Heinrich Haussler in Foret d'Arenberg in the 2021 Paris-Roubaix

‘Cycling has given me so much’ – A chat with Heinrich Haussler

At almost 38, 'Heino' still feels he has plenty to give back to the sport.

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Heinrich Haussler is one of the oldest and most experienced riders in the peloton. He’s had a long and storied career, featuring some famous wins and some equally famous second places. ‘Heino’ is a perennial fan favourite, an Aussie hardman famous for his tendency to avoid wearing gloves, even on the coldest and wettest of days.

Later this month the 37-year-old will start his 18th season in the professional peloton.

“My career has been really long,” he says in his unmistakable Australian accent. “I started cycling when I was six years young because my dad used to ride. I got a bike for Christmas and a few weeks later there was a small race. I got third and week for week, month for month, year for year, cycling became a more important part of my life.”

Haussler grew up in Inverell, New South Wales with a German father and an Australian mother. When he was only 14 years old, he moved to Germany to enroll in an “Eliteschulen des Sports”, a high school with a special emphasis on sports. Haussler had a dual passport and therefore could move to Germany easily. After being part of the German junior and U23 teams, and winning the German junior time trial championships in 2002, he turned pro with Gerolsteiner in 2005. 

Haussler wins stage 13 of the 2009 Tour de France.

Haussler kickstarted his career with a stage win in the Vuelta in his first pro year. But when asked about the highlights of his long career, he doesn’t necessarily name his most iconic victories like that one in the Vuelta, or his win on stage 13 of the 2009 Tour de France after an epic solo. He doesn’t even mention Milan-San Remo 2009 where he finished in second place after a thrilling sprint with Mark Cavendish or that second place in the Tour of Flanders that same year.

“Highlights are not necessarily winning races,” he says. “A highlight of my career was the team atmosphere, the family atmosphere at Team Cervélo in 2009. We were just a bunch of guys, many just domestiques but we came together as a group and smashed it.

“I have been looking for that feeling ever since and found it back in the sprint and Classics team of Bahrain Victorious last year. That feeling when you are at the airport and you look forward to seeing the guys again.

“It translates into how we rode as a team at Cervélo and how we rode at Bahrain too. We went into the races like Benelux Tour or Paris-Roubaix and didn’t care about the other teams and their tactics. We just had the confidence to go out there and do the job. It made us feel powerful.” 

It resulted in one of the most memorable races of recent years: Paris-Roubaix. Sonny Colbrelli won in a three-way sprint against Florian Vermeersch and Mathieu van der Poel on the Velodrome de Roubaix. Haussler crossed the line in 10th place – his third top-10 at the race.

“I heard it over the radio and almost cried myself,” Haussler says of Colbrelli’s win. “It was an amazing experience I will never forget and I want to create again in the future. It’s not like buying a bunch of guys and expect them to gel. It’s pretty hard to create a bunch of friends.” 

Haussler and race winner Sonny Colbrelli at the Roubaix velodrome.

Haussler is almost 38 years old and naturally thinks about his future as a pro cyclist. 

“Obviously, I won’t be riding for another 10 years,” he says. “I am that age when other things become more important, like family. Things also get harder on the bike and in training. I want to stay in cycling because I see potential. In Classics and sprinting there is still gains to be made.

“I think I can make a team, not necessarily own a team but make a team. Honesty is important. I like to teach the younger guys.”

There are many young riders on Bahrain Victorious and with the retirement of Marcel Sieberg, Haussler’s role is changing this year. He will be more of a road captain and mentor than last year. He sees the changes in the age distribution in the peloton first-hand and naturally, has an opinion about this.

“In the last 10 years things have changed for the younger riders,” he says. “They turn pro and come up through the ranks so fast now. Nothing against them because many are that strong and can do what they want but to gain respect you also have to give respect. I see many guys that had pretty much everything handed to them since they were kids. They never really had to work for something like some other guys.” 

Haussler after winning the GP Schwarzwald in 2009.

Haussler recognizes himself in the young, up-and-coming riders. Haussler moved away from home when he was only 14 years young and went through the exact same process himself. 

“I was one of those little arrogant guys thinking I owned the world, turned pro young, living the life and thinking you are king shit,” he says with a smile. “I want to teach the younger riders now how to be a good bike rider but also how to be better in life. I have been on many different teams and in many different races over the years.

“Sprints and Classics have changed completely in the last 15 years. It doesn’t come down to the strongest guy on the day. There is luck involved, there is more tactics, bikes, tire pressure, you name it. I want the younger guys to use their brains too. You don’t necessarily have to be the strongest guy but if you have a good group of guys [working as a team] almost anything is possible.”

