The Future of German Cycling: The Young Guns Part 2, December 2, 2006.
At 22-years of age, Heinrich Haussler's path to pro cycling has been a difficult one. The Team Gerolsteiner rider left his native Australia and moved to Germany to pursue a cycling career - not an easy decision to make for a 14-year-old. The Australian-born German speaks to Cyclingnews' Susan Westemeyer.
"It was very hard at the beginning. The new language, the weather and all that. But I really wanted to do it!" explained Haussler. "Australia doesn't have the structures that Germany has, and my father said, 'If you want to be a pro, you'll have to try it in Germany'."
He gave it a shot, and it's worked. "Heini" signed a two-year neo contract with Team Gerolsteiner for 2005 and 2006 - with more than satisfactory results. In '05 he rode seven Classics, finishing all but one of them, taking seventh place in the Meisterschaft von Zürich and was named in the German World Championship squad as a substitute. Haussler was also the only German to win a stage in a Grand Tour when he took victory on Stage 19 of the Vuelta a España.
So the youngster was expecting a repeat of the results in 2006, and the year started out with lots of promise. He won the first and last stages of the Vuelta a Murcia and took a stage victory in the Rheinland-Pfalz Rundfahrt, where he helped teammate Rene Haselbacher take the overall win.
But thereafter things took a wrong turn. Haussler was diagnosed in June with a viral infection that kept him out of action nearly the whole summer. "Some of the symptoms were very similar to mononucleosis - my immune system wasn't working right and I just felt weak and drained all the time. I didn't train at all for eight weeks, then trained for two weeks at half power. Then after only three weeks of full training, I rode the Vuelta."
The comeback wasn't easy, he explains: "I had already crossed off the 2006 season. The first two weeks back were very hard, but after I actually made it through the Vuelta, everything looked good again. At the Circuit Franco-Belge, my self-confidence and strength had come back." They had indeed come back - he won the second and fourth stages of the event.
Both of those wins were mass sprints - as were his others this season. Is he turning into the next Erik Zabel? "Erik is something else entirely, one of the most successful riders ever. I surely don't have the typical sprinter's build, but for my age I have a good eye. In the sprint, it often doesn't matter so much what your end speed is but depends more on cleverness and getting yourself into the right position. So we'll just have to see which direction I develop."
Haussler may be developing into a sprinter, but he is not ruling out other areas of interest. "I believe that I am capable of doing well not only in the Classics but that I will also be able to play a role in stage races in a few years. We'll have to see which ones."
He rode only one Grand Tour this year, but it was planned that way from the beginning. That GT was the Vuelta, and although he didn't win a stage this year, it was still an experience. Only three Gerolsteiner riders made it to the finish in Madrid. "You'll hardly believe it but that was an incredibly good feeling! You can pretty much forget tactics with just three riders, but we could do anything we wanted to in the race. For example I always went on the offensive and so I could try out a few things under racing conditions so that I could get back in form again."
Next year may see him in France, though: "As usual, the Spring Classics are on my program, then I hope for a place on Gerolsteiner's Tour de France roster," he said. "And the world's in Stuttgart is also a goal."
Which one race would Haussler most like to win? "Since this year, definitely and absolutely Milan-San Remo! The length of the race, the difficult finish, the long descent from Poggi, the two or three flat kilometres leading up to the finish - crazy. That race electrifies me."
He and other young riders are hard on the heels of such riders as Stefan Schumacher, who are now starting to take over as the top rank of German cyclists. Who else does he see as the stars in the young generation? "I would name two Gerolsteiner teammates, who will definitely play a role in the future: Markus Fothen and Fabian Wegmann, and Linus Gerdemann has to be mentioned, too. Apart from them, we have a whole lot of talented young guys in Germany coming along."
And which of those Gerolsteiner riders will be the first to win a Grand Tour? "Hey, I'd go bet a lot of money if I knew that! But seriously, I think Markus Fothen is the one who will most likely do it. But it will be a few years from now."
The "German Kangaroo," is a German citizen: "but with a lot of Australian mentality. Over Christmas I will fly back home. It's warm there - even if I think snow belongs to Christmas, not suntan oil." And even a youngster thinks about what might be at the end of his career. He'll probably move back to Australia: "But I'll come back to Germany every Christmas and shovel snow!"