After two years at Dimension Data with only one win, Nathan Peter Haas moved to Katusha-Alpecin. It might be the atmosphere of the new team, or the caffeinated shampoo, but the Australian quickly repaid their confidence with the green jersey and a stage win in the Tour of Oman. We caught up with Haas at an altitude training camp in Colorado after the Tour of California.
Where’s home for you now?
I’m between Girona and Andorra – for altitude. Girona is a pretty special place. It really is something I can’t describe. I have been on three WorldTour teams now and I have been team-mates with almost everybody in Girona.
How is it?
Seven years ago, when I first arrived, it was different. I wasn’t first wave, but I came in the second wave when it was the top dogs from Garmin. Cycling had turned its ugly face and I had some excellent role models in Girona. Two or three years after that, they retired but I got my introduction from that crew and I was the next wave of that second wave. There seems to be another wave coming through now. When I first arrived you had to speak Spanish, or Catalan, to survive. Young riders now have access to estate agents, bank managers, car mechanics, who take care of all the English-speaking cyclists.
It’s getting ever more popular…
These days Girona is not the easiest place to be if you are trying to be professional. The tourism is killing our secret vibe. I am not trying to say people are not welcome, because why wouldn’t you want to ride the best roads in the world? But the atmosphere has changed. We used to be stopped by people wishing us luck for the Tour. Now there is more abuse and impatience from motorists. Pro riders are good at looking after themselves on the roads, knowing when to single out and when to ride two up, but these big groups are really blocking the cars. Speaking on behalf of the pro cyclists on the roads for work, I genuinely feel it is getting more dangerous for us because of that sentiment. It is part of why I have moved more of my time to Andorra. You don’t have that stress of people coming up to you and asking for photos, which is fine but not in your local café. It is like Pokémon, people are trying to catch them all.
What’s the best thing to eat in Girona?
Ooh, that’s a hard one. I would have to say the Crema Catalana (it’s a kind of cinnamon crème brûleé).
What will bike racing look like in ten years?
I think the way cycling is going is that everything is becoming harder. People are trying to make races more epic and memorable. But that breeds the purists out of the game and every rider has to be so good that we are seeing the same guys win over and over. It has become so stupidly hard.
When, you look back to when Cav started winning, you could see the 1k to go banner in the photo of him with his hands in the air. Now you are lucky to see the 150m banner in the photo. Finishes are becoming so technical.
Maybe stages will become shorter, less formulaic. In a short stage, when the break gets going you have to chase right away – races become less controllable.
We don’t necessarily need fewer races. Cycling has to keep up those small races. Cycling has to be on the front doorstep of every country, because that is what makes it different. Everybody gets to feel it.
I think the [rider’s] union will get stronger. In the World, we are choosing to expose ourselves to these dangers. We can not race and find employment in some other field of life. Where the union comes in is that we have to have someone representing us as a whole. Otherwise we are a just bunch of Twitter feeders. I know it is a dangerous sport but can it be safer? I think it can. I think we can manage that risk.
Teams are not going to become smaller in numbers. You can look at Sunweb. They went for a 24-man roster and they kicked themselves in the arse and they had to bring guys preparing for the Giro to stupid races due to sickness or injury.
We’re talking about the organisational structure of the sport…
The finances will have to change as well. Look at Katusha Sport, a company owned by the team where all profit goes to the team. We are going to start to see teams become businesses. Because of that, teams will last longer and build fan loyalty. If you have that loyalty, the team will last longer and do better and build that fan base. It is a purely international sport, teams don’t need to be linked to one country. We need to keep it globalised, safe and more exciting.
What would you do if you didn’t race bikes?
That’s a big one! Before I was cycling I was doing a political science and legal philosophy degree. I was active in the young Labour party. I was thinking that I was going to go in that direction, then cycling took off.
Recently I have found my new direction, which is osteopathy. I would like to put time in to helping people after cycling. It’s a six-year degree though, so I am looking into some options to get some of that done so I can have some options when I finally finish cycling.
How is your off-season?
There is a period when you drink for a while because you can again! Then you feel disgusting. After that I get cagey and do activities like hiking and fishing. Fishing is my really big off the bike passion.
Obviously, there’s spending time with your close ones. Every day that I am away from them is a day that I won’t get back so it is great when I get to spend time with my family. I became an uncle a year ago and that is pretty cool. After that, you slowly start to reincorporate cycling.
How many bikes are in your shed?
In how many countries have I got bikes? I have them at my Mum’s and Dad’s, and in Andorra and Girona, and I think I even have half a bike in London. I have mountain bike, cross bike, time-trial bike, training bike, town bikes… I have a Moulton 14 inch mini that is my favourite. I also have a tandem bike. There’s not enough space for them.
You like bikes…
There are two kinds of riders, the ones who never touch a bike again after racing and the ones that still ride because they love bikes. I love cycling. Every style of cycling has its rushes and thrills and you need a bike for every one of them.