The Enigma of Heinrich Haussler

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.

 

Mark Cavendish pips Heinrich Haussler by a bike throw at the 2009 Milan San-Remo

Mark Cavendish pips Heinrich Haussler by a bike throw at the 2009 Milan San-Remo

 

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

 

The London Bike Show 2013 (Review 2)

Hopefully this will add something to the great article written by Tony here.

Last week was tough for cycling, hitting the national headlines for all the wrong reasons. Yet help was at hand with the start of the pro tour season in Australia and Argentina and perhaps even more exciting;  4 days of the London Bike Show to cheer even the most cynical of fans.

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Bradleys Wiggins’ Pinarello Dogma in Malliot Jaune Livery

Having never been to an event like this before, the first thing that struck me was the sheer number of people in attendance. OK, tickets included entry to three additional shows within the Excel but the exhibition centre was positively throbbing. As the glitz and glamour of Wiggo mania wanes it was heartening to see continued excitement surrounding cycle sport in general.

Kudos goes to the new Madison Genesis team, managed by ex Garmin-Cervelo rider Roger Hammond, who held their team presentation on the Saturday of the show. Hosted by the delightful Ant McCrossan it was a chance to see some of the team’s extremely youthful looking riders like Alex Peters and Brendan Townshend which have combined with elder more experienced riders like Dean Downing, Ian Bibby and Andy Tennant.

The Madison-Genesis Continental Team being presented on stage

Arguably the most interesting aspect of this team is their promotion of the Steel framed Genesis Volare bike. Equipped with a Shimano Dura Ace and Pro finishing kit, the team bike is a delight aesthetically. Extremely classical, yet with modern touches. The downtube is wider than traditional steel bikes pandering to the modern trend for oversized tubing.Indeed the team is making a big deal out of the specially developed Reynolds tubing made in Birmingham.

The prevelance of Carbon Fibre as the go to material for high end road bikes may yet be challenged and as Genesis themselves argue; they have looked to banish those 80’s misconceptions that Steel frames are heavy flexible steeds. Instead, suggesting that they have combined the durability and comfort that is usually associated with a steel frame, with the race weight and stiffness of modern bikes.

Bibby, Downing, Jack Pullar, Chris Snook and Sebastian Baylis proved the bike was no slouch when they took part in the Elite Men’s Criterium after the presentation. The speed of the peloton around the tight, twisting 500 metre indoor circuit was astonishing to watch. With Bibby coming out on top beating UK circuit regular teams likes IG-Sigma Sport and Hope Factory Racing Team it was the perfect start for the new team. The folding bicycle race was also great to watch as a prelude to the main criterium. The ‘Le Mans’ style start meant that riders had to unfold their bicycles before setting off. Keith Henderson’s huge, race winning attack on the penultimate lap was very impressive. The Animal Bike Tour with Martyn Ashton, Blake Samson, Luke Madigan and Billy Atkins was also a joy to watch. Whilst Ashton was undoubtedly superb, Billy Atkins at the age of 17 pulled off some outrageous tricks on a scooter.

Elsewhere at the show you could not move for visual delights. Cervelo, Pinarello, Willier and Specialized all in attendance. Yet what struck me in

Stealthy looking Wilier

Stealthy looking Wilier

particular was the range of bike brands on offer. Canyon, Team and Time amongst others. Canyon in particular were exhibiting a range of road and MTB frames all at varying price brackets. The Ultimate CF was a particular delight with perfect geometry and presence at a great price, along with Joaquim Rodigruez’s Giro d’Italia customised Aeroad CF lavishly decorated with pink decals to match the Maglia Rosa he spectacularly lost to Ryder Hesjedal in 2012. This spectrum of bikes although dizzyingly confusing can only be a good thing for the continuation of top end cycle sport. And with the news that Pinarello is looking to stock frames at selected Halfords stores, we are now more than ever, spoilt for choice.

