It’s 2009 and the world is at Heinrich Haussler’s feet; there’s the eight UCI wins, including a stage in the Tour de France.
But perhaps more important there’s a brace of second places in two of the world’s greatest races; Milan-Sanremo and The Tour of Flanders.
It looked as if 2010 would see the slim man from Inverell in New South Wales with the German father and Australian mother join the Elite.
But despite a fine second to Juan Antonio Flecha in Het Nieuwsblad, the early season didn’t sparkle like the previous year did.
And just as form did arrive – with a stage win in the Tour de Suisse – there was a high speed crash in the same race which ruined his season and caused on-going problems which would plague the next two seasons.
Haussler moved to Germany in 1998 at 14 and rode Stagiaire for T-Mobile in 2004.
But signing for Gerolsteiner for 2005 he made a brilliant debut with a Vuelta stage win – he would stay with the mineral water company’s team until the end of 2008.
The 2006 season saw the success continue with five wins – two stages in the Vuelta a Murcia, one in the Rheinland-Pfalz and two in the Franco Belge.
A stage win in the Dauphine was the better of two wins in 2007 with 2008 producing a solitary victory – a stage in the Bayern Rundfahrt.
The move to Cervélo Test Team produced his wonderful 2009 season – with 2010 compromised by the crash in Switzerland.
The Cervelo merger with Garmin in 2011 didn’t bear fruit for the Australian; joining an established team with numerous ‘Capi’ and a different approach to racing from Cervelo, the marriage never bore fruit.
Albeit Haussler won four races in 2011 and was top ten in quality races like Het Nieuwsblad, Hamburg and Plouay last season.
For 2013 the 29 year-old decided to go back to the drawing board; train using the methods which worked so well for 2009 and join a team where the ratio of chiefs to Indians suited his perception of how a team should be built.
The surprise for observers came in the team he chose – new Swiss Pro Continental squad, IAM.
But as with Gerald Ciolek’s rebirth at MTN, Haussler’s choice has been a good one – with 19th in Het Nieuwsblad, 13th in Milan-Sanremo, 11th in E3 and 4th in Gent-Wevelgem he’s stamped himself as a favourite for Sunday’s Tour of Flanders.
VeloVeritas spoke to Haussler as the tension clicked up towards today’s Ronde, the biggest sales spike of the year for Belgium’s breweries, and before Heinrich’s superb sixth place.
Congratulations on a fine Gent Wevelgem, Heinrich – IAM didn’t get a wild card for De Panne, does that hinder your Ronde build up?
“No, it doesn’t affect me at all – it’s a race I’ve never ridden and never wanted to ride.
“For me, this week is about recovery, not more racing – so I’m happy not to be riding it.”
Cancellara doesn’t ride either.
“Every rider chooses what suits them best in terms of training and racing – at this stage you’ve either got form or you haven’t.
“Hard training and racing won’t help your condition for Sunday – it’s more about recovering from the pushing your body to the limit in those terrible conditions in Gent-Wevelgem.
“I’ve just been doing coffee runs, in fact, I had Monday off; Tuesday was an hour on the rollers, today (Wednesday) was two hours easy, tomorrow will be a course recce – four to six hours – then Friday and Saturday will be easy, again.
“Some guys need more to stop their body from shutting down – maybe some sprints?
“But for me there’s no need to do intervals or sprints – and it’s a mental thing too, being comfortable about where you are.”
It must be good to back at the front of races?
“The last few years haven’t been pleasant but I know that I’m on the way back to where I was in 2009 – maybe not completely but for 2014 I will be.
“But it’s awesome to be back at the front of races and able to attack.”
Has your training been different, this past winter?
“This winter I trained exactly like I did for season 2009 – the old East German methodologies which I learned at the cycling school in Cottbus; the long slow build-up.
“I did five weeks cross-country skiing at altitude and was left alone by the team to train how I wanted.
“With Garmin there were trips to the US, training camps and team meetings – distractions; and by December some of the guys on the team were full gas. It works for some guys, but I need the slow build up – you need foundation.
“IAM have given me the freedom to prepare as I want.
“This is my job and I’m happy at it – no matter what your job, if you’re not happy and grumpy all of the time then you’re not going to give of your best.”
Cheeky question; did you take your foot off the gas after 2009 – maybe thinking you’d ‘made it.’
“No, not at all, I worked even harder, if anything.
“I don’t know if you remember but I had that really bad crash in the Tour de Suisse; I was flying, winning Stage Two before I had the crash where Cav tangled with me.
“That was a bad one and needed an operation as a result of it.
“I had no bike for three months, my knee was in a mess – when I started again my left leg was half the size of my right one. I was too eager to get back and didn’t do the rehab and physio which I should have.
“And then you start to compensate for the injury by sitting on the bike a little differently and you end up with other problems in your thighs and back.
“But this winter was the first in two years where my knee has been without problems.”
IAM has been a tonic for you.
“I wasn’t happy at Garmin, there were too many captains. I could have gone back to Pro Tour but I’d have ended up in the same position as I was at Garmin, coming in as just another rider . . .
“At IAM I have a team working for me, that’s what I need; like it was at Cervélo Test Team – it wasn’t Pro Tour and you saw how successful that was.
“IAM is just a different standard, so well organised, the Swiss have that reputation for organisation . . . When we met in November the two new buses and trucks were there as was all the clothing and bikes – just so well organised.
“A new team gives you new motivation and the fact that the team is built around you pushes you harder to perform.”
Let’s talk Gent-Wevelgem, did you expect it to start so scary fast?
“Yeah, it was expected, I missed the initial split, the problem was that there was no neutralised section; it just went from the blocks.
“There were about 10 groups and I was in the third one, there was a lot of cross wind and it was absolutely full gas for the first 100 kilometres – so hard.”
I saw comments that you weren’t happy with the work rate of some of your breakaway companions?
“No, no, I’d just finished the race and the journalist printed what I said, word for word – I wasn’t referring to the guys in the final selection, I was talking about the riders in that third group with me, in the first 100K.
“Vandenbergh was really the only one who was sitting on – and he had Cavendish behind.
“I won’t be giving quotes to that journo again!”
You’re happy with your lead-in to the Ronde, then?
“Yeah, like I said, even if the team was riding De Panne I wouldn’t want to ride – coffee rides are what I need this week.
“The last two races in the cold and wet take so much out of you. I think that the race is Cancellara and Sagan’s to lose – they’re at a different level.
“Behind them you have QuickStep, Sky and BMC all at about the same level – they’ll seek to fire riders like Stannard, Chavanel and Oss up the road.
“When Cancellara and Sagan light it up there’s no one can go with them – you have to be up the road early and have them come up to you.”
What’s the IAM plan?
“We’ve not had the team meet yet – but we’re in the same boat as QuickStep, Sky and BMC we; all have a chance – but when Cancellara goes…”
Any special preparations for the race?
“Just that my nutrition is going to be spot on – we’ve been using Winforce nutrition products.
“There’s just fluids and gels – no bars; at the beginning of the season I thought; “what’s this about?”
“But they’re really good; the ingredients are all formulated so as your muscles can use them right away.”
What comes after the Classics?
“We’re hoping for Tour de France selection – but six teams are chasing three places.
“A lot of my training and preparation depend on whether we get the invite.
“But after the Classics I’ll go to Saint Moritz to train at altitude then ride Frankfurt, back to altitude then the Bayern Rundfahrt, more altitude the Tour of Switzerland.
“But a lot depends on ASO…”