Henrich Haussler's Paris-Roubaix Q&A: It's going to be absolutely mental

Benelux Tour 2021 - 17th Edition - 3rd stage Essen - Hoogerheide 168,3 km - 01/09/2021 - Heinrich Haussler (AUS - Bahrain Victorious) - photo Tim Van Wichelen/CV/BettiniPhoto©2021
Heinrich Haussler will be one of the most experienced riders to line up for Paris-Roubaix on Sunday (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

On Sunday morning, Heinrich Haussler will line up in Compiègne to start his 14th Paris-Roubaix, becoming one of the most experienced men in the history of the race in the process.

The 37-year-old Australian, who has twice finished sixth at his favourite race, will be taking in his third edition with Bahrain Victorious, racing alongside fellow veteran Marcel Sieberg and the in-form relative novices Sonny Colbrelli and Matej Mohorič.  

Fitted into a busy pre-race schedule consisting of several course recons and in-depth preparation and fine-tuning of bikes and parts, Haussler took time out to speak to Cyclingnews on Friday about the upcoming 118th edition of the race.

Ahead of what could be a historic wet Paris-Roubaix, Haussler went in-depth on the conditions, the preparation for a wet race, how the weather will affect the racing, who will benefit the most, how he rates his team's chances and much more.

Read on for our Paris-Roubaix preview Q&A with Heinrich Haussler.

Cyclingnews: You've been out doing a few recons by now. How has the week been?

Heinrich Haussler: We've been up here three days, the third day today [Friday]. We've just been testing equipment, looking at the cobbles, getting a feel for it, dialling in the tyre pressure and stuff like that, just make sure everything is ready for Sunday.

Have you been out when the cobbles have been wet or muddy?

We had a little bit of rain today but not really, I think, anything compared to what we're going to experience on Sunday. In the race it's going to be completely different to what we've seen in the past two days. Yesterday we only did the second part of the cobbles, when a few teams did the first part where you saw on the photos on social media that it was pretty muddy, and it was already completely dried up and cleared up today.

Really, it depends on how much rain is going to fall up until Sunday, but it's definitely one way or the other it's going to be muddy and wet; it doesn't matter. If it actually stays dry during the race on Sunday, it doesn't matter because the rain is going to be pouring tonight and tomorrow night.

I've been out to some of the cobbled sectors a couple of times and they've looked dry during the afternoons, but from photos on social media other sectors have looked pretty muddy…

It really depends on how much rain falls. When the wind does pick up and the sun comes out a little bit, the cobbles themselves dry very, very quickly. But the thing is that you get all the shit on the side, and you get the cars and motorbikes riding over. That just splashes it up on the cobbles and that's what makes it slippery like crazy.

I don't think we're actually going to be seeing that much rain during the day, depending on if the weather forecast changes, but that doesn't matter – it's just going to be dangerous and slippery and muddy anyway with all the convoy and cars and stuff. Also, the women's race is going to be charging over there with all the cars and riders and everything. It's kind of like a cyclo-cross race – the women's race before the men's kind of stuffs up the course

It's just going to be absolutely mental

I guess you've never raced a wet Roubaix given the last one was almost two decades ago, but have you ever even ridden a recon in conditions like this?

No. Not at all. Yeah, the last wet Roubaix was in 2002 and I was still a little spinner back then. I did the Tour de France that year in 2014 when it was wet, when Lars Boom won, and that was just – well you saw what happened on that stage and it was just seven sectors of cobbles. It was just absolutely blown to bits. Of course, you didn't have your proper, all-out, 100 per cent Classics riders there; it was all about the GC and trying to look after your GC riders, but there were just crashes everywhere.

It's going to be an absolute epic race. Even now, people and us riders we can't even expect what we're going to see on Sunday because it's just going to be absolutely mental.

There are going to be that many crashes, people are going to be everywhere, cars are going to be everywhere, nobody is going to really know what's going on, people are going to get to the velodrome in ones and twos. On TV I think it's going to be probably one of the best races to watch in the last 20 years.

ARENBERG, FRANCE - SEPTEMBER 30: during the 118th Paris - Roubaix 2021 - Training Day 1 / #ParisRoubaix / on September 30, 2021 in Arenberg, France. (Photo by Bas Czerwinski/Getty Images)

Haussler (left) recons the cobbles with his Bahrain Victorious teammates (Image credit: Bas Czerwinski/Getty Images)

We've heard from riders like Philippe Gilbert and Wout van Aert saying they won't be looking forward to racing a wet Roubaix because of the safety aspect. Is that feeling something you share as well?

