Such was Heinrich Haussler's grin as he pedalled through the finish area in Cassano d'Adda that one disappointed member of the Giacomo Nizzolo Fan Club was convinced that it was the Australian who had denied their man victory on stage 17 of the Giro d'Italia. "It was Haussler who beat Giacomo, it was Haussler," he lamented.
In an ad-libbed finale to the stage, however, it was not the IAM Cycling sprinter who claimed the honours, but a member of his lead-out team. Roger Kluge clipped off the front in the final kilometre to land victory, while a frustrated Nizzolo had to settle for yet another second place finish.
"It's amazing. If there's one guy who deserves to win, it's Roger. He was trying to help but then had the legs to win the stage himself. He was super, super strong in the final kilometre," said Haussler, who rolled home in 15th.
Kluge's victory was IAM Cycling's first at a Grand Tour in its four-year history and arrived just 48 hours after founder Michel Thetaz confirmed that the team would disband at the end of the current season.
"It’s been a tough Giro so far. We tried and tried in the sprints but it never worked. With the news of the team stopping, it was the perfect hit back from Roger. We all have our future in our hands and Roger did he job today," Haussler said.
Haussler and his IAM Cycling teammates were informed of Thetaz's decision to end his sponsorship and disband the squad during Monday's rest day, though the news had been in the air for some time.
"Last year, Michel said he'd make a decision in the May, so we knew that some news was coming. We were hoping for the best and tried to stay positive and work hard in the hope that team would continue in some way," Haussler told Cyclingnews at the start in Molveno. "But it's good of Michel to tell us now, in May, because there's still a lot of races to go, still time to put ourselves out there and find a new team.
"It's bad news for the IAM team but it's bad news for cycling in general. The Tinkoff team is likely to stop too and maybe others so there's going to be a lot of riders and staff out there without jobs in the future."
Now in his 12th season as a professional, Haussler has found himself in a similar predicament twice before, when the Gerolsteiner and Cervélo teams abruptly disbanded in 2008 and 2010, respectively. On each occasion, the decision arrived late in the season, and Haussler was grateful for the small mercy that he has more time to find a team for 2017.
"We knew the decision was going to be in May, so I'd already spoken to my manager and we had a back-up plan. We've been speaking to other teams because I want to stay at the highest level and think I've still got a lot to give, especially in the one-day races," Haussler said. "I had a better Classics campaign this year. I changed trainer this year and I can see what I can do now by changing my training. I'm very motivated for 2017. I hope it all works out for everyone."
Haussler, like the rest of his IAM teammates, will look to put himself in the shop window for the remainder of the season. He will skip the Tour de Suisse and Tour de France in order to focus on preparing for the one-day races in the latter part of the year, culminating with the World Championships in Doha in October. His next race after the Giro is likely to be the Tour de Pologne.
Haussler was understanding, too, of Thetaz's decision to put an end to his investment in professional cycling. "It's coming out Michel’s own pocket. When you think how much money he's put in over the last four years, you have to take your hat off to him," he said. "If I had that much money, I'd probably do something different with it."
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