Followers of the National Road Series this year have become very familiar with two words: Nathan, Haas.
Tour of Mersey Valley, tick.
Tour of Canberra, tick.
Tour of Gippsland, tick.
Nathan has transformed himself from that of a self confessed hipster bridesmaid MTB rider to a philosophically and physiologically dominant road racer. From sleeping next to a toilet drenched in vomit and cold sweat in New Zealand, to monsoonal rains and positively insane bunch sprints in Malaysia, this season has been a proverbial rollercoaster that’s still a long way from over. So let’s take a look at where Nathan has been, where he is going, and what gives him his edge.
Jono: Nathan, you came across to road racing from MTB racing, one of your first experiences of road racing was a wet and miserable Tour of Canberra back in 2007. Since then you have raced a MTB all over the globe and represented your country. Despite the unenjoyable introduction to road racing, you are now immersed in this side of the sport and on a path to the top. What caused you to change your mind?
Nathan: I won’t lie, I love this question! Not only have you opened the emotional scars of 07’s past, but you have forced me to delve into the question I’ve ignored for some time, and for good reason. ‘Why’ some people ask do you train for so long, sleep so early and eat so little? And why would you leave the dirt??? The answer I feel is simple. Because I love what I do. As with everything we love, there are challenges, but ultimately you can’t explain why you love it, you just do. Swapping the mud tires for slicks I can now admit, that for reasons I haven’t understood to date, I started to loose my love for it, but ignoring any reference to a divine inspiration road racing took up any of this slack as I virtually fell into it after the 2008 tour of Bright. It is a beautiful feeling, however, having swapped sport, deferred studies and left my hipster lifestyle in Sydney to be getting better in my riding. The results are one thing, but I find the personal development and progression to be a bigger result. Some might disagree, but this years been my biggest learning curb yet, and I am excited to see where it might take me.
Jono: Earlier in the year you were in the midst of what you called a ‘win drought’. Since then you broke the drought, and some, by winning the Tour of Mersey Valley, the Tour of Canberra and now the Tour of Gippsland. Do you feel the hard work is starting to pay off?
Nathan: A win drought…. Jono, please, twisting my words haha! I had won plenty of club races in the early season, It was just at any big event I suffered from bridesmaid-itis…. my ability to get second in any race was second to none… pardon the pun. It has been cool though, that since Mersey Valley I’ve picked up my average somewhat. At the start of the NRS series this year I wrote a personal Goals plan with two sections. the first was the goals I set myself with the hypothetical ability to achieve everything! The second list was a more realistic list that if achieved I would still feel that my season had been successful. The strange thing is that my results have been closer to the first list, with myself being the most surprised of all.
Jono: Your time with Genesys has taken you to some pretty exotic locations, Taiwan, Malaysia, New Zealand. Tell us, what is it like trying to race in these foreign locations? What do you enjoy the most? Similarly, what parts of it drive you nuts?
Nathan: One of the most beautiful aspects of cycling is that it can take you places, literally. And what’s more, it takes you to countries which would otherwise have taken a proverbial back seat in any future travel plans. Moreover, in those countries, racing often bypasses the ‘generic’ tourist routes into smaller towns, areas or provinces which offer a by far more genuine and authentic cultural experience. In places like Europe, this can be a good thing as Berlin is much more expensive then Offenburg…. haven’t heard of it? exactly… I won’t lie, dinner time in Taiwan or Malaysia is intimidating. It all tastes so good, and the promise of nightly seafood screams holiday time, eat me eat me!! But we all know better! My night in hospital earlier this year from food poisoning in New Zealand now cautions me on the side of DON”T TRY IT in Asia. The only downside of cycling through these areas is that you are often focused on staying upright and the race itself, meaning you can ride past some of the most beautiful country side and forget to look!
Jono: On the bell lap of the Friday night criterium at the Tour of Canberra you were involved in a spectacular crash and managed to leave more skin on the road than on your body, take us through your thought process; firstly trying to avoid the following 100 riders ploughing into you, to the pain when the adrenaline wears off, then the annoying bandages and trouble sleeping, and then jumping straight on the next day and racing into yellow. How do you handle all of that mental stress?
