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When the Tour de France begins in Utrecht this weekend it will do so without Australia’s road race champion, Heinrich Haussler. After a challenging season thus far, the IAM sprinter and Classics specialist is busy recharging mind and body before the second half of the season.
CyclingTips editor Matt de Neef caught up with Haussler at the launch of the 2016 Scott Foil in Salzburg, Austria last week to reflect on the year so far and consider the months ahead.
When Heinrich Haussler outsprinted Caleb Ewan to win the Australian road title on the tough Mt. Buninyong course back in January, there was a sense of some relief among Aussie cycling fans. For a man whose career has been defined as much by near misses as success, it seemed Haussler was on track for a memorable season.
But 2015 — a contract year — has proved to be another challenging season for the Australian-born German resident. So far at least.
Haussler and his IAM Cycling teammates came out to Australia in December last year to prepare for the Australian summer of racing, in particular for the team’s first berth at the Tour Down Under. Haussler capitalised on that preparation — he won the nationals road race, took second place on the final stage of the Tour Down Under, had four top-10s at the Tour of Qatar and was 10th in the inaugural Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race.
But Haussler now believes getting into early-season form (and skipping the European winter) might have jeopardised his chances of success in the races that suit him best: the Spring Classics.
“The rain and the cold [is] where I get my best results [and] starting off in Paris-Nice it was cold and miserable,” Hausser told CyclingTips. “And I think maybe because I spent my winter in Australia I just really suffered like crazy.
“It’s something that I wasn’t familiar with and the whole Classics campaign was pretty much thrown out the window.”
A second-place finisher in Milan-San Remo and the Tour of Flanders back in 2009, Haussler’s best result in his 2015 Classics campaign was 26th at Flanders.
Haussler didn’t race for three weeks between the Spring Classics and the Giro d’Italia, but in that time he battled his way back to health and promising form.
“Going into the Giro, looking at watts and power and that kind of stuff, I was really thinking: ‘F*&k, I can really do something special!’,” Haussler said. “But then already on the first stage I had two bad crashes.
“People have to understand that if you crash like that at the beginning of a Grand Tour it really takes it out of [you].”
With his body focused on healing skin rather than recovering from the exertions of racing what he describes as a “super-hard” Giro, Haussler found himself getting sick towards the end of the first week.
“I think the body was just on the limit and then on the first rest day I was pretty much just shitting water and spewing the whole time,” Haussler said. “It got that bad that I lost four or five kilograms overnight.”
The 31-year-old ended up spending the entirety of the first rest day in hospital, getting lost fluids replaced. Things didn’t get any easier when the race resumed the following day – a stage that was won by Nicola Boem in a surprise, breakaway victory and which featured the infamous wheel swap between Richie Porte and Simon Clarke.
“If the first stage after the rest day had been a mountain stage I would have been out the back door straight away,” Haussler told CyclingTips. “But it was a flat stage and even on the flat stage I could barely hold the wheel.
“When you lose that much fluid you lose everything — all your minerals. You’re just totally f&^ked.”
Haussler found his health returning as the race progressed but the mountains of the second and third week saw him get sick once again. While thoughts of abandoning the race were a near-constant companion, the promise of being able to contest the race-ending sprint saw Heino battle through to the end.
“In the back of my mind, I was like ‘I’ve got almost two weeks to recover for the stage in Milan to go for the sprint’,” Haussler said. “Because I knew that [Andre] Greipel was going to pull out, most of the other sprinters were going to be on the limit and fatigued, and that’s when I can do a good sprint.
“But then I was sick myself and … Durbo [Luke Durbridge] and [Iljo] Keisse stayed away anyway.”
Haussler finished the Giro with a best result of fourth on stage 17. It was an encouraging result but one that the New South Welshman quickly downplayed, saying after the stage: “This fourth place feels good for the team, but tomorrow no one will remember it.”
One result that many people do remember was Haussler’s victory on stage 13 of the 2009 Tour de France. On a wet day in the hills to the east of France, Haussler got himself in a three-rider breakaway before getting clear on his own with just inside 50km to go. The then-Cervelo-rider would go on to win solo by more than four minutes in the town of Colmar, just 50km from his home of Freiburg.
Six years on, Heinrich Haussler will be watching the 2015 Tour de France from the sidelines, at least partially because his IAM Cycling team goes into the race this Saturday with a single focus — to support Matthias Frank in the GC.
“We went there last year with different ambitions — to try with Matthias [Frank] on GC, try there with Chavo [Sylvain Chavanel] to win a stage, then go for the sprints – but you can’t do that at the Tour de France,” Haussler explained. “The whole team needs to be behind the one guy … otherwise it just doesn’t work.”
“It’s better that eight, nine guys all go for the one goal and not the team trying to do that [and] go for the sprints with one or two guys and you get 10th or 12th. I’m better off … to stay home and focus on other things that are more important.
“It would of course be wonderful … to win another stage of the Tour, but I’ve been to the Tour de France, I’ve finished it, I’ve won a stage, there’s other things I’d also like to do.”
Among those ‘other things’ is a solid tilt at the Eneco Tour, a seven-stage WorldTour race in mid-August for which Haussler has ambitions of a top-10 result on GC. He believes “a few stages around Flanders and on the cobbles” will assist him with that goal.
He’s also keen for a good showing at the Vattenfall Cyclassics in Hamburg, the GP Ouest France – Plouay in France and then, in late September, the Road World Championships in Richmond, USA.
Having raced the first seven years of his pro career on a German license, Haussler took up an Australian license in 2010 and has raced the World Championships in Australian colours three times since – in 2011, 2012 and 2014.
While leadership of the Australian team at the 2015 Worlds is likely to go to Michael Matthews and/or Simon Gerrans, Haussler hasn’t ruled himself out of contention. After all, the cobbled, urban course in the Virginian capital suits Haussler well. And even if he’s not the designated leader, he believes he has the experience to play a vital role.
“I really know how to ride those races. It’s different to last year; it’s more [about] positioning, tactics … racing smart, saving energy. [Being] in the city it’ll be … not hectic, but positioning will be important.”
“Last year I wasn’t feeling 100% on the day and … I felt like I let the team down because I wasn’t there for Gerro,” Haussler said. “The thing is with the Australian team at the world championships, it’s one team. The guys sacrifice themselves 100% for the leader and I just felt like I couldn’t do anything last year so that was pretty frustrating. So I really want to do a good job at the world championships.”
The challenges of fatherhood
While Haussler has a clear idea of his racing goals for the second half of the season, it isn’t just cycling that’s vying for his attention these days. He’s now the proud father of twin boys, born in early April. And as Haussler himself admits, he’s found the transition to parenthood difficult.
“It’s pure stress at home. [We’re] not getting enough sleep and it’s hard to manage. It’s also a big shock; a big life change,” Haussler said. “You’ve got your mates ringing you up: ‘Wanna come around for a BBQ or go out for a beer?’ And I’m like ‘Nah man, sleep’s more important.'”
So with two young boys at home to take care of, does it make it harder to justify getting out for long training rides during the day?
“Nah, it makes it easier! ‘Ok baby, I’ve got to do seven hours today.’ You go and do three and for the rest you go and sit in the coffee shop,” Haussler joked. “No no, [the kids] are really good. They sleep good, they eat good, they’re putting on weight good.
“It’s just different, but everyone gets used to it and everyone that has kids has to go through it.”
For Haussler, it’s been and still is a case of readjusting his priorities in life.
“I started cycling when I was six and it’s just been that. You’ve devoted your whole life to the sport but now it’s like cycling is [the second priority] — it’s all about the babies. Life has really just started now.”