Haussler, who almost quit the sport last year due to a longstanding knee injury, has only raced Grand Tours sparingly in the last decade but this July he is set to make Bahrain’s Tour team as they look to carry Nibali to victory for the first time since 2014.
“I’m just glad to be back on the bike and racing again. I’ve said it a few times before but I’m glad I had those injury problems before because now I see the sport in a different way. I see this as a second chance for me and I’ve used every day, whether it was at the Classics or at the recent camp, to the maximum,” Haussler told Cyclingnews before travelling to the Dauphine.
The 34-year-old was originally down to race the Giro d’Italia after a consistent classics campaign but with a week to go before the Italian race he was asked to change programmes and concentrate on the Tour. A fortnight of solitude and training with Nibali and his key Tour support has helped Haussler integrate, but it wasn’t an easy process to begin with.
“It’s a little bit different and I’d say that I’m still a little bit of an outsider because I missed almost all of last year. I’m coming in new this year, last year I didn’t see him at all. I haven’t raced with these guys before, so I was nervous at the start when we began training together. I was also worried about the language because I don’t know Italian.
“That said, Nibali and I are the same age and we rode together when we were juniors at U17 and U19. I know him but he’s a big star. He’s won Grand Tours and he won Milan-San Remo this year. You have respect for him and you don’t just come into his entourage. You want to be accepted earn his trust. I’m going to be there for him 100 per cent and it’s a cool group but I’m definitely the new guy at 34.”
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Haussler started every Tour d France between 2007 and 2009, famously winning a stage between Vittel and Colmar on the last of those outings. Since then, he has only ridden the Tour once back in 2014. In the year’s since he has concentrated far more on shorter races, while injuries have also played their part in his programme. However, with the Tour as his main goal, the Australian has been able to find focus, even if the experience of training for a Grand Tour at this intensity is something new for him.
“The camp was hard, super-hard. With Nibali and those guys, they train super-hard. They ride intervals and are so on it with their diet and their lactate and fat tests. They’re constantly watching what they eat and how much they sleep. It’s non-stop. They’ve gone there with one purpose – to get fit, get lean and get strong. It was something completely different to the camps that I’ve had in the past. I guess that’s what you need to do if you’re trying to get ready for a Grand Tour. You need to be that 100 per cent serious.
“This is going to be the first time I’ve gone into a Grand Tour and it’s all been GC. It’s not 100 per cent sure, and the team hasn’t been selected yet, and it depends on one or two guys who are coming out of the Giro. In 2009, it was more about Thor Hushovd and the green jersey and with IAM Cycling we were a wildcard team so we tried to get in breaks.”
With a difficult opening week that involves cobbles, small roads and potential cross-winds, Haussler will be well-suited to protecting Nibali. However, working for the Italian won’t stop there. Training at altitude has given the Australian the opportunity to work on his climbing, and while he will not be expected to work on the biggest of mountain tests, he will still need to offer assistance in the first few hours of difficult stages.
“If you go to the Tour you want to have an impact on the race and not just make up the numbers. I’m almost ready to step into the role of helping a team leader or a captain. I’m not going to the Tour with any aspirations for myself, it’s all about Nibali. Sonny Colbrelli is also going, so I might be helping him with positioning in the sprints but originally I was down for the Giro. Then, a week before the race, the team called me and asked if could do the Tour. At first, I wasn’t confident but the team talked me around. I need a Grand Tour, and it’s good for my legs, and should help me for the second half of the season and for next.”
Staying with Bahrain-Merida
As reported by Cyclingnews in May, the Bahrain-Merida team are set to offer Haussler another contract extension. He joined the team in 2017 but his first year was ravaged by injury. He raced just 12 days in 2017 due to a persistent knee problem but did enough to secure a deal for 2018. Although he has not raced since Paris-Roubaix in April, he has already eclipsed last year’s race-day tally. The final terms have not yet been agreed, but Haussler is confident that he will stay on with Bahrain beyond the end of this campaign. He says that he wants to pay the team back for their support.
“We’re still working things out but I want to stay in the team. I’m super happy and I love how the team focuses on races builds up, like with these camps. When they have that focus they prepare 100 per cent. I really like the way in which the team works, and last year they gave me another contract even though it wasn’t sure if I could race ever again. I want to pay them back. Even the races I did do last year, I had ice on my knee before the races, ice at the finish, at the airport, I was getting physio twice a day, and it wasn’t getting better. They still gave me a contract for this year. I’d stay just to pay them back because they put 100 per cent trust in me.”