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Heinrich Haussler will reprise the role of protected leader at the Spring Classics after a stint as road captain at IAM.
The 32-year-old has lately adopted a more varied position with the Swiss squad, acting predominately as an experienced skipper. But Haussler will line up at Sunday’s Tour of Flanders and at Paris-Roubaix a week later as one of several options for IAM, which is looking for a co-sponsor to further its stable and agenda from 2017.
“The races that are coming up are so hard that you pretty much let the legs do the talking,” Haussler told CyclingTips.
Haussler’s leadership stint may be limited to the Spring Classics and the Giro d’Italia, which, along with the Road World Championships in Qatar, are of key importance to the 2015 Australian road champion, who has no desire to race the Tour de France.
“I predict it will be more during the Classics and maybe more toward the end of the season that we’re going to find a good Heino,” IAM sports director Rik Verbrugghe told CyclingTips.
“We can use him as captain or as a protected rider during the races but it depends on his shape especially. When Heino is not 100% he is somebody that gives a lot to the team and that’s also important to the young riders for experience. That can make a difference sometimes.
“But I will say during the Classics Heino is always super motivated. He really likes the Classics, it’s like home for him.”
Haussler forwent the opportunity to defend his national road title in 2016 and this year joined the likes of Michael Matthews in skipping the Australian races through January and February in favour of a later-season start abroad. Verbrugghe said that Haussler’s Australian campaign in 2015, while effective, was costly for the father of two when it came to the cobbles.
“He was Australian champion, in Tour Down Under he was good and in Qatar I think he was the strongest rider in the race but after [that] his shape was not like it was,” Verbrugghe reflected. “He arrived to the Classics with a lot of experience but not perfect shape.
“For this reason we started really late this season,” he continued. “Heino likes to train a lot and sometimes he needs to slow down to find his shape at the right moment. That’s what we have tried this year.
“We saw in Milan-San Remo that his shape is good. He was with the best riders in the final and in the end seventh, so it was a good result for him. He arrives now to the Classics and I think with good shape where we can really say to Heino that he is one of the protected riders in the team. That’s important for him also for the next races.”
IAM backed Haussler’s compatriot Leigh Howard for the sprinter-friendly Milan-San Remo earlier this month and although Haussler did not rate a mention in the team’s official preview, the 2009 runner-up was part of a contingency plan.
“The main goal was to protect more Leigh for Milan-San Remo as he is faster than Heino,” Verbrugghe explained.
Haussler’s experience as road captain may come into play at the UCI Road World Championships in October. The naturalised Aussie surrendered his German licence in 2010 to race in the green and gold from the 2011 world titles in Copenhagen, Denmark. In that race he prominently assisted Matt Goss to silver behind Mark Cavendish (Great Britain). The former Tour de France stage winner is adept at racing across Qatar’s windswept landscape, which will come in handy should he be selected for the elite men’s road race squad.
“I haven’t spoken to anyone about it but especially in Qatar if there is wind, that’s absolutely my speciality,” Haussler said. “I think Mat Hayman is for sure the number one road captain just because of his experience but I’m 100% there to help the team again.”
Haussler has taken himself out of the leadership race for Worlds but points to burgeoning sprinter Caleb Ewan as a potential option.
“It all depends what happens on the day but if it comes down to a big bunch sprint I haven’t got that speed, pedal stroke for pedal stroke, against the big boys,” he said. “It really depends on how Caleb improves, or develops, this year and also being such a long race.
“I’ve been a part of so many Worlds already where we’ve been second, or third or fourth or fifth … It’d be good to be a part of it when one of them wins a world championship.”
For the moment though, Haussler is focused on the cobbles of Flanders and Northern France.
About the author
Sophie Smith is an experienced journalist and television reporter for Australia and UK press. She was roped into the 2010 UCI Road World Championships and has specialised in pro cycling since. She lived in London for two years and has travelled all over the world covering the sport. You can follow Sophie on Twitter at @SophieSmith86.