken Haas much time to get settled into his new digs, as he proven this week in Oman. Nabbing a victory in a WorldTour one-day would represent a major step-up, but Haas isn’t afraid to make his aspirations known.

“I almost think that I’m not going to be the guy that wins 50 races in his career,” he said. “But I wouldn’t be surprised if one of them was just one of the big ones.”