The past several seasons have not been easy for two-time Monument runner-up and Tour de France stage-winner Heinrich Haussler. After a marquee 2009 campaign in which he racked up those big results and a few others, crashes and injuries slowed him down for a number of the seasons that followed. Haussler recovered from a broken hip and pelvis in 2013 to race a full 2014 schedule, ultimately taking a stage win in Bayern Rundfahrt and a few top tens (including a 2nd place in the Tour de France) on the year, though the results were still not where they used to be.
But 2015 is a new year for Haussler, and, importantly, he will take on this season with last year’s mileage and an offseason of good training as a solid starting point, rather than having to start from scratch after having his season derailed by injury or surgery.
CyclingTips (Dane Cash from Velohuman) caught up with Haussler ahead of Sunday’s National Championships Race.
CyclingTips: This will be your first Australian National Champs race and your first Tour Down Under since 2012. What motivated you this year to be in Australia for January?
Heinrich Haussler: I wanted to try something different and also get a lot of good training in my legs. We already came out to Australia in the middle of December just to get used to the heat, and you can train just better here than you can in Europe. Last week for example, the whole of Europe was just covered in snow, it was just freezing, negative temperatures, and no one could train. So that was really the main idea, and second, we were waiting on whether we were going to go Pro Tour or not. So if we were – and we did get the Pro Tour spot – we’d have to do Down Under, and I wanted to do Nationals, Down Under, and Cadel Evans’s race.
CT: What is it like training here [Haussler and his IAM team have been in the alpine town of Bright over Christmas holidays]? What do you think it’s going to be like racing in front of Australian crowds?
HH: The way I’ve seen it the last few years, it’s just getting bigger and bigger and bigger, and all of a sudden I notice it when I’m out training, there’s just so many cyclists here, it’s amazing. It’s grown so much in the last decade or so. It’s good for cycling. I’m really looking forward to racing Down Under. I’ve always followed the last few years on TV, and I saw that my form was good so I wanted to try to do something on one or two stages.
CT: You made it through 2014 relatively unscathed after a tough 2013, and of course before that you’d had some misfortune with crashes and injuries here and there for a few seasons running. Do you feel that a full season on the road and then a full offseason to follow has given you an opportunity to get to your very best for 2015?
HH: Yeah. I’m not saying now that I’m at my “best” but I was just talking to a few mates about that the other day. This is the first year since 2009 where I’ve gone through a full season of good racing in my legs without having any bad crashes or an operation or breaking a bone or something. It makes a massive difference, getting back on the bike in the winter, getting ready, it just puts you on another level. And also, having a Grand Tour in your legs. So I’m really excited and I’m ready to go for this year and just see where it takes me.
CT: Do you feel like your offseason training went according to plan?
HH: Yeah, I mean, the stuff that I’m doing now in training, it’s making me a little bit excited. And I’m ready to race.
CT: The National Champs circuit looks pretty open this year. It’s never easy taking on a team with greater numbers like GreenEdge in that race, and you’ve said that you’re not necessarily at your very best peak form at this part of the season, but are you expecting to contend for the National Championship race?
HH: Now that Gerro is out with a broken collarbone it’s just opened it up completely. The way Richie [Porte] rode the time trial yesterday, he’s just super strong, so it’s going to be an interesting race. Either twenty guys go up the road in the first two laps and the right guys are in it and then it’s already game over, or maybe teams like Sky or BMC, they really want to try to keep it together for those last two laps for Richie and Cadel. But without Gerro there, they [Orica-GreenEdge] have the numbers but they’re not really a team that I’m worrying about
CT: Do you have a strategy in mind for the race?
HH: There’s no big strategy about it. Either me or [David] Tanner in the group in the beginning, and if it’s a good group – obviously we know who needs to be in the group, if there’s three or four GreenEdge guys, two BMC, and a Sky, and a few of the national teams – then the group is going to the go to the finish. But if it’s only six or seven guys that get up the road, then obviously you can control the race. You know, we’ll see, if twenty guys go up the road, we have to be there. If not, sit tight, wait, wait, save energy and see what we can do in the last two or three laps. The course is that hard that I think there’s nothing else you can do. If one guy goes with six or seven laps to go, you’re just going to burn yourself.
CT: After Nationals it’s on to the Tour Down Under. With the January start, some riders come into the Tour Down Under with lowered expectations, with big goals that might be a bit later in the season. Would you say that’s the case for you, or are you thinking you might be able to pick up a win or two in the race?
