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To Start Again: An Interview with Heinrich Haussler of Garmin-Cervélo

Interview by Jen See
Barbie art by Majope

Gavia interviews Barbie

Last week, I interviewed Heinrich Haussler of Garmin-Cervélo. It looked exactly like this picture. Except that I called him on the phone and I don't own a pink couch. It's possible he looked exactly like a Barbie, but I'm not sure I did. I did wear the Floppy Beach Hat. It makes me smarter. If I could invite Barbie to the Shack, I certainly would. For now, we will have to make do with the phone.

Below the fold, I talk to Heinrich Haussler of Garmin-Cervélo about bike racing. He tells me about his favorite races, his role on the new Garmin-Cervélo classics super team, his schedule for the season, and how he used to psyche up for the big races.

"Last year was a complete disaster," Haussler told me unequivocally. A pair of crashes at the early season Volta ao Algarve and Paris-Nice wiped out Haussler’s cobbles season and his chance for results at his favorite races. He returned to form, hoping to ride well at the Tour de France. Those hopes ended in a spectacular crash at Tour de Suisse in a sprint with Mark Cavendish. Still, Haussler thought he could pull things together. "Okay, I can save the year with the second half of the season," he thought. But even that plan proved impossible when he needed knee surgery. Then, the season was over. "I was okay physically. My problem was more mentally," he said. The cycle of injury and recovery wore him down. "I was just determined to get back," but it never happened and Haussler finished the season frustrated.

The disaster season came after a string of successes in 2009 with Cervélo TestTeam. Haussler opened with sprint stage wins at the Volta ao Algarve and Paris-Nice. Then, he finished second behind Mark Cavendish at Milano-Sanremo in a silly fast sprint. Thor Hushovd, then team mates with Haussler, finished third at 2 seconds. It is rare to see a time gap in a bunch sprint. Success followed success as Haussler headed to the cobbles. He threw down a second at the Ronde van Vlaanderen behind Stijn Devolder, who won solo, and a seventh at Paris-Roubaix. Heinrich Haussler, Cervélo TestTeam, Tour of California 2010. Photo: Chris Graythen/Getty.In July, Haussler won a stage of the Tour de France in Colmar, probably the biggest victory of his professional career. It was a big season for a rider who had until then mostly won sprints in the shorter stage races, though certainly a stage win at the 2005 Vuelta a España during his first professional season suggested a promising future.

Haussler credits his break-out 2009 season to a series of changes. He transferred to Cervélo TestTeam, which proved a good fit for him. Haussler also moved to Freiburg. His new home town boasted "more hills and better training." And train he did. "I made a big lifestyle change, became more professional," he said of the transition year. "I had a big improvement at Cervélo," he said with characteristic modesty. Haussler has an understated way about him and a mellow Australian drawl that seems at odds with his blinding speed in the bunch sprints.

This year, Haussler is determined to have a better season. "I want to get back to my own form of 2009," he said. So far, the training is going well. Haussler will begin his season for Garmin-Cervélo at the desert races, Tour of Qatar and Tour of Oman. Then, it is into the cold of Northern Europe, where he will ride Paris-Nice in search of training and stage wins.

Certainly, the Garmin-Cervélo rider will be glad of any results that come his way in these early races, but Haussler’s first main objective for the season is Milano-Sanremo. "Milano-Sanremo is what I really want to win," he said. "Except you know the skinny climbers, it’s every rider’s dream. If a rider can say at the end of his career that he’s won Sanremo, that’s something." Though Sanremo is known as the sprinters' classic, the Australian quickly denied that luck has much to do with the outcome. "No one wins on luck at the classics," he asserted.

Heinrich Haussler in the rain at the 2009 Tour. Photo: Bryn Lennon/Getty.Garmin-Cervélo will bring a horde of talent to the one day classics this season. "Garmin-Cervélo, with Thor and Tyler, it’s just so strong," Haussler said of his new team. As team owner Jonathan Vaughters explained to us, they will have multiple captains and adopt a strength-in-numbers approach to winning the big Belgian classics. Garmin-Cervélo expects to play an attacking game that makes the most of their deep squad. "You need a strong team for the classics," Haussler confirmed. With a strong team, you can "play your cards, you can chase, you can attack." Much will depend on who has good legs on the day.

On Paris-Roubaix, Haussler was forthright about his role. "Thor really wants to win Roubaix. I’m ready to help him there," he promised. Plainly, he would never turn down a chance to cross the line first in the Roubaix velodrome. That cobble trophy is a rather nice prize. But the Australian said, "Flanders means more to me." Describing the atmosphere at the Ronde, he said, "the Belgians are crazy. There’s so much energy, so much emotion." Climbing the Mur through the tunnel of screaming fans is an unmatched experience. "You get goosebumps." Of the races he wants to win in his career, Haussler said, "Flanders is the biggest one."

