When preparing for this interview, I kept being reminded of the line in the movie Cool Runnings, “Where have these guys come from? Jamaica!” I could imagine people saying the same thing about Heinrich Haussler.
Where has he come from? In 2005 he burst onto the international racing scene with a stage win at the Vuelta. After that he appeared to drop away a bit. He was still winning races but they were less spectacular, such as at the Tour of Murcia and Bayern- Rundfahrt. But that all changed this year with overall second place at the Tour of Qatar, followed by that agonising finish at Milan-Sanremo. Another second place at the Tour of Flanders was followed by seventh at Paris-Roubaix and then a stage win at the Tour de France. Not bad for a rider who was considered ‘in the wilderness.’ Every cycling fan in Australia knows ‘of’ Heinrich and it’s probably the same story in Germany. But what do we really know? That he grew up in Inverell and moved to Germany to pursue a cycling career. Not much else. Bicycling Australia caught up with Heinrich as he recovered from a whirlwind series of flights that involved racing the Tour of Missouri, flying home for a change of clothes before heading back to Las Vegas to appear at Interbike.
If anyone was to question Heinrich’s nationality, they would only have to listen to him talk. His Australian accent doesn’t have even a whiff of German to it. I could have been interviewing someone of the Australian Surf Tour. But he’s polite, he doesn’t swear and like the best interview subjects, he tries to give considered answers to any questions. So without further ado, here’s Heinrich Haussler.
Bicycling Australia: So it’s been a big year, are you able to sit back put your feet up yet?
Heinrich Haussler: Nah, not really. I’ve still got a few things going on and though I’ve stopped racing, I’m still training a bit. This jet lag is getting me down but. It’s shocking.
BA: Really? Well, I have to say congratulations for what you’ve achieved. Personally I wasn’t expecting it. Was it a bit of a shock to you or did you have an inkling that it was going to happen for you?
HH: Well, I’d approached the year a bit differently and went in with a different foundation, especially for the classics. That was probably my main goal, just to get a bit more serious about my cycling. And coming into a new team I knew there’d be a big change and a big opportunity to learn a lot for the classics. Because those are the races I really like. So I knew the year was going to be better, but I didn’t expect it to be that good.
BA: So what do you put that down to? You said you had a different lead up and I remember reading somewhere that in previous years you’d done a lot of work in the mountains. Was that a big part of the change? HH: Yeah, well not necessarily that, but I used to do a lot of high altitude training and I’d go up there and just bust myself. And you know previously I was riding grand tours like the Tour de France and I’d be trying to do too much. You know, trying to be good on GC and good at time trials and good on the sprints. But at this level, the quality of the other riders is so high, that you really need to concentrate on your strengths. BA: Moving onto the team, it’s not unheard of for a bike manufacturer to be the main sponsor of a team, but at Cervelo it seems a bit different. Has there been much of a difference in the new team’s approach compared with Gerolsteiner?
HH: Oh yeah, definitely. It’s called the ‘test team’ and that’s really what we do, testing lots of different bikes, wheels, tyres, clothing. You name it, we’ve tested it. It’s good for the sponsor because they want feedback from us, to put better products into the market. But the thing is, they actually listen. If we say, “Oh, you know, if we do this, it will make us a little bit faster,” well they do their best to change it. But lots of teams have their stuff that they use at the start of the year and that’s it. It makes a big difference?
BA: So you feel like you have a bit of an edge when you’re on the start line.
HH: Oh yeah, definitely. When we had our team meeting in Switzerland at the beginning of the year all the engineers came along and they were telling us all about the aerodynamics and how the time trial bike would save us so many watts and stuff like that. And I was sitting there and I said “No way. It’s not a bike that makes that much difference, it’s if you have more power.” But we got the race bikes in Qatar for the first time and we sat on them and it felt like you don’t have to pedal. We just looked at each other and thought, this is unbelievable. Coming up to Paris-Roubaix and the classics they did a load of testing. Different wheels, tyres, air pressure and stuff. And then during Roubaix, we didn’t have one flat tyre. Not one in the whole team and there’s not many other teams that can say that. So yeah, it gives you a lot of confidence. BA: Were you approached by Cervelo when you were still at Gerolsteiner? Because there were a lot of rumours about whether Gerolsteiner would find another sponsor and one day they had one and the next day they didn’t. HH: I didn’t know I was going and yeah, there were lots of rumours, especially about Carlos (Sastre) and Thor (Hushovd) and no one really knew what was going on. I began talking to them during the Tour de France. So I think I would have moved even if Gerolsteiner had kept on going. I was ready for a change.
BA: Because you’d been there what, four years?
HH: Yep. I got to a point and there weren’t any new goals for me. I just seemed to stay at that one level. Sometimes you need to change.
BA: So have you got a standard two year contract at Cervelo?
HH: No, after the Tour I signed for another three years. That will give me a good foundation to build on. And it was nice because they’re putting their trust in me. They want to work with me, so yeah, it’s good.
BA: A lot of people here in Australia probably don’t know too much about you. We know that you were brought up in Inverell and left when you were 14. But that’s about all. Can you tell us a bit about those early days? HH: Yeah, well I started racing when I was six years old. Just going out on a normal ride. My dad used to do a bit of cycling and I used to go too. And then I got a bike for Christmas and a bit later, I can’t remember exactly, it might have been a few weeks, there was a small Northern Division championships in Inverell. I ended up crashing, my handlebars were bent and stuff. I lost skin and there was blood everywhere. And the next day it was in the paper and I thought, that was pretty cool and I got third place, won five bucks and a trophy which I took to school to show off to my friends. I thought it was pretty cool to bring something to school and show it off. It was a lot of fun, you know, just kids but then around age 10 or 11 it got a bit more serious, like training nearly every day after school and stuff. Going to more races and then at 14 my dad came up with the idea of going to Germany.
