AN INTERVIEW WITH NATHAN HAAS
Recorded next to a pool behind a motel four days ago, on the first rest day of the 2013 Giro d’Italia. (Side Note: “First of all, I would like to apologize on behalf of MFS. I’m sorry that we failed to inspire the world to tweet something interesting at you. It sounded like an excellent opportunity. And it sounds like you could use some entertainment. We clearly failed you.”)
I packed shelves at a supermarket. Just a standard, 101, run-of-the-mill first job. I worked in restaurants as a waiter, as a barman, then at some coffee shops. Then some bike shops. Then I started Uni and worked in some bars and what not, and then bike riding sort of took over—it was sort of just by accident to be honest. I started to get better and better and eventually I started winning races. Then I got offered a contract from a team (Genesis Wealth Advisors) to ride a bike for money, which I thought was a pretty cool concept. I still think it’s a pretty cool concept. I was 22, I did a year full-time with them, then I won the Herald Sun Tour and the Japan Cup, then I got an offer from JV.
Last year was my second year racing full time and my first year racing road in Europe. That was a very quick jump, a big surprise to the system. It was completely different then anything I had done before. Each continent has a different style or format. Up until that point I had done a fair bit of Asian racing. European is just different. North American racing is also different. Asia and North America are just as hard as European racing but in a different way. Also, Europe has huge pools of guys trying to be the very best at each level, so at the top in Europe, the depth is so deep. Because there are so many guys just as good as you you can’t get away with a lot of tactical errors, and you end up paying for even the smallest poor decisions—they can cost you the race.
Everyone’s there at this top level for a reason. Everyone knows how to win bike races, and everyone wants to jump on every opportunity to win a race, so it’s hard work.
People ask me if it’s hard to switch off my personal ambition. But in all honesty, riding for Ryder is my personal ambition, it feels great to do. I’m not going to be able to win the Giro d’Italia but I want to be part of a team that can. So why wouldn’t I work for Ryder, why not do everything I can for him? It gives me a purpose in the race to keep going deeper and deeper, and without purpose you aren’t going to take the risks that you need to. It’s nice too because it gives you a chance to ride yourself into good form. My engine is growing and growing from all the racing I did last year and now I’m in my first. Sometimes I feel like a Dumbastique, I make some silly mistakes. It’s simple, but it’s also really hard.
During the first couple stages, when Katusha was in Pink, we wanted to keep Ryder out of the Shit Fight. So instead of riding behind Katusha in the big swarm I was riding next to the Pink Jersey, essentially taking the wind on a completely different line so Ryder had somewhere comfortable to sit, somewhere out of the wind and out of the chaos. And you know, you burn a lot of matches doing that kind of stuff, and then at the same time we are going back and getting jackets and water bottles; it sounds like it’s pretty trivial work, but sometimes the bunch is going 50kph and you have to go all the way back past 200 guys, you got to get to the car, then you’ve got to ride 400 meters in the wind. It takes a lot more out of you then you would think just to grab 12 liters of water. But riding all day is just what we do, and putting stuff in our pockets over and over is just what we do.
At every race I’ve done this year I’ve been mentally preparing myself for the Giro. I’ve been practicing the mental act of suffering. I thought Stage 14, or somewhere towards the middle-end would be the worst, but the other day (Stage 7) I suffered so bad. I was reefing on the bike from Kilometer One. It was potentially one of the hardest days of the whole tour (on paper at least) so I was already scared going into it. All I heard over the microphone that day was my director telling me “just stay on! 5k to go! 4k to go!” I wasn’t expecting to have a bad day that soon so I started to worry, but the cool thing is it can turn around in one day. Yesterday I felt really good on the bike. Suffering is part of the sport, and there is always someone suffering a little bit more than you.
It’s awesome. It’s the coolest job there is. Okay, maybe it’s not the coolest job there is for everyone, but for me, right now, I couldn’t imagine a cooler job.