After a year of battling with a knee injury that refused to go away, Heinrich Haussler has a new perspective on his career. The 33-year-old Australian is not yet ready to give up the sport he's been doing for so long and says he's all in for 2018.
"I've been a pro 13 years and there have been a lot of years where you're not so serious and you let things go a little bit. I see things differently now and I'm absolutely living for the sport 100 per cent," Haussler told Cyclingnews.
"I'm not that old but it has been the worst year of my life. More mentally than anything else. It's not just about not being able to race but not being able to ride your bike.
"After experiencing what I have this year, I'd like to ride until I'm 41. You miss it and it's not just racing with the team, it's going out and riding your bike down by the river or going for a coffee ride."
Haussler arrived at the Bahrain-Merida team training camp earlier this month a little bit ill - an occupational hazard when you have two small children - but it's a massive improvement on where he was 12 months ago. "This time last year I couldn't ride a bike," he explained.
Despite his knee problems, Haussler had hopes that he could be back in time for his favourite part of the season, the Classics.
He'd had an operation before the team training camp and had been told that, as he was an elite athlete, he'd be able to get up and running in less than two weeks. Haussler, by his own admission, got a little excited and tried to push himself to get back into shape for the Classics. It was too much for his knee to take and it became inflamed once again. He tried to come back in May at the Four days of Dunkirk but that was too early and he needed surgery on his knee once again.
Three months and another operation later, Haussler was able to string a series of races together, including the World Championships in Bergen. He raced just 12 days in 2017 but he believes that the challenges he faced will pay dividends further down the line.
"Not knowing is the biggest problem. Every night you go to bed thinking about your knee and you wake up and you think about it," said Haussler. "It was absolutely terrible but every athlete goes through the ups and downs and sometimes you need to go through the bad to see the good. If I get through all the bad and it's 100 per cent over then I will use that experience to become a better rider.
"Now, my knee isn't getting warm and there is no inflammation. It depends on the weather. Being in Germany and training in minus weather is not the best for the knee. I think I've got it under control and as long as it stays like that then it's good."
Haussler was still unsure exactly what his race programme would be in 2018 when he spoke to Cyclingnews – the Dubai Tour and Tour of Oman were on the cards – but there was little doubt where his main focus lies.
The Classics have been a real draw for Haussler throughout his professional career and he hopes to compete on the cobbles again next season. He will be sharing the races with Sonny Colbrelli, who took a surprise top 10 finish at this year's Tour of Flanders, but that's a role he's happy to play.
"Sonny is in the team and we're going to be working together. I've been watching him in the Classics and he's definitely the guy," said Haussler. "I'm older now and I know that Flanders is too hard for me, it's for Sonny, and if he wants to make that top result, then he needs my experience and a guy like me who can sacrifice himself in the final kilometres.
"I like Het Nieuwsblad and [E3] Harelbeke and definitely the number one goal for me is Paris-Roubaix. I love this race and you can see that anything can happen. Of course, you have to be strong to win but you can see in the years before that they've had different winners. It's not like in other races."
Plans for the future
Spending so much time on the sidelines has given Haussler an opportunity to think about what he wants to do later in his career and when he does finally retire. Cycling seems certain to remain a part of his life for the foreseeable future, and he says he'd like to use his 15 years of experience to help the younger riders come through the ranks.
"A lot of the older generation will agree with me, but the younger guys that come up, a lot of them have no respect," said Haussler. "When you get older, it's nice to move into the role of road captain within the team and guiding the guys through the way of racing and the system.
"I'm not yet ready to do that because I still want to concentrate on some races. But working with the team and the younger guys, or someone like Sonny, teaching them what I've experienced or what I've been through and not taking things for granted, that is something I'd like to so in the latter part of my career."
Haussler also said that it was his dream to run a team once he's retired, but he's relying on someone with bigger pockets than his to help him realise that ambition.
"If I had the opportunity, I'd like to create my own team. It's a lot of stress but cycling is my life," he explained. "It is, of course, a dream, but it would be something that would always be in the back of my mind. If I ever found a friend that had 20 or 30 million on the side that he didn't need and asked if I wanted to start a team then I'd jump at the opportunity."