Amongst other products on show, Nanoprotech was perhaps the most innovative, like nothing I’ve seen before. Whilst Sportful where exhibiting an extremely lightweight waterproof jacket. Hope continue to produce beautifully engineered bike products, contact points and accessories whilst Schwalbe’s extensive range of tyres was mind boggling. Last word goes to Clif Bar whose Builders Bar was very tasty in a variety of flavours along with their electrolyte shot in Citrus and double espresso was easy on the palette.

Training to win – Racing to lose

Bradley Wiggins in his hotel room after winning the yellow jersey.

Bradley Wiggins in his hotel room after winning the yellow jersey. – ©The Guardian

As every new cycling fan, such as myself, enters the strange and beguiling world of pro cycling a vast number of questions arise. Why is the yellow jersey yellow? What makes a good domestique? Who is lé patron?

For me, the largest theme amongst those was the astonishing number of riders that compete in World Tour races and their suitability for the days challenges. I found myself surveying the huge array of riders in the peloton and identifying who was in the frame for the podium on that particular stage or one day race, or, who was using it for training for a race later in the season. Herein lay the strangest characteristic of road cycling that I have never quite fully managed to understand. Who is actually racing?

The most obvious example to analyse this phenomenon is the 2012 year of Bradley Wiggins. 2012 saw him entering races purely to win and in the process utilised a ‘riding to win’ philosophy unlike no other rider in recent history. Wins at Paris-Nice, the Tour of Romandy and the Dauphine were all used as a stepping stone to July and the Tour de France. In the process he quashed the notion that riders who were in form in June for the Dauphine, would flop at the Tour whilst also becoming the first rider to win the above races all in one season.

As Team Sky supremo Dave Brailsford and sports scientist Tim Kerrison consistently presented the media they were always 100% racing to win. Yet this approach hid an even more refined method. Racing only at specific times throughout the year, freeing up more time for training camps, often at altitude and at specific points during the season, ensured that Wiggins was in control of what he achieved on the bike. Indeed Kerrison noted that Wiggins was attempting to be at 95-97% performance all year, at all races he entered.

Wiggins’ story is an obvious one, yet a look into the past, particularly in 2010 when he rode the Giro as preparation for the Tour, reveals that for him racing as preparation or training didn’t cut it like it did in 2009 as he finished 4th (now 3rd) in the Tour de France. Racing to win was now his de facto method of participation. Ultimately he trained to race and as riders are getting closer and closer in terms of their abilities without the skewness of doping, will racing yourself fit provide success?

Perhaps the answer is, that like many other facets of pro cycling that continue to fascinate me, training techniques, depend on the rider and his/her idiosyncratic body and their particular end goal: one day race, a weeklong stage event or one of the grand tours. The traditional build up to the World Championships in September of every year of many a pro cyclist involves entering the Vuelta in order to gain race fitness to be at top form for the Worlds. In 2012, 11 out of the top 30 finishers in Valkenburg rode the Vuelta and of the top 10, 6 of them including podium finisher Alejandro Valverde and winner Philippe Gilbert had finished the Spanish grand tour mostly in the mid to lower field (with the exception of Valverde) in the general classification. Clearly riding the Vuelta this year was extremely tough with numerous summit finishes, not suitable for a sprinters World Championships course like we saw in Copenhagen in 2011 but highly correlated to the hilly challenging nature of the Limburg parcours.

Whilst Team Sky’s spreadsheet, clinical training style is somewhat in stark contrast to the time-honoured training ‘by feel’ which Thomas Voeckler is the greatest proponent of, there must be room for both of them in today’s cycling world.  With the 2013 World Tour cycling season now at 271 days long, starting in January with the Tour Down Under and finishing with the Tour of Beijing in late October, there is perhaps now sufficient scope for more riders to reach their peak at more specific times throughout the year.

Ultimately I am sure there remains no consensus on the ideal training and racing partnership and I’m sure there will never be. Yet, this is precisely the reason why I love cycling, its mystique, its complexities and its variety. Here’s to the 2013 season!

 

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