Just two years ago, Canberra’ Nathan Haas was a battling mountain biker, studying socio legal philosophy at Sydney University and working part-time as a barman and in a cycle shop. Things have changed for the cheerful 22-year-old. He took a gamble in 2009 and entered the Caterpillar Underground Mining Tour of Tasmania, mainly as an adventure to “test his passion” for the sport of road cycling.
As they say in the classics, the rest is history. He won the six-day tour’s king of the mountains championship and last year cleaned up his 125 rivals in the toughest stage, the feared 78.5km trek from Ulverstone to Penguin, via Gunns Plains. This weekend, Haas will be back in Tasmania for what shapes as a career defining challenge: he will start favorite in the tortuous 208km Elgas Launceston to New Norfolk Classic on Sunday, then lead his seven Genesys Wealth Advisers team-mates in the Tour of Tasmania which begins in Hobart on Tuesday.
His tour opponents will include the Russian national team, led by three-time Olympic Games medallist Alexi Markov, former Australian criterium champions, Tasmanian Bernard Sulzberger and Queenslander Aaron Kemps (V Australia), seasoned New Zealanders Alexander Ray (Central Coast) and Josh Atkins (Jayco 2XU), Australian Under 23 road champion Ben Dyball (Jayco – AIS) and 2010 world road championships representatives Joe Lewis (Bikebug.com) and Malcolm Rudolf (Jayco – AIS).
Despite the imposing terrain, the classic, which starts at 9am from Country Club Tasmania in Prospect and takes in the 1000-metre Poatina climb around the 50km mark, may not present such a difficult assignment for Haas. He’ll have the backing of two highly-acclaimed Genesys team-mates, last year’s winner and Scody Cup champion Patrick Shaw, and the rising star Steele Von Hoff who this year has won five stages of the Lakes Oil Tour of Gippsland, another two in the Eastern Oak Tour of Geelong, and a further five in the Tifosi Eyewear Tour of the Murray River.
It all adds up to an eight-day feast of cycling for Tasmania – a prospect that Haas relishes. “When I rode my first Tassie tour, I said to my friends: ‘If I were to win a major Australian bike race, the Tour of Tasmania is the one,’ ” he recalled. “I am coming to Tasmania this year to win the tour. In my heart it’s the biggest race in Australia.“I love how pure it is – the course is so brutal.
“I have done a reconnaissance on nearly every one of the 10 stages. The stage 3 from Hamilton to Bronte Park (78.6kms) is something else. It’s where the tour is going to be lost or won.” Haas has earned tour favoritism, courtesy of his decisive victories in the Tour of Gippsland (July 27-31) and the Tour of Geelong (August 10-14), the opening two events of the 2011 Scody Cup series.
“I feel I am coming into my best form of the year,” Haas said, “but I would need to be given the quality of the field and the amazing course. “I’ve had a dream run in 2011 but, without doubt, winning the Tour of Tasmania was my goal from the start of the year. “If I come second it will be a disappointment. If I do win, it would trump everything I’ve done this year.”
The Tour of Tasmania has attracted a top-class field of 101 riders from all Australian states, Russia, New Zealand, United States and England. The 543km race will start next Tuesday at 11am, with a parade of all riders from Hobart’s Wrest Point Casino to the Cascade Brewery.
From 12noon, an 18.1km teams time trial will be staged from the brewery to the Mt. Wellington summit, with teams taking off at two-minute intervals. Backed by Events Tasmania and seven municipal councils, the tour will end with circuit racing at Devonport’s Mersey Bluff at 12.30pm on Sunday, October 9.