I mean, look, I'm also not putting my hand up and saying that I'm super, super happy about these conditions, but it's the Classics. We also go down descents at 100kph or go into corners in the sprints in the last five kilometres at 70kph, and in the years before when it's dry, you're going into Arenberg with 100 guys at 70kph – it's exactly the same.

The riders themselves will make the race dangerous, you know what I mean? Like this year, there will not be 100 guys charging into Arenberg at 70kph. We'll be going in there with a smaller group at maybe 50kph. So, of course it's going to be super dangerous, but that's Paris-Roubaix.

I mean I'm not going to be a smart-arse or anything but if you haven't got the balls to ride here then you shouldn't be here – you should've stayed at home. Like I said, I don't want to be cocky or anything, but it just belongs to the race, you know?

If you haven't got the balls to ride here then you shouldn't be here

In the first part of the race, all teams are going to be saying the same thing: stick together, be in the front, and make sure you hit that first sector in the first part of the peloton. But there's only a certain amount of people that can fit on the cobbles in the first part. Then it's just about having numbers. I think it's going to be kind of like having an elimination race. cobbled sector for cobbled sector. It's going to be more reduced, more reduced, more reduced. Flat tyres, crashes, people getting popped, crosswinds…

Apart from the weather, the conditions, the carnage and crashes, what do you expect from the race in terms of planning, and how guys will approach it tactically?

Well, I think a lot of teams, they can do as many tactics as they want, but all that's going to go out of the window. Anything can happen and also in the first 90 kilometres you could even see echelons now. The wind has slowly, day by day and hour by hour, been changing into a western wind, and for that first 90 kilometres until we get to that first sector there could even be crosswinds, who knows?

I'm pretty sure a breakaway will not go until the first cobbled sector, or we'll just not see a breakaway this year. It's just that run-in to the first sector, those last 10 kilometres coming into it – left, right, up, down, roundabouts – everyone is going to be fighting for position because they know that if it's really going to be that wet then everyone wants to hit that sector in the first position.

Even in fifth position you already can't see what you're doing, and you have to trust the riders in front of you, which nobody wants to do. Everyone knows the importance of being in the fight and it'll just make the race more hectic and dangerous and there's going to be crashes everywhere, so I think that for teams to actually make a tactic…

If there are 100 scenarios then probably the 101st scenario is going to happen

It's about trying to get as deep into the race as possible with your teammates and then you can do some kind of scenario or do a tactic or see who's there. For example, if we're riding for Sonny [Colbrelli] and Matej [Mohorič], that could actually blow out the window in the first part of the race.

So, there are so many different scenarios we can sit down and talk about – if there are 100 scenarios then probably the 101st scenario is going to happen. I've done Paris-Roubaix so many times and we have [Marcel] Sieberg and other guys in the team – maybe Sonny and Matej won't be really knowing what's going on and will be depending on us to guide them and lead them. The more experience you have in this race, the easier it's going to be for you.

Have you as a team done anything differently to prepare for what this race is going to be compared to the dry editions of the past?

No, not necessarily. I think that the 'cross guys like Mathieu [van der Poel], Wout van Aert, [Zdenek] Štybar – who was super strong in the World Championships – and Gianni Vermeersch, just the 'cross guys I think that they're going to have a massive advantage – massive. Just because of the bike handling skills, the way they can ride in the wet, how they can ride on the cobbles, through the corners. They just take speed around the corners and I think they're going to have a massive advantage.

To be honest, I haven't really done anything special – it's not like you look for wet sectors around your training and just ride on them. I've been riding on my Roubaix bike for the last two weeks and we've been testing with Continental on the tubeless tyres – it's no hidden secret anymore with more and more teams riding tubeless. I'm super happy with the bike I have, with the setup I have, with the tyres. I have absolutely 100 per cent confidence that I'm not going to get a flat tyre or that something is going to happen.

The cyclo-cross guys are going to have a massive advantage – massive

Obviously, Sonny is in absolutely amazing form, and Matej, too. They've shown in the last couple of weeks how good they are, also they were absolutely amazing on the cobbles in the Benelux Tour. But, like I said, even with QuickStep, they don't have that one designated leader just because anything can happen.

Of course, something from the outside can happen, like a crash or someone riding into you. But I'm happy where I am and happy with the bike I have so I'm going into the race with full confidence and just trying to do the race with as much luck as possible. I'm pretty sure that stuff is going to happen, but I'll just keep on fighting, get back, get back, get back.