BA: Mainly because Europe was the focus of cycling then? HH: Yeah, and him being German means I have dual citizenship it was easy to do and go to school. I was going to a squads college. If I’d stayed in Australia I wouldn’t have had that system. BA: That was a pretty big sacrifice on your parents’ part. HH: Oh yeah, definitely. It wasn’t fun times either. The first year was absolutely devastating. I was pretty young, I was homesick like crazy and in a different country. I didn’t speak the language, the food was different, the weather was different. It was bad. BA: What part of Germany did you settle in? HH: Cottbus, in East Germany about an hour away from Berlin. BA: So lots of grey skies and yellow grass. Nothing much else. But you come back most years anyway don’t you?
HH: Yeah most years we come back around Christmas time. My mum’s Australian. But it’s not that easy
because with the new team we have meetings and stuff around December. I’ll be back for about 10 days or so in November, but I then I’ll head back. It’s better training for the classics because like, this year the weather leading up to the classics was really bad so I reckon it’s better to train here (Germany) for it rather than in 30 or 40 degree heat. BA: It’s been pretty well documented that you want to race for Australia at the World Championships in 2010. Is that still the plan? HH: Yep. We’re still working on it. It’ll take a bit of time but it’s still my dream to ride for Australia in Australia. I still want to make it happen. BA: What do you reckon your chances are of breaking into the team? HH: (Laughs) Ummm…I’m not being cocky, but I don’t think it’s a problem. I’ve spoken to them and they want me to come back. BA: I ask that because well, let me throw a few names at you. There’s Cadel Evans, Simon Clarke, Simon Gerrans, Michael Rogers, Mark Renshaw, Alan Davis, Jack Bobridge, Cam Meyer, Chris Sutton and Matthew Lloyd with one or two others. It’s a formidable squad. HH: Well, on that course I reckon myself and Alan Davis would be a really good chance. And when you go to the Worlds, you can either go for a medal or just turn up and go around the course. And you know, Aussies aren’t like that. They always send the best team they can to the Worlds so hopefully I’ll be part of that best team.
BA: I was reliving some of your races
on YouTube this morning. Milan-Sanremo, that must have been pretty devastating to get pipped at the post like that? HH: Oh yeah. It was (long silence with a big ‘phew’ at the end). It was totally new for me. I knew I was going well before because I’d had a couple of stage wins and I knew I was strong, I knew I’d be up there, but it was good to be up there on the podium, but then, I mean, I missed out on Milan-Sanremo by a few centimetres. BA: I’m guessing it was your job to lead out Thor? HH: That was it. During the race we were talking, working out what we were going to do. And my plan was to attack on the Poggio, but I just didn’t have the legs. In the end it was me, Thor and the group. And I said “Where do you want me to lead you out to?” and he said “Just take me to 150 metres.” So I went at 400 metres to go and I yelled at him as I went past but I think I went too fast and he didn’t get my wheel. And my sprint was finished about 200 to go and that’s when I looked under my shoulder and I saw that I had a gap. It was pretty…you know, you’ve got 300ks in your legs, your sprint is supposed to be over at 200 metres and you’ve got a gap, well, phfft!
BA: You looked buggered. You looked like your legs went all wobbly. HH: Yeah, they did! I just had nothing in me. BA: Did you get into trouble losing Thor like that? HH: Ummm…not really. The team was happy in one way but I think also it looks bad in the results having second and third. If you can get second and third it should be first and second. Or even first and 12th. But to be honest, I think if I didn’t go, Cavendish would’ve won anyway. The way he was sprinting, he left the pack from the front and no one could hold his wheel. I think being a new team helped because you can be forgiven for making mistakes. If it was a team that had been together for a while, well then, that sort of thing shouldn’t happen, but it takes a while to build that trust you know. BA: So Tour of Flanders, another second place but a bit more satisfying because you broke away from the pack and stayed away. HH: Yeah, I was happy with that result and so was the team. Maybe just before we’d done too many races, too many hard races. So I think that’s something we’ll look at next year. We weren’t that fresh at the start, we were a bit tired. But we were happy to get someone on the podium. BA: And then the Tour. Stage 13. You went quite early. Tell us a bit about that.
HH: Well, the thing with the Tour, there’s some days that you know the break is going to make it to the finish. If it’s a flat stage you know they’ll get pulled back, but if it’s hilly, maybe not. And if anyone good or anyone high on GC is in a breakaway then that break is going to definitely get chased down. And that’s how it was. At the beginning I think we had nine strong riders. People like Christophe Moreau and Chavanel, Jens Voigt and we were going through something like the 60 kilometre mark and there were three teams chasing. The whole time we were always between a minute and a minute-twenty. And we were just going full gas trying to get away. But because of the riders in the group they were always chasing and I thought if we’re going to have any chance to stay away I needed to split up the group. So on the mountains I was just attacking like crazy and eventually we got down to three and the GC riders went back to GC and I still kept at it. BA: So how far out were you when you realised you had it in the bag? HH: Phfffsh! Not till about one K out. BA: But you had a pretty big grin on your face coming in. HH: Oh yeah, definitely. It was a big, big day. The best day of all.