'It's like being in a breakaway all day': Nathan Haas on switching to gravel racing

After a decade in the WorldTour, the Aussie tells CW about his pivot into the gravel scene

Nathan Haas taking part in a gravel race
(Image credit: Getty)

For each article in this long-running WATT WORKS FOR ME series from Cycling Weekly's print edition, we ask a pro rider about their favourite things in training: what has helped them most in getting to where they are today. The aim is to get to the heart of the beliefs and preferences they hold dear when it comes to building form, maximising fitness and ultimately achieving results. For this edition, we speak to Nathan Haas...

Why did you decide to switch to gravel? 

Originally, I didn’t choose cycling, cycling chose me. I started with downhill MTB before moving to cross-country. I then did some road races and just kept progressing through the ranks. I started riding gravel six or seven years ago, but it wasn’t called gravel back then. After 10 years in the WorldTour, it can be a struggle to get back to the top – you’re either no longer good enough or getting bored of doing the same thing – whereas gravel is a whole new world. 

Was gravel racing a shock to the system after so long in the WorldTour? 

You don’t have the traditional road race dynamic, and tactically it is a completely different sport. The selections tend to happen early, with everyone going hard for the first 50km, especially if there are climbs at the start. Once the selection is made, it’s like being in a breakaway all day. If we’re looking at it from a numbers perspective, in a road race there is a big difference between your average and normalised power, whereas in gravel they are pretty close. The amount of time you’re under load on a gravel bike is phenomenal. 

Has your training changed in any way? 

Part of my reason for leaving the WorldTour was wanting to get rid of the discipline part of cycling. Professional cycling has moved so far away from the reasons that we all originally fell in love with the sport – everyone is told what to do and is micro-managed. I’m selfcoached this year. It’s not that I’ve got no structure but I do have more autonomy. When I was a road pro, I always felt as if there was this overwhelming stress and pressure from other people in the organisation. Now, if it’s raining, for example, I just change the way I train that day and don’t have the guilt of missing a session. 

Don’t you miss having a plan? 

The truth about training plans is that coaches aren’t able to predict the future. If you’re training well, staying healthy and not messing yourself up, you’re going to be on the right trajectory. If you can eliminate the guilt factor from missing a day’s training, you tend to end up being healthier and happier. This year I made a conscious decision to get back into a healthy relationship with my bike. 

Do you still ride on the road at all?

Yes, as there is such a thing as too much gravel. Gravel is an all-body sport similar to MTB, but without the suspension helping you out. At the minute, in the latter part of the season, I’m at a 70:30 ratio between the road and gravel bike, but for the majority of the year it was 80:20 gravel to road.

What are the biggest gravel riding misconceptions?

Gravel isn’t just this pool of riders who can’t race on the WorldTour anymore. While there is a bit of that, just because you can’t or don’t want to race at the highest level on the road doesn’t mean you should just hang up your wheels. Gravel is really fun and it comes down to the individual. It also turns out that the highest level of gravel is harder than I expected!

Rider profile: Nathan Haas

Age: 33 

Height: 5ft 8in 

Weight: 70kg 

Peak power: 1,650W 

Lives: Girona, Spain 

Rides for: n/a 

Best results: 1st – Tour of Britain GC (2012); 1st – Japan Cup (2011, 2014); 4th – Amstel Gold Race (2014) 

Twitter: @NathanPeterHaas 

Instagram: nathanpeterhaas

Nathan Haas smiling, wearing Australia jersey

(Image credit: Alamy)

How to switch to gravel?

Organisation. The biggest change for me has been learning how to manage the logistics as a solo rider. Travelling and packing everything for myself, cleaning the bike and making sure I know where I’m getting my dinner from, as well as fuelling and spares on race day without relying on staff. There’s a lot to think about.

Do you need to use a power meter?

It depends on what you’re trying to do in gravel. If you’re trying to race and be the best, you probably need to have a power meter – not for racing but certainly in training. But if you’re just riding around with friends to have fun, what does it matter?

Quick-fire faves

Motivational song? ‘Karma Police’ by Radiohead 

Place to ride? Adelaide Hills, South Australia 

Type of race? “All guts” 

Type of training? Any ride with good friends 

Cafe stop treat? Cinnamon roll 

Sport or hobby away from cycling? Fishing and guitar, but not simultaneously 

Inspirational person? Winston Churchill 

Guilty pleasure? I don’t have any guilt for my pleasures 

Quality in a training partner? Ability to make me laugh

The full version of this article was published in the 29 September 2022 print edition of Cycling Weekly magazine. Subscribe online and get the magazine delivered to your door every week.

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