Cycling: 114th Paris - Roubaix 2016
HAUSSLER Heinrich (AUS)/
Compiegne - Roubaix (257,5Km)/
Parijs PR /(c) Tim De Waele

Haussler riding to a joint-career-best finish of sixth in 2016 (Image credit: Tim De Waele/Getty Images)

You've done some cyclo-cross racing yourself, of course. Maybe not to the extent of Van Aert and Van der Poel, but could that be to your benefit, too?

Definitely, for sure. The guys said yesterday that as soon as I go around a corner that I automatically have 10 metres, and if there's a few corners on each sector then you can just take the bike way quicker out of the corners, you don't have to accelerate so much, you can save more power.

I think also with the tubeless tyres that we're going to be using, they're a 32mm and you can ride such low pressure that you have automatically more grip compared to the stock standard 28s or whatever the rest of the peloton are going to be using. Cross definitely has helped a lot, with the bike handling skills just in general. Last year, all the 'cross races I did were in the mud or in the wet. Of course, I was nowhere near any of these other guys – they're on a different planet – but it definitely helps.

Looking at Bahrain Victorious, you have Sonny Colbrelli and Matej Mohorič racing for the first or second time, and then there is you and Marcel Sieberg as well. Do you know what kind of roles you'll be taking? Or will that be worked out depending on what happens on the day?

Obviously, Sonny is in absolutely amazing form, and Matej, too. They've shown in the last couple of weeks how good they are, also they were absolutely amazing on the cobbles in the Benelux Tour. But, like I said, even with QuickStep, they don't have that one designated leader just because anything can happen.

It's about surviving as long as possible and having numbers

We came here with pretty much the same team we have in Benelux, and we have a really good spirit and atmosphere in the team. But it doesn't matter – for example, even if it's Sieberg in the front and he has amazing legs then we'll ride for him. It's the same for Sonny or Matej – it doesn't really matter. If one guy goes good, then it's a win for the whole team.

You also have to be ready to switch for different scenarios and tactics during the race. It's just the race it's going to be. We're not going to have one leader because it's probably 100 per cent sure that you're going to lose your leader at one stage or at one point in the race and you're going to have to switch to plan B, plan C, or plan D.

But for me, Sieberg, Marco Haller, we've been here and we're among the older riders on the team, and it'll be about helping and guiding them and keeping them out of trouble. Then we'll see what actually happens. It's about surviving as long as possible and having numbers in the deeper end of the race – if that's possible.

And for you personally – you've talked about supporting others, but how is your form going into the race and is there a chance you could end up as the leader out on the road?

Well, we haven't had our meeting yet, but I know that my form is good enough to – I know that if I get through the race with no crashes or punctures then I'm going to be right up there. I just know that. It's not necessarily about the numbers, it's also about the way you feel on the cobbles

I've been trying to peak for this part of the season. I didn't do any Grand Tours during the summer, and I had a big, big five-week altitude camp and then was just using the races to get into form. Also, Roubaix is different to Flanders and the cobbles in Belgium. It's always the same guys, but it's different. On the cobbles if the guy in front is doing 500 [watts] and you're sitting in the wheel you only have to do like 350, you know? But on the climbs, if he's on the front doing 700, you're also doing 700. So, the more you can save, the more you can hide, you can get a long way into the race.

And I know this race, I know the corners, all the cobblestones and I know where I need to be. That's the thing that's going to help me. If I can get deep into the final, I know I can get there without spending too much energy, if it allows that.

I'm not getting any younger… If I get the opportunity I'll definitely take it with both hands

But this is my absolute favourite race. I'm 37 years old and I'm not getting any younger, so it might sound selfish now, but if I get the opportunity I'll definitely take it with both hands, because I know I have the legs, the material is on point, and if you go into a race like this and you know you have that advantage over the other teams – which I know we do – that gives you so much confidence.

And also with the weather, there's going to be 50 per cent of the guys in the peloton who, to be honest, I don't think will actually want to be there. You already see it in the interviews: 'it's going to be raining, it's going to be dangerous, I don't think it should be wet', and it's going to be October 3 with a lot of guys on the limit after a long season...

If you already have that mental advantage and are 100 per cent motivated then it's already going to get you a long way into the race and give you a small advantage over the rest of the peloton.

So, this should be some race for your last of the season. What's next?

My season also kind of starts now because I'm just going to go straight into the 'cross season so it's really no break for me. I'll just get back into doing more intensity stuff and try and get as good as I can for the 'cross season.

I have one more year on my contract, and then who knows what's going to happen. Like I said I'm 37 and not getting any younger. But I still love it – even today I just couldn't help myself on some of the sectors, just getting out there and smashing it. It sounds really stupid, but I just love it. I love it.

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