The 2009 Milan San-Remo. A warm sunny day awaited the 200 riders of the 100th edition of La Primavera. Amongst those on the startlist, including Andy Schleck, Bradley Wiggins and eventual winner Mark Cavendish, was the quasi Australian Heinrich Haussler. What happened in the preceding 7 hours has been retraced many times since. The coming of age of Cavendish at the tender age of 23 was obviously headline news. Haussler’s second place on the day, inches away from a first classic, rightly remained the subplot.
One day wins can define a career. Fred Guesdon is known for his triumph in Paris-Roubaix of 1997 and arguably the same fate may yet befall Johan Van Summeren who also triumphed in the hell of north in 2011. So, on the via Roma of San-Remo, in the dull sun of an April Sunday, had Heinrich Haussler’s missed the chance to define a his cycling life. Born to a German father and an Australian Mother, Haussler remained in New South Wales, Australia until 1988, when he moved to Germany to pursue a career as a pro cyclist.
His breakthrough year in the pro ranks occurred in 2005 as he won a stage of the Vuelta. Beating Pablo Lastras and Linus Gerdemann and others from a small breakaway on a rolling stage 19 he showed tactical nouse by allowing Martin Elmiger to lead him out to catch Juan Manual Fuentes just before the line. The following years, 2006, 2007 and 2008 remained barren years with sparks of success such as top ten’s at the Tour and Gent Wevelgem.
Yet it was 2009 when the stars aligned for Haussler as he didn’t finish outside the top 10 in all stages of the Tour of Qatar and won two stages of the Tour of the Algarve in the early season. Stages at Paris Nice and the Tour de France followed, yet it was in the Spring Classics that he really hit a purple patch. 4th at Dwars Door Vlaanderen, 2nd at Flanders and 7th at Paris Roubaix and at Milan San Remo, Haussler caught Cavendish by surprise, sprinting from over 500 metres to go, coming within a whisper of the greatest win of his career.
The jubilant Cavendish hugging Erik Zabel whilst the Australian collapsed to the ground, meters after the finish line could not have been more of a juxtaposition. So what made the difference that year? His growing experience as a fifth year pro, the switch in outfits from Gerolsteiner to Cervelo and an experienced team behind him or a winter of perfect preparation. Whatever the reason, it was clear that Haussler was making a jump to the upper echelons of the sport.
Yet a number of factors kept and continue to keep Haussler at bay. The difficult marriage of Cervelo and Garmin after the former removed their sponsorship at the end of 2010 meant he was now competing for leadership with Thor Hushovd amongst others. This combined with a series of illnesses and injury saw his season peter out after a successful early romp at the Tour of Qatar and Paris Nice. It seemed that he had perhaps transformed from a classics contender to a second string sprinter as the majority of results in the next two years came in stage races and not one day classics. Whilst an astonishing four second places in a row in the Tour of California of 2012 all behind Peter Sagan, can hardly be considered a poor result, his failure to get his arms in the air must have be discouraging.
This brings us to the creation of IAM cycling and Haussler’s switch from Garmin at the end of 2012. The team’s roster built through that year, whilst centred around major Swiss talent, contains a number of journeymen like Thomas Lofkvist, Johann Tschopp, Sebastian Hinault and Haussler’s breakaway companion from that Vuelta stage in 2005, Martin Elimiger. As Haussler himself acknowledges he looks back on his time with Cervelo with rose tinted glasses and he draws some similarities with his new employers. The roster is similar in the sense that the majority of riders are up and coming (like Kristof Goddaert and Matthias Brandle) or have had a barren few years like Lofkvist or himself. In his position as one of the more senior riders he will undoubtedly receive the support of others during the season.
Coming full circle to the 2013 Milan San Remo and IAM’s successful application to La Primavera, could Haussler be in the frame again? As he enters the Tour of Qatar off the back of what he has identified as his best series of winter training in a number of years you certainly wouldn’t bet against him. At 28 years old he may even be entering the prime years of his career and perhaps in the near future he will have that chance to rewrite his script that was so cruelly altered by a barrelling Manx Missile on the 29th of March 2009