Nathan: I think this question sums up the whole array of emotions you feel with an accident in the sport. I feel ultimately that you need to brush the whole situation down to what it is; it is an accident during an event in which you have aspirations of winning. Once you have taken it down to that level you can asses the injuries, address and treat them to get on with the job. I doubt there have been many TDF winners who’ve passed the 21 days without incident, so I look to those guys, like Contador this year as example of just getting on with the job.
Jono: It’s no secret you ride a darn good time trial. Does masochism come naturally to you? What on earth goes through your mind whilst you suffer so much?
Nathan: Time trailing is something that seems to be 100% mental. My mountain biking has definitely helped, seeing as it is a 2 hour lactic bath, but it all comes down to how you approach the effort. For myself I find that breaking up the ride into small segments is the best way. Without sounding silly, or self obsessed, I like to set goals within the effort, and when achieved congratulate myself during the ride. For example, I say; stay in the seat over this rise and don’t shift gears. When I do I say, great work, your flying. The goals help you to keep focused on the task, but I find the congratulations to be the most important aspect as it keeps you positive so you can always dig that little bit deeper.
Jono: You have spent time studying whilst racing in Australia, what have your most recent studies involved and do you see yourself coming back to this when your pedalling days eventually wind down?
Nathan: I have been studying on and off part time and full time at the University of Sydney since 2008. I am almost through my undergraduate bachelor of socio-legal studies and philosophy. I miss studying a lot to be honest, but after a few years of mixing both cycling and UNI I know that to be a professional cyclist you need to be 100% committed to it. I am excited to come back to it, however, to most likely do post graduate study either in criminology or journalism. But this will sort itself out later! Now it’s time to bike!
Jono: Genesys team manager Andrew Christie-Johnston pioneered the Tasmanian baked potato chain Praties. Given the teams propensity to eat there regularly during training camps in the apple isle, do you think these spuds are the Genesys secret in a carbo world dominated by rice and pasta? Can a man (or woman) ever have too many baked potatoes? Or would you just prefer some McDonalds?
Nathan: Haha, its funny for me to be riding for a potato company as my least favourite food ever since I was a kid has been potatoes. Ironic, however, since charging my way through one too many Raja Curry’s I’ve become a semi-convert to the old spuds. It turns out I don’t hate potato, I hate the texture. For me though, I prefer a healthy lunch to McDonalds, but at least I’m allowed it occasionally unlike Steele!
Jono: If you could pick a Pro cyclist currently racing who you think you most represent, who would it be?
Nathan: This is hard to answer; as philosophically speaking I don’t think anyone is alike to another whatsoever…. we are all our own means to our own ends, and therefore our own destiny within the sport. Physiologically, perhaps a Cadel like rider with a decent climb and good TT, but to compare myself to a Pro at this stage is a bit overindulgent. I like the idea of being my own rider, and not trying to be anyone I’m not.
Jono: To round out, they say that behind every strong man is a strong woman. I like to think that behind every strong cyclist is a strong coach, physiotherapist, masseur, mother, father, training partner, team and so on. Who are the people behind the scenes that you would like to give thanks to?
Nathan: We don’t get enough time ever to thank everybody we should, but I feel that everybody who as helped me in subtle or massive ways knows how thankful of their time I am already. For starters, to every coach and rider who has helped me to where I am, thank you! I don’t take it for granted, and I feel that I have the best job in the world and I love experiencing it with you all. Also, my family and friends outside cycling are a huge part of it all. They keep me grounded and in contact with the real world! But mostly, I’d like to thank all of our teams sponsors for facilitating this fantastic team. For everyone in the team, we live it, breath it and love our team. Without our sponsors we wouldn’t have this. And what I love even more is that we get to enjoy our success together and enjoy events across the country with one another. It’s a pleasure riding for a team we can all be so proud of.
And on that note, it’s probably time for a group hug and fingers crossed for a great Tour of Geelong .