Nathan Haas (Katusha-Alpecin) took the victory at the end of a testing stage two of the 2018 Tour of Oman on Wednesday.
Haas crossed the finish line at Al Bustan with a roar like you rarely hear. Tears of joy in his eyes, he dropped his bike, immediately hugging anyone from his Katusha-Alpecin team he could find.
With that done and a drink in his hands, the 28-year-old Australian sat on the kerb and spoke to journalists, gasping with both emotion and exertion.
“I am over the moon man, I have been working on a win for a while.”
Haas out-sprinted Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) and Alexey Lutsenko (Astana) on the uphill drag to the finish at Al Bustan, the end of a challenging stage backloaded with short, sharp climbs which put paid to the pure sprinters’ chances.
Unlike yesterday’s stage, today’s 167.6km race from Sultan Qaboos University began with a fight for a place in the break of the day. However, when four riders got clear after a five-kilometre battle, the peloton settled.
Loic Chetout (Cofidis), Markel Irizar (Trek-Segafredo), Fabricio Ferrari (Caja- Rural) and the veteran American, Danny Pate (Rally Cycling) soon established a lead of four minutes. Behind them, race leader Brian Coquard’s Vital Concept team managed the gap.
The first of four classified climbs came early in the stage, after only 60km. Chetout took the honours there, the intermediate sprint point 24km later and the classified climb of Al Jabal Street, conclusively securing the gold jersey of the most aggressive rider.
The break’s advantage remained much the same until that second climb. Despite a number of crashes affecting multiple teams, the bunch began to close in as the tough final 25km loomed.
A group of around 20 riders made the final selection, descending from the final climb for the kick to the line.
Though he has come close, today’s success is Haas’s first since winning stage four of the Vuelta a Burgos in August 2016, when riding with Dimension Data.
“I am always the bridesmaid, so today I put on the wedding dress,” he said regaining some of his composure.
“It was kind of cool that Lutsenko took van Avermaet’s wheel, but he always goes so long, and I knew from watching the footage of Cancellara’s sprint in 2010 here. He waited and went on the right where it’s a shorter line, so I actually used my head before my legs got to kick in.
“I have so much anger and frustration building up and it’s not a heathy thing, in the last few weeks I learnt to relax and I had to use that anger and frustration in the moment, and once I kicked I wasn’t letting anyone go.”
Having finished fourth at last year’s Santos Tour Down Under, Haas had hoped to do well in his home race this season, but suffered with the heat, eventually finishing way down the order.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself and maybe it’s a bit unrealistic, but I’m always just hungry and sometimes when you don’t get the feed of a win and you’ve been coming so close for a few years you just end up getting frustrated. So today to beat Van Avermaet like that it’s been what I have been chasing.”
Having joined Katusha-Alpecin over the winter, Haas feels the support he had for today’s victory – the team’s first this season – was invaluable.
“I don’t want to can my time with Dimension Data, they were fantastic and I grew so much as a bike rider and as a person, but definitely today the delivery was just incredible.”
Thursday’s 179.5km stage between the German University of Technology and Wadi Dayqah Dam is likely to produce more tough racing, though should suit Haas, helping him retain the overall lead he holds from Greg Van Avermaet by four seconds.
Tour of Oman 2018, stage two: Sultan Qaboos University to Al Bustan, 167.5km
1. Nathan Haas (Aus) Katusha-Alpecin, in 4-22-15
2. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing Team
3. Alexey Lutsenko (Kaz) Astana
4. Dries Devenyns (Bel) Quick-Step Floors
5. Merhawi Kudus (Eri) Dimension Data
6. Niki Terpstra (Ned) Quick-Step Floors
7. Gorka Izagirre (Esp) Bahrain-Merida
8. Jesus Herrada (Esp) Cofidis
9. Fabio Felline (Ita) Trek-Segafredo
10. Miguel Angel Lopez (Col) Astana, all same time
General classification after stage two
1. Nathan Haas (Aus) Katusha-Alpecin, in 8-20-46
2. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing Team, at 4 secs
3. Alexey Lutsenko (Kaz) Astana, at 6 secs
4. Merhawi Kudus (Eri) Dimension Data, at 10 secs
5. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Bahrain-Merida, at 10 secs
6. Dries Devenyns (Bel) Quick-Step Floors, at 10 secs
7. Odd Christian Eiking (Nor) Wanty-Groupe Gobert, at 10 secs
8. Miguel Angel Lopez (Col) Astana, at 10 secs
9. Fabio Felline (Ita) Trek-Segafredo, at 10 secs
10. Fabien Doubey (Fra) Wanty-Groupe Gobert, at 10 secs