By Gregor Brown in Meerbeke
Heinrich Haussler propelled himself to another second place in one of cycling's five Monuments. The Cervélo TestTeam rider prevailed in the bunch sprint behind winner Stijn Devolder in the Ronde van Vlaanderen Sunday in Meerbeke, Belgium.
Two weeks after losing out to Mark Cavendish in Milano-Sanremo's finale, Haussler made the podium of one of the year's biggest races, but admitted, "I am happy. I may not look happy because I am extremely exhausted - I just didn't have the legs I had two weeks ago. I'm not fresh anymore."
Haussler burst into the headlines with a fierce attack to win the stage two sprint of Paris-Nice and came close to winning again a week later in Sanremo. He blasted out of the pack at 350 metres to go, but Cavendish prevailed by just 11 centimetres.
Sunday in Meerbeke was not as close, but just as impressive for a 25-year-old. He started the race as one of Cervélo's three team captains. The Swiss-based outfit rode well despite the dominant presence of home team Quick Step.
Quick Step sent Devolder up the road on the Muur-Kapelmuur with 15.5 kilometres remaining and consequently Haussler had to contend with pre-race favourite Tom Boonen in the chase group that sat one minute behind.
"At least I got second. During the race I didn't think I would get that far.
"We were riding on the front after the Bosberg for Thor's chances in the sprint [the final of 16 climbs at -11.8km - ed.]. He said he had good legs, but with one kilometre to go he just said, 'attack'. I attacked and with 500 metres to go, my legs were ready to explode. The directeur was yelling in my ear, 'don't look back, don't look back, just pedal!'"
Haussler thinks his top form passed prior to his objectives in Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix, next Sunday. He doubts his chances for cycling's third Monument, but notes the team will be strong.
"Next year I will have to plan my training different. I peaked far too early. I can feel I am not as good as I was before."
Haussler will race Gent-Wevelgem Wednesday and Paris-Roubaix on Sunday. He plans to have a well-earned holiday after the races.