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.
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."
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