Haussler himself learned most from the older riders at Team Cervélo like Andreas Klier, Thor Hushovd, Gabriel Rasch, and Roger Hammond. Many of these riders have gone on to successful careers as sports directors. It’s a future Haussler sees from himself too but first he wants to continue on the bike.

“When you stop cycling, that’s it – there is no way back,” he says, explaining that he still has something to give to the sport as an active athlete. “I want to pass things on and create something special. That’s my main goal. Get the most potential out of the bodies, the legs, so these riders can experience what I did.

“Look at Fred Wright in Benelux Tour. I really told him to enjoy this moment because some never have experiences like it.” 

Haussler leading the team (far right) with Phil Bauhaus and Marcel Sieberg in the Benelux Tour 2021.

Haussler is referring to the final day of the Benelux Tour in Geraardsbergen. Wright came in fifth after helping his teammates Matej Mohorič and Sonny Colbrelli to first and second on the day. 

“We had such a good week in Belgium then,” Wright tells me. “It’s definitely been the best team performance I’ve been a part of. Heino is someone I’ve learned a lot from in the team, especially when it comes to the Classics. It’s been great having him there for guidance the past couple of years. I tend to just copy what he does for the Classics in terms of setup, whether that’s tire width or pressure.

“Also, the amount of knowledge of the courses and where things will happen and where to go easy he has is incredible. I really try and make sure I get all little tips I can from him.”

Haussler wants to be a part of that Classics team again in 2022 and share his experience with the team. To prepare for the Classics season he went back to the muddy fields of Belgium to do some cyclocross like he did in 2021. He is still a rookie when it comes to CX – his first race ever came in 2019.

“Cyclocross happened by mistake,” he says of that first race. “A friend of mine Sascha Weber did cyclocross when he was younger. He asked to me to join him in a small regional race close to where we live [in Freiburg, southern Germany]. It was straight after the Vuelta that I just finished. I said ‘Nah mate, I am 36, I am not going to do that.’ He did convince me.

“I took my road bike as well to train a little more after the race because it was only an hour of cyclocross and I thought the training would be too short. I couldn’t believe how hard it was and I was hooked from the start.” 

Since that first CX race in Switzerland he has travelled to Belgium and the Netherlands in the winter time to keep up his fitness. His friends and teammates often ask him why he wants to ride around Belgian pastures in the mud and rain.

“It’s absolutely filthy to be honest,” he laughs. “It’s cold and wet and hard. After every race it’s so much work to clean and get ready for the next but it’s also one of the best sports. I can’t really explain it. People on the team think I am completely crazy but people who have never done it have no idea. I was a hypocrite and thought it was a bunch of Belgians running around a paddock and drinking beer. Until I did it.

“Every race I get shocked even more. My bike handling on the road is good but compared to the cyclocross guys it’s not even close. They are so strong. Eli Iserbyt and Tom Pidcock are small guys but from the start they ride away from me. It’s also something that motivates me. I will never beat them but it motivates me to become better.

“Finishing a race is like a world championship for me. The women are sometimes even faster than me. The women’s level is absolutely amazing and so high. They ride the ruts and jump the barriers and I am in awe watching.” 

Haussler at the Ethias Cross in Essen.

Last year Haussler finished fourth in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad after two cyclocross races the weekend before. He decided to go for the same approach to be ready for this season and will line up in Sint Niklaas and Oostmalle on February 19 and 20.

“I get close to my max heartrate of 185, doing 176/177 for one hour at these races, at my age!” he says. “We never had that on the road because those are maybe five- or six-minute efforts. I did five races across the Christmas period this season and it took me 10 days to recover.”

Representing Australia at the World Cyclocross Championships in Oostende, Belgium 2021.

Haussler will focus on teamwork and being a mentor at Bahrain Victorious this season but he has a personal goal as well: to represent Australia at the Road World Championships in Wollongong later this year.

“In 2009 I decided that it felt right to represent Australia,” he says. “I had represented Germany as a junior so I had to make a definitive choice and give back the German passport. The paperwork took quite some time but being Australian in 2010 felt good. I live in Germany but it wouldn’t feel right to represent the country. My family, friends are here and I will stay here after my career but I am definitely Australian. My accent is pretty unmistakable,” he laughs. 

“So, one personal goal this year would be to put on an Australian jersey representing Australia in Wollongong. That would be an absolute highlight of my career. Cycling has given me so much, has let me see things I would never have if I stayed in that small town in Australia.

“I have seen the world, had fantastic experiences and met so many amazing people. I love the sport and am grateful for it. I want to cherish every moment because it’s an amazing sport.”

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