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Heinrich Haussler set to race Cyclo-cross Worlds

Heinrich Haussler (Bahrain Victorious) at the X2O Trofee in Herentals on December 23, 2020
Heinrich Haussler (Bahrain Victorious) at the X2O Trofee in Herentals in December 2020 (Image credit: Heinrich Haussler / Instagram)

Heinrich Haussler will be an unexpected name on the start line for elite men at Sunday's UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships in Ostend, the Australian declaring his participation on Wednesday.

The 36-year-old Haussler, who has been a pro on the road since 2005, has taken to cyclo-cross as a way of maintaining fitness for the road season over the past two seasons.

In late 2019, he rode five races including the UCI World Cup at Heusden-Zolder, while this season he has raced six times, taking in two World Cup rounds plus a round apiece in the Superprestige and X2O Trofee series.

The Bahrain Victorious road leader described himself as a "hobbyist" in an interview with Het Nieuwsblad. His top 'cross result this season has been 47th at the UCI World Cup in Dendermonde.

"I don't have a camper or a mechanic, but that doesn't bother me," he said. "I'm a hobbyist among pro cyclists, but I know that even as a veteran on the road I get better from such an intensive winter in the field.

"You can't imagine how happy I am – like a child – to be able to attend the World Championships."

Haussler said he didn't even know what cyclo-cross was when he was growing up – a far cry from young Belgian cyclists. He told of how he started taking part thanks to his friend, cyclo-cross veteran and two-time German 'cross champion, Sascha Weber.

"It all began in October 2019, when one of my friends, Sacha Weber, invited me to a small 'cross at our place in Freiburg, where I live with my family," he said.

"He said: 'come on down, even if it's just for fun.' I thought that even if it doesn't help me, it won't do any harm. But I was immediately attracted to this discipline and immediately experienced how hard an hour in the field is."

Unlike the riders expected to compete for the rainbow jersey, such as Mathieu van der Poel, Tom Pidcock, or Wout van Aert, Haussler hasn't had a dedicated squad with him during the 'cross season, though he will have two Merida mechanics to help at the Worlds. He does all the organising himself though.

"The cyclo-cross itself is only ten per cent of the work," he said. "I go to the races all by myself, I arrange and pay for everything myself. I do the reconnaissance and then I have to quickly clean my two bikes myself before the actual race.

"I don't have a mechanic. Sometimes Sacha Weber's girlfriend gives me my spare bike – if she's not already busy cleaning his bike."

The move to cyclo-cross – though not intended to be a serious career change – came after a period of cynicism from Haussler, who has since changed his mind about the sport and its competitors.

"I thought 'oh well, typically Belgian, a bit of a cross in the mud and guys who can't make it on the road.' I know better now," he said. "The top cyclists have a much larger engine than the vast majority of the pros on the road.

"Last year, I rode seven crosses. But by running, sprinting, those specific training sessions, going in the red for an hour each time, I pushed my limits. I already experienced this on the road in February and early March last year. I had so much more power, was more explosive, and could go deeper."

Haussler said that he regrets not having discovered the discipline earlier in his career, adding that cyclo-cross can be an important step to being a top pro on the road. He also marvelled at the ability of Van der Poel and Van Aert, saying that he'll be happy if he can finish Sunday's race without being lapped by the Dutch reigning world champion.

"Mathieu and Wout will also win everything on the road. They are gladiators. Sometimes on a course recon, I just stop and watch them take a turn, pick a line, do a descent. Their manoeuvrability and steering skills are phenomenal.

"I'm not only talking about the two big names, but also about Pidcock, Iserbyt, Vanthourenhout, Vermeersch, Hermans, you name it. Cyclo-cross is the step to become a big pro on the road. I have two five-year-old boys and if they want to start cycling at the age of eleven, I send them into cyclo-cross. I can beat myself up for not discovering it twenty years earlier.

"Mathieu and Wout are finely balanced, but the course will be decisive. If I finish the race without Mathieu chasing me down, then my first World Championships will be super successful."

Daniel joined Cyclingnews as staff writer in August 2019 after working as a freelance journalist for seven years, including time spent working for Cyclingnews and sister magazine, Procycling.