HH: Yeah, that’d be nice if it would happen! But a lot of people underestimate the Tour Down Under. They think, you know, come out to Australia, first race of the year, the stages are only 140 km. But when I came in 2012, it was just as hard as the Pro Tour races in Europe. . . . It’s still absolute full gas. . . . There’s points up for grabs, they want to show the sponsors, the teams on TV, there’s no mucking around anymore. Everyone comes here 100%. But I’ll be ready to try and do something.
CT: Have you had a chance to look at the roadbook and pinpoint the days that fit your skillset?
HH: Well there’s four stages where I could have a go. The other two, with Willunga and the new hilltop finish, they’re not for me. But we’re coming out with a really good team, a strong team. We’ve got a new climbing guy, [Jarlinson] Pantano. We’ll see how he goes, we’ll try to keep him up there on GC. But like I said, it’s hard racing. Even the second stage, in Stirling, what I saw last year, there were a lot of good hill climbers in the final and not so many sprinters left, but I think that could be a stage where I could have a go, I’ll just have to see what happens in the race.
CT: So Jarlinson Pantano is the GC leader for the team?
HH: I’d say so. The rest of the guys aren’t really top climbers. Though, even David Tanner, he also came out to Australia, we’ve been training together, you never know what he can do.
CT: Do you feel that your offseason has gotten you to the level you need to be for the Classics?
HH: To be honest I don’t think I’ve ever been this strong before.
CT: For the spring is it all-in for the Classics?
HH: Definitely. I told the team that I don’t want to do the Tour this year. It’s 100% for the Classics.
CT: So no Tour de France?
HH: It’s just too much stress. I’d rather do the one-day races, and afterwards have a little bit of rest for the summer and build towards the next one-day races, Eneco Tour and Hamburg, Plouay, maybe the races in Canada and then build up again for the World Championships. If you do three times building up, it’s really hard to calculate and you’ve got to get things 100% so I’d rather do one big block, have a rest, do another big block of altitude maybe, and then get ready for the second part of the season. The thing is, if you come out of the Tour already cooked and really fatigued, you might still go to races but the season is already over.
CT: This will be IAM’s first year at the WorldTour level. You are one of the veterans on the squad who have already ridden at a Pro Tour level in the past. How well do you think IAM will be able to contend with that full WorldTour schedule on the horizon, this year and beyond?
HH: For the future, I hope Michel [Thétaz, team founder and General Manger] hangs around. I’ve never met a guy like him before, it’s amazing, there should be more guys like him in the sport. I have absolutely no worries about the team for this year. We’ve got a lot of good new riders, riders that are very solid, that can work hard, that can do their job. But also, especially for me, new guys for the Classics, like Jonas Van Genechten and Dries Devenyns. We already knew these guys before, I’ve seen them and how well they ride, and I’m absolutely really happy with the team. I think a lot of the people at the end of the season will wonder: where did IAM come from? Why were they so good this year?
CT: By season’s end, what will it take for you to consider 2015 to have been a success?
HH: In 2012 I had good racing again in the legs, and then in 2013 I was kind of back, I had top 10s again, in the Classics I could attack, I could actually do stuff and just have that feeling again, to be able to go on the cobbles, to have that sensation where you could stand up and attack. I want to get back to that. I want to have fun racing again. Sometimes it’s really frustrating, because you haven’t had the legs and you see the guys go up the road and you just think, “Fuck, what am I doing here? I can do this!” But I just didn’t have the form. But it’ll come. Just normal stuff, at the training camp, sitting around with your teammates, eating, laughing, joking, the spirit is just different this year. And that will reflect also on our results. It’s a bit of a family feeling. You have to have that, you have to be happy in your own environment. You know what I mean? If you are on a team and you’re not happy, sitting in a bus, guys next you and you don’t talk to them, obviously you’re not going to ride well because you don’t want to be there. I just want to get back to that level where I was, for example, in 2009 or 2013.
CT: Is there one particular race where you feel like you have unfinished business?
HH: All the Classics. They’re all open for me. I love these races. I especially love Sanremo. Obviously it’s going to be very, very difficult to win or get a good result there, but it’s still my number one goal to be good in the Classics and get the highest result possible.
CT: With San Remo being around the corner now, how do you feel about the 2015 San Remo route?
HH: I think it’s perfect. That is San Remo. That’s the way it should be. They shouldn’t always be trying to make these races harder and changing the tradition of the Classics. I know some organizers just want to change races and make them even harder and harder and harder. That’s the way it’s been for the last couple of years. But I think, yeah, not just me, but a lot of the other guys out there, they’re happy with the way the route it’s, that’s the way it should stay.