Haussler begins Tour de France return as Nibali's road captain

Bahrain-Merida put their faith in Australian

A year ago, the very mention of Heinrich Haussler (Bahrain-Merida) and the Tour de France in the same sentence would have caused quizzical looks. The Australian's career looked to be on the verge of collapse, with a long-standing knee injury threatening to force him into retirement. The prospect of a return to racing, let alone another Grand Tour, looked bleak to say the least.

However, the 34-year-old has come back. He is fitter - and most certainly leaner - and is set to start his first Tour in several years. What's more, he has the important responsibility of shepherding 2014 race winner Vincenzo Nibali through the opening nine days of racing. It has been a significant and hugely successful turnaround for a rider who could barely push the pedals this time last year.

"I'm here to do my job and I'm happy to be here," Haussler told Cyclingnews at the teams' presentation on Thursday evening.

"It's been a lot of hard work and sacrifice because I've been away from home a lot. In the last few days leading up to the Tour you're just hanging around the hotel, but I'm looking forward to the start on Saturday."

Asked if he had ever been this lean and strong before, the 2009 stage winner replied: "This lean, no. This strong, I've been stronger. But my role now is a little bit different. I don't have to concentrate on trying to get results for myself, I'm purely here to help the team and especially in the first nine stages looking after Vincenzo and keep him out of trouble. I've been working a lot on my TT, when you really need to work on damage control. And then if we get free roles or Vincenzo feels good then I'll help Sonny Colbrelli in the finals."

Haussler was originally down to ride the Giro this year. However, injuries for other riders meant that a Tour spot opened up. From there, Haussler had to integrate himself into Nibali's clique and prove himself as a solid climber. Those two tasks have been achieved and now the veteran rider is enjoying the added responsibility. It's a role he would not have envisaged for himself several years ago but one he has now embraced and is relishing as he continues his career. So impressed have Bahrain been that a new one-year contract is set to be confirmed.

"I'm 34 now," Haussler said. "I know what I can do and I know what I can't do. I still love the Classics and I want to concentrate on them, but there are also younger guys who are coming up who don't have the experience. I'm ready to slip into that role and help those guys and turn into a road captain. I know that I can do that and that I can help position people. It's been different but it's been good."

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