Playing as a striker, footballer Gary Lineker once explained, was an exercise in patience. "Most of the time, I’m frustrated, pissed off, waiting for the right ball," he said. Sprinters in the WorldTour can empathise with the sentiment. So much of their time is spent waiting for a chance – the right chance – to come along. With that in mind, Phil Bauhaus is aiming to increase the glut of opportunities that fall his way in 2019 after swapping Team Sunweb for Bahrain-Merida.
"That’s why I changed in the end," Bauhaus told Cyclingnews. "I want to be a sprint captain, and I think it’s important to get as many chances as you can. This team, Bahrain-Merida, could offer me that and that’s why I came here."
The German may not have won often in his professional career to date but his running total of six victories is deceptive. When opportunities do fall his way, his conversion rate is a decent one, while the low quantity of wins on his palmarès is offset by their quality. Bauhaus scored his first WorldTour victory at the 2017 Critérium du Dauphiné when he beat Arnaud Démare and Bryan Coquard to the line in Macon, and he claimed a perhaps loftier scalp at last year’s Abu Dhabi Tour when he pipped his fellow countryman Marcel Kittel on stage 3.
Despite that fast start to 2018, however, sprint opportunities were at a premium for Bauhaus for much of the remainder of the season. After contesting the bunch finishes at Paris-Nice in March, in the months that followed, he found himself either on lead-out duty for Max Walscheid or simply side-lined on a Sunweb team built around the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France ambitions of Tom Dumoulin.
"For me in general, it’s OK to support other sprinters, but in a period of over two months, it’s not what you want. This year, I hope I get more chances and stay in the rhythm as a sprinter," Bauhaus said. "You have to think completely differently as a lead-out man. You're not thinking about yourself, but about the guy behind you, so it’s a different kind of racing. I can do it quite well, I think, but for sure, I just wanted to sprint for myself."
Bauhaus had no complaints about the way the cards were dealt at Sunweb but, as his contract ran down, he realised that he would have to seek out a new home if he were to play his own hand on a more regular basis.
"It was clear from the beginning of the year that I’d get my chance up until Paris-Nice and then I’d have a period of almost two months until the Dauphiné in June without any chances for my own results. Unfortunately, I wasn’t in good enough shape to sprint for a good result at the Dauphiné. My next chance after that was in London, and I did quite OK, with sixth place."
Bauhaus was initially scheduled to line out at the Vuelta a España, but a bout of illness ahead of the Tour de Pologne hindered his preparation, and his final outing for Sunweb instead came at the Tour of Britain. "It was a good decision, although it meant I had no Grand Tour last year,” he said. “But that’s OK. I hope to do one this year.”
Phil Bauhaus battles Peter Sagan at the 2017 BinckBank Tour (Bettini Photo)
Between stints at Bora-Hansgrohe and Sunweb - not to mention his amateur days at Team Stölting - Bauhaus has spent his entire career to date on German-registered teams, but while Bahrain-Merida marks a new departure, there is a certain familiarity about his nascent lead-out train.
It was not by chance that Bahrain-Merida moved swiftly to sign Marcel Sieberg following the dismantling of André Greipel’s sprint corps at Lotto Soudal. Aside from his treasury of experience in preparing bunch sprints, the veteran also has a longstanding friendship with Bauhaus.
"I've known Marcel for seven or eight years, more or less,” Bauhaus explained. "His wife is from the same city where I was born [Bocholt, on the Dutch border – ed], so there was always a bit of contact there with Marcel. I was already training with him when I was a junior, or even when I was 15 or 16 years, so Marcel was always a guy I looked up to."
In recent years, Bauhaus has been resident in Cologne, but the friendship with Sieberg endured, while his sprint unit is completed by Freiberg resident Heinrich Haussler. "It’s a nice group of almost-Germans,” Bauhaus said with a smile. "They are two strong riders and I can learn a lot from them.
"There’ll be races where I’m not with them, of course, but I'll more or less do all my sprints with at least one of them at my side. And we also have a lot of other strong riders on the team who can do a good job on the flat. As a sprinter, I don’t think I need many more riders' to have two riders in your core group is already really good, and I appreciate that kind of support."
Tour Down Under
Bauhaus has already arrived in Australia ahead of his Bahrain-Merida debut at next week’s Tour Down Under, before he moves on to race the new UAE Tour in February, and then either Paris-Nice or Tirreno-Adriatico in March. His programme thereafter is less certain – a Grand Tour appearance will likely come at either the Giro or Vuelta – but Bauhaus seems keen to race just about anywhere that offers him a chance to unleash his sprint.
"I hope I can sprint as early as possible, and for sure as a sprinter you want to win races as early as possible," he said.
At 24 years of age, Bauhaus still has ample margin for improvement – "I’m not super young but I am still kind of young" – and he is reluctant to assign himself specific targets or set limits for the season ahead.
"As a sprinter you want to win races in a sprint and that’s also my goal, but I don’t want to say that I have to win a certain amount of races this year. At the end of the year, I can be happy with one win, but I’d certainly be happier with more. In the end I just want to be there with the best. I know I can beat the best sprinters. I’ve shown that in the past," Bauhaus said.
"I’ve had two wins at WorldTour level, so I’ve only proved it two times, but for me it was really important to know I can beat the best. And those were the best – guys who’ve won Tour de France stages. Now I always start a race knowing that if everything goes well, I can win. If I can sprint, I’m always more or less in the top five. I hope I can continue with that and get more and more results."