Thirteenth in Milan-San Remo; 11th at E3 Harelbeke; fourth at Gent-Wevelgem - there is no doubt that Heinrich Haussler (IAM Cycling) is back to his best. So much so that the Australian says it's top-10 or bust at the Tour of Flanders.
"With a little bit of luck, if things come back together like last year then it could even be a podium," Haussler told Cyclingnews with confidence on the eve of De Ronde.
Haussler's been here before, legs with the ability to propel the bike over the cobbles, "spinning", he calls it. Power free and easy. A sensation that you know you've got within 100 metres of hitting the cobbles. In 2009 while riding for Cervélo Test Team, he finished runner-up to Stijn Devolder in a spring that also included a second place at Milan-San Remo, fourth at Dwars door Vlaanderen and seventh at Paris-Roubaix but at age 25, it was more about smashing his race through every race, admitting that tactics were not front of mind.
"In 2009 I thought, 'this is going to happen every year', but that wasn't the case," he said. "It's maybe once in a lifetime that you have legs like that. So I'm maybe doing it a little bit smarter and it's definitely going to be a hard race tomorrow."
Haussler was, however, being guided by the likes of Classics specialists Roger Hammond and Andreas Klier while on Cervélo and he's now sharing that knowledge with his less-experienced teammates on IAM Cycling.
"I want the team to be good, I'm just passing that on," Haussler told Cyclingnews. "We're maybe not, as a team, as strong as Sky or QuickStep but we're going to get there.
"A lot of the guys really haven't got the experience in knowing the roads and positioning and tactics but they're getting better. Once it gets better we can reach that same level as the other teams like QuickStep and Sky. This year's all about learning for them, so that next year, we'll be the ones that are making an impact on the race and they'll be looking at us to see what we're doing."
Lucky to recover in Gent-Wevelgem only just making it back to the front of the race before the Kemmel a week ago, it's not a mistake Haussler and his teammates will make twice with the 29-year-old keen to put his stamp on the race early, like many of those looking to upset the dominant force that is the Fabian Cancellara - Peter Sagan juggernaut which has earned outright favouritism.
"If you've got the form, I'm not going to hang around and wait for them to go because when they go, no one's going to be able to go with them [Cancellara and Sagan]," Haussler said. "That's what I've seen in the last races.
"There's also BMC, Sky and QuickStep, they've got similar guys with Terpstra, Vandenbergh, Stannard, Boasson Hagen, Eisel - I really think they're going to start sending guys up the road early," he continued, echoing the sentiments expressed by the same teams in their pre-race press conferences.
Second year in to the new Flanders parcours, and with better understanding of the way the race may play out, Haussler is also among the chorus expecting different tactics with three teams standing out among the peloton before a pedal has been turned over.
"Sky say that they don't really have the leaders but it's the guys underneath the leaders that are also at the same level," he cautioned. "There are five guys that can make it into a break towards the end and get to the finish. So that's why it's going to be different and I think it will start 40, 50, 60kms before the finish - they'll start sending guys up the road and it's going to make the race a lot harder.
"Say you get into a dumb situation and you have like 10 riders up the road, two Sky, two QuickStep, two BMC, a GreenEdge - there are teams that can chase but they haven't got those strong guys like the big teams do. It's going to be make the race more interesting. It's Cancellara's and Sagan's race to lose but their teams aren't as strong as Sky or QuickStep.
"Anything can happen in Flanders. Just because a team's by far the strongest it doesn't mean that they're going to win."
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