MELBOURNE, Australia (VN) – After Wednesday’s opening stage of the 2011 Jayco Herald Sun Tour in Ballarat in which he finished third, Nathan Haas said that his aims for the tour were to win the white jersey of the best under-23 rider and finish in the top five overall.
Today, he rode away with the yellow, the green, the white and the blue.
It has been a formidable coming of age in cycling for the Genesys Wealth Advisers rider. He began the year as a member of the supporting cast in the Jayco Bay Cycling Classic criteriums and now ends as the winner of the 59th edition of the Sun Tour.
In between Haas has grown as a cyclist – winning three domestic tours, including this month’s Tour of Tasmania – but even in his own mind, Sunday’s result was beyond expectations.
“It was a dream I never dreamt of,” Haas said.
“I even went to bed last night trying to convince myself that there was nothing on today. I never thought I would be in this position – it’s a really beautiful feeling.
“I didn’t have time to think about emotions along the way. I just tried to stay as cool as possible.”
The 22-year-old, who was born in the state of Queensland, lives in the ACT, studies in Sydney and rides for a Tasmanian team, began the fifth and final stage with a comfortable 10-second buffer – but it was over a formidable adversary, Jack Bobridge, Garmin-Cervelo’s Australian road race champion and 4000m world record holder.
Not only were the individual credentials vastly different but so too were the experience and credentials lists of their respective support squads.
In the end it seemed to matter little, with Haas disclosing that a gracious Bobridge had very honorably conceded the tour to him mid-stage.
“We did everything we could to put him under pressure, but he just put pressure back on us,” Bobridge said.
Certainly there seemed little doubt after the way the first sprint panned out that Haas would remain in yellow.
As it happened, he even extended his winning margin by an additional seven seconds, when Bobridge failed to finish with the lead group of the stage, which was won by Skil-Shimano’s Marcel Kittel from Anthony Giacoppo (Genesys Wealth Advisers) and Jens Debusschere (Omega Pharma-Lotto).
In fact, the only action on general classification during the race was for placings three to five, with both Debusschere and Reinardt Janse Van Rensburg (MTN Qhubeka) intent on challenging Jonas Jorgensen (Saxo Bank-Sungard) for the third spot on the podium.
In the end, there was no change in the order, although all three picked up time bonuses along the way, most notably Janse Van Rensburg, who won both of the intermediate sprints.
But it all came to naught as the South African finished just one second adrift of Jorgensen. He received some compensation by being declared the winner of the orange jersey for the tour’s most aggressive rider.
The stage itself was a curious affair in many ways.
After the first sprint, Cameron Meyer went up the road as part of a six-man group that achieved the only break of the day, which amounted to no more than 20 seconds. But with Haas’ point-man Steele Von Hoff for company, it was destined to be brought back before the second chance for bonus time.
That sprint was again a battle for the minor placing only, leaving Bobridge’s lone chance for victory coming via a stage win in a break that did not involve Haas, never a realistic possibility.
And so it was that the final escape came from Mitchelton Australia’s Wes Sulzberger, Drapac’s Adam Phelan and eventually Garmin-Cervélo’s Brett Lancaster. Such final plays must surely have come after Bobridge’s concession to Haas.
The victory for Haas was eventually a simple process – he rolled through on the same time as Kittel, while a beaten Bobridge finished seven seconds further back. Haas was as gracious a winner as Bobridge was a runner-up.
“I always think athletes are very stereotypical when they win something and they say their speeches but today I really feel those emotions,” Haas said.
“I can’t quite believe the crowd and the atmosphere and just to be part of such an event like the Jayco Herald Sun Tour amongst these guys that I’ve looked up to for so many years. Firstly to ride alongside them for one day and then to win the Tour, this is something I’m never going to forget in my life.
“Everything keeps moving forward and I really can’t dictate my fate at the moment, it’s just seems to be happening.
“A result like this pushes me closer to making it to the WorldTour, but I am in no rush to be in any particular spot in my career right now.”
For Kittel it was a fine end to a year and a good result on a stage that he found challenging.
“To win two stages at the end of the year is very nice but I thank my team for that,” he said. “I think I always had a good race program with good breaks. The year was perfect for me and it will be difficult to repeat it in the future.
“Today our tactic was to keep the bunch together and mostly that happened. The boys worked amazingly hard. The course today was not easy.
“The Herald Sun Tour was a really nice adventure for me and I have had a lot of fun here. I really like Australia and for me it was a really nice finish for the season.”
Such was the spread of sprint points on the day, Haas also garnered the green sprinters’ jersey, the classification he had conceded on two or three occasions during the five days of the tour that he could not win.
The white jersey for best under-23 rider was a mere formality given his overall win, but perhaps the greatest pleasure for Haas came when he also donned the blue jersey for best team alongside Von Hoff, Giacoppo, Patrick Shaw, Nathan Earle and Kyle Marwood.
It was the classic David-and-Goliath struggle with the tiny Tasmanian-based outfit out-pointing the WorldTour team.
Haas has continually credited his Genesys teammates as having played a massive role in his success, particularly in assisting him on the opening day from Whittlesea to Ballarat, which set up his win, and Saturday’s Arthurs Seat stage, which sealed it.
“I really feel as if I‘ve done something special here with the Genesys Wealth Adviser boys. We’ve been such a tight unit all year and I’m so proud of all of us,” he said.
“I really don’t feel like a spectacular rider in our team. I feel as if we’re a spectacular team and I feel honored to be part of it.”
Haas was also keen to acknowledge the role of Genesys team boss Andrew Christie-Johnson, who is also his personal coach.
“Can someone nominate him for the coach of the year award?” he asked.
Said Christie-Johnson of his star charge: “I think he can be a great one-day rider, as he has great all-round skills. In a small bunch finish he can be very fast. Perhaps he can be the next Philippe Gilbert.”
In the remaining race classification, V Australia’s Cameron Peterson successfully finished Sunday’s stage, a necessary formality for him to collect the mountains jersey that he had claimed the day before through his exploits on climbs up Arthurs Seat.
- 1. Marcel Kittel (Ger), Skil-Shimano, 1:28:19
- 2. Anthony Giacoppo (Aus), Genesys Wealth Advisers, same time
- 3. Jens Debusschere (Bel), Omega Pharma-Lotto, s.t.
- 4. Thomas Palmer (Aus), Drapac Porsche Cycling, s.t.
- 5. Reinardt Janse Van Rensburg (RSA), Mtn Cycling, s.t.
- 1. Nathan Haas (Aus), Genesys Wealth Advisers, 16:39:39
- 2. Jack Bobridge (Aus), Garmin-Cervélo, at 0:17
- 3. Jonas Aaen Jörgensen (Den), Saxo Bank-Sungard, at 0:26
- 4. Reinardt Janse Van Rensburg (RSA), Mtn Cycling, at 0:27
- 5. Jens Debusschere (Bel), Omega Pharma-Lotto, at 0:29