Haussler's dedication nets new Bahrain-Merida contract

Heinrich Haussler has been rewarded with a one-year contract extension at Bahrain-Merida after proving his health and fitness in the final months of the season.

The Australian suffered throughout most of 2017 with a serious knee injury. He raced only six days in the first six months of the year but came back strongly in the second half of the year with a run of one-day performances.

The 33-year-old’s career was at one point hanging by a thread but Bahrain-Merida team manager Brent Copeland was so impressed with the Australian's determination that he has extended the rider's contract for a further twelve months. Haussler will now concentrate on another spring Classics campaign.

"We saw how much he was working with gym work and swimming. He was doing everything possible to keep his body in good shape when he was off the bike. We saw that dedication and that's why we decided to give him another year. We need someone for the Classics but we saw all the hard work he was willing to put in. His knee is much better, and we could see that at the Worlds. We definitely need him for next year."

Stability and experience

The Bahrain-Merida project began this year and most of the debutant riders were offered two-year contracts. That meant that Copeland could only make a finite amount of adjustments and changes in the transfer market for 2018.

Janez Brajkovic has left, along with Ondrej Cinq and Tsgabu Grmay. Copeland has brought in a few new faces but is also hoping that a number of the 2017 squad can recapture their best health. Ramunas Navardauskas is recovering from a minor heart operation, while Kanstantin Siutsou and Ion Izagirre are slowly coming back from serious injuries.

Nibali to target the Giro or the Tour

With the 2018 squad now finalised the team is turning their attention towards next year's goals. Primary within that will be Vincenzo Nibali's race programme.

The team was built around the Italian this year and he duly delivered with podiums in the Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a Espana and victory at Il Lombardia. The former Tour de France champion has not decided on his Grand Tour programme next year but Copeland confirmed that a Vuelta ride is on the cards as Nibali will use the race to fine-tune his form ahead of the World Championship. Whether he targets the Giro d'Italia or the Tour de France remains unclear.

"He's not decided yet. I was in Asia with him last week and we watched the Tour presentation live. He's got some idea of what the Giro will be like but until he knows the route 100 per cent, he's not going one way or another. He's very undecided. We will give him some time to make his decision," Copeland said.

"The Tour de France is obviously a race we'd like to see him at. He did the Giro and the Vuelta this year but that's just my personal thought. There's no pressure from our side or from the sponsor as to where he goes. We're going to let him decide."

Copeland ruled out the chance of Nibali riding both the Giro and Tour, even with an additional week of recovery now between the two races.

"I don't think so. I think it's too stressful on the body and the mind. Plus with the World Championships being a good course for him, I think it will be difficult to do the Giro, Tour and then Worlds. At this point I think that the Vuelta will be definite and either the Giro or the Tour beforehand."

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