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An interview with Heinrich Haussler, March 29, 2008
Vegemite for breakfast, Bratwurst for dinner
At the age of 14, Heinrich Haussler moved from Inverell, Australia to Germany to follow his dream of becoming a professional cyclist. Ten years later, he's got a contract with the Gerolsteiner team and has represented his adopted country at the World Championships. At 24, he's considering 'defecting' back to Australia; at least on paper. Cyclingnews' Paul Verkuylen caught up with the all rounder to speak about what prompted him to want to ride for Australia in the future.
When you meet a rider with a German license who rides on a German team and has a name like Heinrich Haussler, the last thing you'd expect to hear out of his mouth is a thick Australian accent. But Haussler knows his way around some Aussie slang, and despite having spend the better part of a decade in Germany, he still betrays his upbringing in New South Wales upon speaking. "I was born in Inverell, Australia," Haussler explained. "I started cycling when I was six years old, then when I was 14, I moved to Germany after I got a scholarship to go to a sports school."
Haussler's dual citizenship was news even to veteran cycling commentator Phil Liggett, who went to interview the rider during the 2007 Tour de France only to find that he spoke with a distinctively Australian accent.
While his German heritage has allowed Haussler to ride for his adopted home country at the World Championships, which he has done on a number of occasions in the junior and under 23 categories, his home is, as they say, where the heart is and in this case that's in Australia.
"Every year I come back to Australia and I know that this is where I want to be later on. I love the weather," he explains.
Haussler's love for Australia is what has prompted him to want to take out an Australian cycling license, which would allow him to ride for his home country in World and Olympic championships. "At the latest next year I will change back," he explained. Haussler had expressed his desire to represent Australia at the 2010 World Championships in Melbourne, but in order to do this, he must detach himself from his adopted country of Germany.
Haussler, who still has a German license, would be eligible to represent that country at this year's world championships or Olympic Games, but if he wishes to race for Australia in 2010, he would have to pass up on any possible opportunity to race for Germany in Varese this fall if it was offered.
"I wouldn't take it," he said in a matter of fact sort of tone. "If you start for a country at the worlds there is a three year ban before you can ride for another."
While most Australians make a name for themselves in their home country before branching out to the European peloton, the ambitious Haussler, whose father emigrated to Australia, garnered most of his results from his second home in Germany.
At the age of 13, his German father took him on holidays to Germany where he did some racing and "won just about everything around" which prompted his father to think that if he wanted to turn pro, it would be better to go to Europe.
"Now in Australia cycling is huge, but back then, ten years ago there wasn't that much," Haussler explained. "Everything was in Europe, so a year later I decided to go to Germany."
By the time he reached the under 19 category he had learned the language and was at the top of his class on the bike, too. "In the under 19's, I won practically everything that you could win. Back then there was a World Cup series and everything. It was me, Thomas Dekker and Jukka Vastaranta. Straight in the first year [U23] I got an offer from ONCE, but my trainer said that it is a bit too early and it would burn you out."
His trainer, Michael Max, who has trained the likes of Olaf Pollack, Danilo Hondo and Ronny Shultz, gave good advice, and it was not too much later that Haussler received an opportunity to ride for team Gerolsteiner.
Since then Haussler has been improving in leaps and bounds, but one thing still remains un-clear, even to him it would seem, which direction will he take? He has worn the climber's jersey at Paris – Nice (2007) and won bunch sprints against the biggest names in the business at the Dauphiné Libéré last year.
"I don't really know which way I want to go. I don't see myself as necessarily a sprinter. There was a bit of luck in it. But at the Dauphine I was at my absolute top form.
"It was just a shame that after that I pushed it a bit too much. I was doing some high altitude work; we [team-mate Thomas Fothen] were living at the top of a mountain at like 2400 meters, just training and training. I thought the harder that I train and the longer I train the better it would be for the Tour [de France]. I went into the Tour and I was already dead."
Haussler has thought about the type of races which he would like to win and explains that for a rider of his ability, "the Olympics and the Worlds are two other real big events for me that compare to Milan – Sanremo and all the classics or a win at the Tour.
"But if I won Sanremo I wouldn't care [if I was classed as an Australian or German], it would be enough just to win it."
It is with out a doubt that Haussler could be described as talented and given the opportunity he is a major threat in most race situations. 2008 could well be the year that we see the Australian realize his full potential.
"Not to make excuses or anything but as soon as I turned pro I have had a lot of back and knee problems, stuff that has held me back. This is the first winter that I have trained that I haven't had any problems," he says with a sly grin.
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Images by Roberto Bettini/www.bettiniphoto.net