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An interview with Heinrich Haussler, April 2, 2009

Haussler: The new Flanders favourite

Heinrich Haussler is a new name in the list of favourites for the Spring Classics. The Cervélo TestTeam has already chalked up four wins as well a close second place at Milano-Sanremo this year, his best start of any season in his career. Cyclingnews' Gregor Brown met with Haussler to find out if his form will hold for his planned objectives in the Northern Classics: Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.

In the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Haussler made the break
Photo ©: ISPA
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A German citizen with Australian roots, Heinrich Haussler made a name for himself in the professional peloton when he scored a stage win in the Vuelta a España during his first professional year in 2005. After several up and down years with the Gerolsteiner team, Haussler was given a fresh start in 2009 with the newly formed Cervélo TestTeam.

Clad in the new black, white and red kit, the 25-year-old opened the season with a second place overall in the Tour of Qatar. He then confirmed that result with two stage wins in the Volta ao Algarve and a stage win and time in the points jersey in Paris-Nice.

But perhaps more relevant to his upcoming goals in the cobbled Classics are his aggressive riding in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne and his razor-thin defeat in Milano-Sanremo.

He's shown he has the ability to make the right moves, but does Haussler have the firepower to beat the Belgians in their home race, Ronde van Vlaanderen this Sunday? With some luck, good teamwork, and great legs, Haussler believes he could well succeed.

Cyclingnews: You have had a really successful spring so far. What did you do differently this last winter?

Heinrich Haussler: "There are a lot of different things that I did. I did not go back to Australia this year, it may sound strange but I think the body needs four parts to the year: autumn, winter, spring and summer. It is a lot of stress on the body to travel back.

"This is the first time I have not gone back pretty much since I moved to Germany. I spent three weeks in December high altitude training in St. Moritz, doing a lot of cross-country skiing and a lot of gym work.

"I want to go back, my parents are there with my sisters and brothers. Next year, I will go back right after the season is over and then come back to Europe for the winter to start training again.

CN: You had problems with your back and knee in 2007. Have they stopped giving you problems?

HH: "This year has been perfect. Last year it was pretty much good. However, at the Tour Down Under I had some problems because I went there with minimal training.

"I had knee problems that originated from the back. Now I am doing a lot of stomach and back exercises to keep it in check."

CN: When did the "Classics" enter your world?
Haussler started out the year in Qatar
Photo ©: AFP
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HH: "I was doing La Sarthe in France during my first year. One of the riders got sick and Hans-Michael Holczer said, 'You are here so you might as well just ride.'

"My form was good and I got 25th [24th - ed.]. I was in a break with Thor Hushovd, who jumped over to the front group. I crashed, but I was able to remain in the following cars and made it to the finish. Ever since that day the cobbles mean something to me... It is like an addiction.

"It is not all the one-day races, but the ones here in Belgium. The fans are unbelievable, you don't see it anywhere else expect at the Tour de France."

CN: Do you see yourself as a Classics rider? Is that why have you programmed your season to be on peak from Ronde to Roubaix?

HH: "Classics rider? Yeah, for sure. I wanted to peak in the Tour of Qatar, that was my first goal. To have a good start to the season and to fit in well with the team.

"It wasn't planned to keep my form this long. I am surprised that it is still going so well. I have not had a bad day yet this season. Normally riders will have their peak for a couple of weeks, but a lot of time has passed. So far it has been just perfect and I hope it does not come down until after Roubaix."

Haussler's Ronde van Vlaanderen palmarés:
2008 91st
2007 107th after a crash
2006 DNF
2005 89th

CN: Do you believe you can win the Ronde?

HH: "If you look at the results I had in the last couple of weeks... I am not saying I can win, but I could if I had absolutely top form, the team is behind me and everything goes just perfectly.

"We just need to ride together as a team. We are strong, but we need that luck to race against the teams like Quick Step with Chavanel, Devolder and Boonen. Somehow we have to split them up.

"Then there are the others like Filippo Pozzato. He is so strong, you saw him on Saturday in E3 Prijs when everyone was in the gutter and he made the jump to the front group. Then he did it again in De Panne.

Haussler was within centimetres of the win in Milano-Sanremo
Photo ©: Sirotti
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CN: What have you learned about the race over the years?

HH: "I love this race, it is the most important race of the year. You need the team to be up there, you have to have good position and you need to have the legs. It will split up after the Kwaremont, Paterberg and Koppenberg, which is really when the race starts. There will be about 30 or 40 riders remaining. You have to have a team to keep you there at the front and protected before that point."

(See Cyclingnews' guide to Ronde's 2008 hellingen.)

CN: Have you been out to reconnoitre the course?

HH: "Today we did the last 140 kilometres. I saw the two new climbs [Eikenberg and Varent - ed.] and the different cobble sections. I know the race well: from the Kwaremont to the finish I have all in my head. The new bit is not really hard, but there are lot of small roads and cobbles."

CN: What climb scares you the most?

HH: "It would have to be the last climb, the Bosberg, if I am still there in the end with a small group. If you don't have the legs there then you are stuck, you won't have a chance if some goes there."

CN: You joined Cervélo after four years with Gerolsteiner, 2005 to 2008. What is the difference between the ways the two teams approach the Classics?

HH: "This team has a lot of big guns in the team with experience. Andreas Klier is the main point of the Classics teams. If we did not have him we would not be riding so well. He tells us the tactics; he has so much experience. He is someone in the team who I consider a role model because he knows it all: at what point in the race to be in front, where we can take it easy...

"He also could win Flanders, he is strong. There are not a lot of big egos in this team; we will all work for each other. No one will do his own thing."

CN: The team has Thor Hushovd and Roger Hammond for the race. How will the team manage itself?

HH: "The more we have up there the better; the best would be to have five or six guys in the group of 30 to 40 riders after the Koppenberg. Then we could just take the race into our own hands.

"We have not come up with a specific plan, but you have seen who has been up there in these last races. It will be Andreas [Klier], Thor and me."

Heinrich Haussler examines the Ronde van Vlaanderen course map
Photo ©: Gregor Brown
(Click for larger image)

CN: What rider will stay at your side for support?

HH: "I would like it to be Jeremy Hunt. He is someone I get along with very well and he is a really good person. He was there for me in Paris-Nice.

"I can rely on the whole team: Some of the riders will tell me I am looking good and this bit of encouragement helps me. I think, 'If I look good then I must be good.' It just gives you an extra bit of confidence and motivation."

CN: What rider do you look up to as a role model?

HH: "Tom [Boonen], he is always up there. He has the biggest motor. If he is on top form, 100 percent, then there is no one who can beat him.

"When I started cycling I was watching the Tour de France in Australia and then it was Jan Ullrich, Lance Armstrong and Miguel Indurain. Now I am 25-years-old I don't really look up to anyone like that.

"I don't quite remember watching my first Ronde van Vlaanderen on television, only staying up until 4:00 in the morning to watch stages of the Tour de France. There was a group of riders who would do a ride and then get together to watch the stage. I was so little back then I would always fall asleep."

Haussler plans to have a week-long holiday after Paris-Roubaix, April 12. Afterwards he will prepare for the Tour de France with a training camp in St. Moritz for two or three weeks, the Bayern-Rundfahrt stage race and either the Tour de Suisse or the Dauphiné Libéré.

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