We had the pleasure of sitting down with Nathan Haas to talk Tour Down Under and a whole lot more
Words - James Raison
La Velocita isn't the biggest chainring in the cycling media peloton. But awkward metaphors aside, we do genuinely love the sport of cycling and the characters that fill it. So it was with great excitement that I got to sit down with all-round Aussie powerhouse Nathan Haas. He's a man whose exceptional cycling ability is matched by wit and intelligence. We talked political science, podcasts, Harry Potter, and even some bike racing! Also, everybody follow Nathan on Instagram. His hashtag game is exceptional.
What do you expect from TDU?
"It’s gonna be hot, it’s gonna be fast, it’s gonna be a shock to the system. It’s gonna be bike racing! Everyone’s just come off an off-season and the guys who’ve been going super fast have been going hard for a long time. Caleb Ewan, I hear, hasn’t had a break since the Chinese race last year. So I think it’s going to be pretty damn fast this year and maybe has one of the best fields ever for the 20th edition so it’s going to be damn hard."
Is another podium the target?
"I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to be on the podium. I think everyone at this race wants to be on the podium. Last year was a bit heartbreaking because my sports director got the countback wrong, so we thought when I finished that I got 3rd place and it turned out we didn’t. I’ve had so many close calls on GC and in one-day classics being 4th and 5th. I’d love to be on the podium but I’m not trying to chase a podium, I’m chasing a win and if you get onto the podium it’s a nice backup. The first race of the year you can’t guess your form. I’ve been fitter than I am now and done terribly, and been less fit and done awesome in the race so it’s hard to know how the body reacts to the racing stimulus."
Did your massive performance on Willunga Hill last year make missing the podium harder?
“I was riding Willunga today and I was on the same section of the course when last year I thought ‘there’s no way these guys can keep riding as fast as they are’ so I pulled out of the line and rode my own pace before coming at them later in the climb. It was a really nice reminder for me. In the off-season you can lose confidence in what you’ve done and how you’ve done it and being back on the course today was a reminder that I’m a bike rider who understands his body and understands his effort. I think that last year doesn’t matter and the year before doesn’t matter, and getting third doesn’t matter and getting second doesn’t matter. We’re chasing that thing in cycling that’s rare as hens teeth in cycling and that’s a win. There’s 180 guys in the race and if you’re the guy that wins you’re not even in the first percentile, you’re in the point-zero percentile of guys who can win a bike race. To be even be super close to winning on the world tour is already amazing, and to be as close as I’ve been for the last few years is also amazing. Maybe I just need to be like WInston Churchill and believe there’s a little luck out there for everybody and hopefully that can play into my cards this year and if it doesn’t I’ll just keep trying."
Ah, a Churchill reference! Now I hear you've nearly finished a Political Science degree...
"Yeah super close! But my fancy University, University of Sydney, doesn't do any study via correspondence or cross-institutional learning. So funnily enough I had a meeting yesterday with UniSA to see if I can transfer my degree across because I'm less than a year away from being done and it'd be a real shame to let that go to waste."
What has that field of study done for you?
"It’s opened other areas of my mind now. To study political science you have to understand how things have gone and revisionist history is now one of my big passions. I listen to so many podcasts! Especially Second World War and Cold War history. It’s things that everybody should know about. Everybody asked me ‘what are you doing this degree for?’ and it doesn’t really matter what you do if for. You do it for yourself. It’s the theory of learning. I think everyone should do an arts degree.'
In my first years I didn’t think about it [studying] being possible. You have to commit so much bandwidth to studying your sport. The last few years I actually spent renovating house and I came through that and thought ‘I’m pretty free now’ and I need a distraction from just training and always thinking about cycling. I think it’s a healthy thing to do, and I’m really looking forward to jumping back into it."
Now, I went through your Instagram the other day and I have to ask about the Harry Potter cosplay...
"I went to a College called St John’s College and it’s a castle on top of a hill and it really looks like Hogwarts! I was there when the last Harry Potter movie came out and there were a lot of guys and girls who were huge into it. Every Friday we had a formal dinner that we had to wear academic gowns for, so we already had the getup. I already have a scar on my forehead so everyone said ‘Nathan you have yo go as Harry!’."
[We couldn't resist putting this in - James]
So, on a different social media, how do we even know you’re a cyclist if you’re not on Strava?
"I think you’re more of a cyclist if you don’t have Strava! I’m not out there chasing numbers or records, I’m out there because I love the feeling of riding my bike and the time is irrelevant to how I feel. If you’re going fast It just feels fantastic and you don’t need to put a ceiling on anything you’re doing. I think Strava for a lot of riders gives them something to work towards and a carrot to chase. But there’s also another psychology that I do enough racing and sometimes it’s just about the bike.
I think in many ways Strava has re-invigorated and inspired the cycling industry to do new things, when it probably would have gone in a different direction. Strava has created a forum for people to talk, and for people to find rides and groups. I just feel that when I do my riding I don’t need to be racing and I know my times. Maybe I’m playing it a bit cagey too!"
What are you binging on Netflix right now?
"I actually don’t have Netflix!"
Surely you’ve watched House of Cards though?
"No I haven’t watched House of Cards. If there’s a show that’s made me laugh more than anything else in a long time, it’s called The Good Place [a Netflix original - James]. If anyone’s still listening, go watch the Good Place!"
Well I guess you might not have enough time for binge watching…
"Annoyingly the one thing we do have is time. Yeah, we have a lot of time as cyclists. You do your training and if you’re a professional cyclist you try and eliminate as many of the other distractions as you can. So we should have plenty of time for TV but I try and do a few other things than just watch TV.
I try and read as much as possible but reading a lot really can clog my mind so I listen to a lot of audiobooks and podcasts from revisionist historians. I actually like to not have a visual input. We work out our eyes a lot in training because we have to be so alert and that aspect of our neurology makes us very tired. So I sometimes just lie with my eyes closed and listen."
Have you got any good podcast recommendations?
"Dan Carlin has an incredible series of podcasts. I’d say mostly war history, but he does a lot of biographies looking into important people in history, so people like Gengis Khan and Napoleon and anywhere up to people like Himmler, Stalin and Lenin. He has a way of making a 5 or 6 hour podcast enthralling the whole time."
Do you have any favourite figures in history?
"I think Joseph Joffre the French Army Captain from the First World War is one of my favourites. Also, Napolen. There’s just no-one else like him and I think he’s incredible. General [George] Patton as well did some incredible things when it came to leadership. One of my favourite things to learn from Second World War is actually the stories of leadership and how people found creative solutions to issues. I think you can bring a lot of those things to cycling. We obviously aren’t in anything as intense as battle but we’re in some heated moments and it’s all about staying together as a team. You can lead as a leader or as one of the infantrymen, so to speak, and I think it’s important to know how to do both."
At this point I really had to let Nathan go because we'd been chatting for so long. He was incredibly generous with his time and it was a pleasure to chat with him for so long. We'll be cheering hard for Nathan once the race kicks off. Our favourite interviews are ones that turn into excellent conversations, and this was a perfect example.