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by Matt de Neef
January 11, 2015
Heinrich Haussler (IAM Cycling) has won the elite men’s road race at the 2015 Australian National Road Championships, sprinting to victory ahead of Caleb Ewan (Orica-GreenEdge) and Neil van der Ploeg (Avanti) in a six-rider lead group.
Haussler was dropped from the lead group on the 3km-long Mount Buninyong climb on both of the last two laps, but fought his way back into contention on the top section of the course both times.
For Haussler, it was the perfect start to 2015 after several seasons of variable form.
“Since 2009 I’ve had ups and downs, ups and downs, coming back, getting down, getting up, getting down”, Haussler said. “This year during the winter I really built up, came out in December to Australia to get ready for Nationals and Down Under and things just have fallen into place.
“Seriously — it’s the best day of my life. I don’t know what to say. ”
The race-winning break was established on lap 14 of 18 when a flurry of attacks splintered the peloton on the step-like Mount Buninyong climb. A group of 16 riders emerged from the climb together, including Haussler, while Will Clarke (Drapac) and Pat Lane (African Wildlife Safaris) were together at the head of the race, roughly 40 seconds ahead.
Pat Lane attacked solo the following time up Mount Buninyong, leaving Will Clarke to drift back to the chase group. The next time up the climb, on lap 16 of 18, Lane was caught, creating a group of 17 riders at the head of affairs.
Over the following two laps the lead group would be whittled away while back in the peloton pre-race favourites like Cadel Evans (BMC) and Richie Porte (Sky) were seeing the race slip away from them.
Michael Hepburn (Orica-GreenEdge) attacked from the lead group of 17 on the penultimate time up Mount Buninyong, thinning the lead group down to just seven riders: Angus Morton (Jelly Belly), Hepburn, Caleb Ewan, Jack Bobridge (Budget Forklifts), Campbell Flakemore (BMC), Neil van der Ploeg (Avanti) and Sam Spokes (Drapac). Heinrich Haussler was dropped but managed to regain contact over the top, along with the winner of this race in 2007, Darren Lapthorne (Drapac), and his teammate Robbie Hucker.
The final time up Mount Buninyong it was Darren Lapthorne that played the aggressor. He attacked no fewer than three times but despite getting a good gap the first time, he was unable to make his moves count. Campbell Flakemore attacked as the top of the climb approached but he was marked by Caleb Ewan who then, in a move that surprised many onlookers, put in a big attack of his own.
The 20-year-old speedster got a sizeable gap as he began the flatter top section of the course with roughly 6km to go. Jack Bobridge was the first to bridge across to Ewan and the pair was joined a short time later by Flakemore, van der Ploeg, Morton and Spokes.
Haussler had again been distanced on the climb, but he soon made contact on the Fisken Road descent with a little more than 3km to race.
“I knew I had to pace myself on the climb”, Haussler said. “If I went over the limit I’d blow completely.”
In the closing kilometres Spokes, Flakemore, Morton and van der Ploeg all tried their hand at getting clear solo but nothing stuck, thanks largely to the efforts of Caleb Ewan. As the finish approached, the winner was certain to come from the lead group of six.
Ewan launched his sprint from the middle of the group with Haussler on his wheel. But it was Haussler, 10 years Ewan’s senior, that won the dash to the line, despite his chain coming off just as he crossed the line.
Haussler likened the sprint to that in the nail-biting finish to the Milan-San Remo in 2009 when he finished second behind Mark Cavendish.
“It was a really tough sprint and the lactic acid was just coming out my ears, just like back in San Remo”, Haussler said after the race. “[I was] pretty much just trying to get every little bit of energy into my legs that I had.
“Thank God the line came and I got there first. I couldn’t believe it.”
Neil van der Ploeg rolled in for third place, ahead of Flakemore, Spokes and then Bobridge, while Angus Morton was nine seconds behind in seventh. The peloton crossed the line 52 seconds later, led through by Adam Hansen (Lotto Soudal). Cadel Evans, in his last national championships, finished 11th.
Orica-GreenEdge sports director Matt White told CyclingTips that the race didn’t pan out as he thought it would, saying “it was quite a negative race”. He praised Caleb Ewan’s tenacity in attacking on the final climb but said the 20-year-old was outsmarted in the sprint.
“Caleb obviously felt really good and he was probably the strongest guy of the group”, White said. “[He started his sprint] a little early and Heinrich lined him up there. You make one little mistake at the end of a five hour race, and you pay for it.”
For Heinrich Haussler the 2015 race season continues next weekend with the Santos Tour Down Under before the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, the Tour of Qatar and then the European season.
“I want to go to Down Under now and win a stage there”, Haussler said. “Obviously that’s going to be hard but that’s a goal.
“Basically I just want to build ahead of the Classics. It may be one of the last years that San Remo is going to be a sprint before they put the bigger climbs into it, so definitely San Remo is the thing that’s been in the back of my mind.”
Haussler, a stage winner at the Tour de France, told CyclingTips earlier this week that he wouldn’t ride the French Grand Tour this year, saying “it’s just too much stress”.
A four-rider group came together in the early stages with Pat Shaw (Avanti), Cameron Peterson (Drapac), Rhys Gillett (ProTDU) and Paul van der Ploeg (CharterMason Giant) building a lead of 50 seconds by the end of the third lap. But it wasn’t until the fifth time up Mount Buninyong that the first substantial breakaway group came together.
Under the impetus of an aggressive Orica-GreenEdge, 11 riders got clear of the peloton on the climb before making their way across to join the four leaders on the road. The 15-rider group was well stocked with Drapac and Orica-GreenEdge riders and contained some big-name riders, including 2013 national road race and time trial champion Luke Durbridge (Orica-GreenEdge), Campbell Flakemore, 2011 winner of this race Jack Bobridge, eventual winner Heinrich Haussler, Bernie Sulzberger (Drapac), Will Clarke (Drapac), Pat Shaw, Lachlan Norris (Drapac) and Nathan Earle (Sky).
For the next six laps the 15-rider group built a lead that grew to as much as two minutes. Damian Howson attacked solo from the lead group on lap 10 and spent a lap out front on his own before being caught. The next to try his hand was Will Clarke, who got clear of the lead group on lap 11. On the following lap, the chase group appeared to sit up and were caught by the main field, leaving just Will Clarke ahead of the peloton.
Clarke forged on alone at the front of the race for a few laps, his lead reaching a maximum of just under two minutes. Pat Lane started making his way across to Clarke on lap 13 and made contact with the Drapac rider at the top of the Mount Buninyong KOM on lap 14.
As previously described, the race-winning move was coming a little further down the slopes of Mount Buninyong as a chase group formed behind Will Clarke.