If any residual trepidation remained for Heinrich Haussler (IAM Cycling) on the Gent-Wevelgem start line in Deinze, given the freezing weather conditions, it was swiftly forgotten: he attacked today's race in his best showing in a Classic of this caliber since 2009, but finished a frustrating fourth.
Perhaps it was the realisation that he'd gotten so close to the podium, or maybe it was raw adrenaline, but Haussler didn't hold back when asked for his reflections on the shortened 75th edition of the race as he arrived back at the team bus. The 29-year-old was not hiding his disappointment.
"Yeah, I'm fucking mad," he told Cyclingnews. "I used so much energy just to get back to the front group... Fucking hell, it was a hard race. Especially, the whole time I was just by myself.
"The bloody wankers just sit on and go: ‘no, no, we've got a guy at the back and all this bullshit.’"
Haussler was part of a 13-man move that came together in the final 50km, race winner Peter Sagan, his teammate Maciej Bodnar, two Astana riders Borut Bozic and Assan Bazayev, and eight other singletons.
Asked at whom he was aiming his criticism, Haussler would only say: "Half the guys at the front. Bloody wankers. But that's just racing, that's what it is."
Haussler had not been happy on the start line, doubting that what was about to occur was in the name of sport, given the icy conditions and with the rest of the classics in mind, but the immediate calendar was enough of a carrot for the Australian to put his head down and go. Caught in the third group on the road and chasing an all-star line-up of 15 riders which included Boonen, Cavendish, Sagan, Eisel, Hayman, Oss and Phinney Haussler's effort had him "sweating like a pig" despite the frigid temperatures throughout the early skirmishes.
"It was just full gas," he explained. "Even now I've got like an average of 280 watts for the whole race. I just had to use a lot of energy because I was sitting in the third group straight after the start and I only just got back on before the Kemmelberg so it was a hard race."
Once back on terms with the front of the race, Haussler attacked on the Baneberg in move that would essentially create a select group to fight it out for the honours. He continued to be proactive in the breakaway, but was a lone ranger against a Cannondale outfit intent on delivering Sagan to a win and without teammates he was at a tactical disadvantage.
"I just wanted to attack but there was no use attacking... it was just frustrating because the guys weren't coming through all the time," Haussler said.
With Sagan in a one-man drag race for the finish line in Wevelgem with less than four kilometres to go, Haussler once again initiated an attack with 500 metres left on the road for the remnants of the breakaway only to be pipped on the line by Borut Bozic (Astana) and Greg Van Avermaet (BMC).
Saving himself for these few weeks on the calendar, Sunday's result was confirmation that Haussler's renewed focus in 2013 is indeed paying off since he has been able to resume a training regime where he's more comfortable. His winter included long rides with a slow and steady approach and cross-country skiing. Haussler is certain that a place on the podium is not far off because of it.
"I've been saying that since the start of the season, my legs are back again and my form, that sensation again," he said. "The results haven't been there, it's just all positioning... I've really got to work on my positioning."
The fledgling IAM team should at the very least be pleased with fourth, and that Sebastien Hinault finished on the second group of the day, given that established ProTour squads struggled to keep men on the road at all.