A surprise selection in the Australian men's team for the Bergen Worlds, with just 11 race days in his legs, Heinrich Haussler validated his place in the squad Sunday afternoon. The 33-year-old had his season cruelled by a serious knee injury, limiting him to just the 4 Jours de Dunkerque, Hamburg, GP Plouy and the Canadian one-day WorldTour races ahead of Bergen.
However, the lack of racing wasn't an issue for Haussler as he played a crucial role for Australia. With the team fully committed to Michael Matthews, Haussler stuck close to the 2015 Worlds silver medalist throughout the circuit. While Matthews was able to finish on the podium with the bronze medal, Haussler was almost six minutes behind in 93rd place after doing his job in the finale.
"It is a good result but obviously, it's not the result that we wanted. Michael was in top form. He's shown over the last couple of years that he is worthy of a world championship title. But Sagan was there. Always, always there. It's unbelievable," Haussler told Cyclingnews.
For the third time in three years, Sagan was the man wearing the rainbow stripes after the podium celebrations. Compared to his previous two victories, Sagan was almost invisible through the race with Haussler explaining he doesn't know how the Slovakian does it.
"I was just saying to the boys, the whole race he was in the last 20 positions. Even with two laps to go, he was at the back. He just plays it so calm and so cool. It is like he doesn't care," he said in disbelief of Sagan.
Inside the final 10km of the 267km race, several attempts were made by riders to break up the peloton and shed the likes of Sagan for a reduced bunch sprint. Analysing the finale, Haussler explained the course wasn't as selective as anticipated and only the strongest of riders could have gone clear for a solo win.
"It is a long way to the finish, it is not like race in Montreal and Québec where there are more climbs where you can do another attack," he said. "If you're pushing on the downhill on the flat you have to be pretty strong to stay away, I won't say it was clear it was going to come back together, but it was a big chance it was going to be a sprint."
Turning attention to his own performance, Haussler, who despite his lack of race days hasn't recorded a DNF in 2017, explained he surprised himself but ultimately the Australian team would be disappointed with the outcome.
"I am really happy with myself that I've only got four races in the legs," he said. "I actually didn't think I'd go that far but I am happy with my result. Third is also ok, but like I said, it is not the result that we wanted. And I am sure that Michael is also not happy."
With his knee injury not only limiting his race days for 2017 but calling into question his future in the sport, Hausler added that he has a renewed outlook on the sport and life.
"I've been through a lot of shit this year and now I know what cycling means to myself and I appreciate things now and don't take things for granted. I am 33 now and I want to ride for as many years as possible."
With his one-year contract with Bahrain-Merida set to expire at the end of the season, Hausler is confident of earning a renewal for 2018, but wouldn't be drawn on making any definitive statements on his future.
"We have like some kind of agreement, and my knee issue is still going on. The team just wants to be sure that I am not going to get in trouble again with my knee so I'll do some check-ups with the team in two or three weeks, but normally, everything should be good," he said of his contractual situation.