Interestingly, he does not see too much difference between the cobbled monuments, Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix. "They’re very similar, very technical. You have to always be alert, and watching the bunch. You don’t want a crash or a puncture." Experience helps. "More knowledge in the classics makes a big difference, just knowing the course more," he explained. Though Paris-Roubaix may look like an exercise in brute force, Haussler considers tactics to be important in both races.

The team has not set its rosters for the entire season, but Haussler will likely skip the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France. "I’ll have a break after Roubaix," he confirmed, and that break would coincide with the Italian grand tour. He is also likely to skip the Tour de France. Heinrich Haussler, Tour de France, 2009. Photo: Jasper Juinen/Getty. It is a numbers game at Garmin-Cervélo, and with only nine slots for the Tour, not everyone will get to race. "I’ve already told the team management that I don’t want to do the Tour de France," he said. "I don’t want to deal with the stress of the Tour."

It will be a challenge to make the Tour squad at Garmin-Cervélo. "You have to be on great form at the Tour de Suisse to make the Tour team," Haussler explained. "There are too many big riders," and he listed off the Garmin-Cervélo riders with general classification pedigree: Vande Velde has finished fifth, Le Mevel, tenth, Ryder Hesjedal, seventh. He also mentioned Dan Martin as a possible Tour rider, though Vaughters has suggested it may be too soon for the young Irish climber to take on the French grand tour. "You’ve got Zabriskie and Millar, too. Then, with the sprinters, you need lead-outs, that means Julian Dean," continued Haussler. If you add two sprinters, Thor Hushovd and Tyler Farrar, the team roster looks mighty full. Only a team deep with talent could afford to leave a rider like Haussler at home. After all, he does have a Tour stage win to his credit, and Slipstream in its three years at the Tour has never yet celebrated a stage victory. Still, Haussler is content to avoid France in July. "It’ll be a lot of pressure" he emphasized.

For now, it is a pressure he would prefer to avoid in favor of focusing his energies on the one day races. At the same time, Haussler does not rule out a future run at the Green Jersey, a prize that suits his fast finish and all-around strength. "Maybe one or two seasons" from now, he’ll make an attempt at the Tour’s points prize. "First, I want to concentrate on the the one day races," he said.

Not surprisingly, Haussler has this year’s World Championship race in Denmark in his sights. By accounts, the course is made for the sprinters. Haussler has not seen it yet, but he has heard about the finish and believes it will suit him. "The final 500 meters are a gradual uphill finish," as he understands it. Like his trade team Garmin-Cervélo, Haussler’s national team is stacked with talent. The Australians have a wealth of talent for a sprinters’ worlds, and Haussler named Alan Davis and Matt Goss, especially after his recent successes at Tour Down Under, as likely leaders. There will be "lots of competition" to make the Australian team and Haussler expects that he will have to race well in the late season to make the team. Though it is some distance down the calendar, his current plan includes a trip to the Vuelta a España to dial in his form for Worlds.

Pro bike racing means many days of travel and very little time at home. Haussler has spent about three days at home in Freiburg since October. Little wonder he has a break planned after the Hell of the North. Ask a professional cyclist what he does with his spare time, and most of the time, the answer involves a whole lot of nothing. Haussler is no different. "I like to sit around in my place or meet up with friends," he said of his short stays at home. "I’m not going to do something crazy." What? No bungy jumping? "I like to just do nothing," he said. Haussler expects to be on the road non-stop until after Paris-Roubaix.

Spend enough time traveling, and you fall into certain habits. Jens Voigt claimed famously that he always checks the television first thing when he walks into a new hotel room. Last season at Cervélo, Haussler frequently shared rooms with Jeremy Hunt. Haussler and Hunt fell into their own particular ritual. First, cue up the soundtrack. Now, picture Jeremy Hunt as Billy Idol. Hey little sister who’s your superman? Before the big races, it was White Wedding time with Hunt and Haussler. Am I the only one wishing there was video?

At last, we came down to the most important question of all. Forget the bike racing. Does he know? Yes, my friends, yes, he knows. The regulars in the audience know exactly what I’m talking about. For those of you who are new to the loopy world of the Cafe, Haussler has for some time occupied a special place here at Podium Cafe as the star of the Barbie Barbie series. Go on, click the link, you know you want to.

Heinrich Haussler, Tour de France 2009. Photo: Jasper Juinen/Getty.Last season, Ted King, then at Cervélo, paid us a visit and subsequently showed Haussler his alter ego. Barbie, he has a sense of humor. When I asked him what he thought of his body double, he started laughing. "It’s funny," he said and he seemed happy to have his own tribute comic. He likes us! He really likes us! "It’s really cool," more laughing. Deep in the workshop at the Barbie Barbie world headquarters a new season’s worth of hijinx are just waiting to be born.

In the meantime, Haussler started the Tour of Qatar on Sunday. The sprinter-friendly race marks the beginning of a road he hopes will lead to victory in Sanremo. "I just want to show that 2009 wasn’t a fluke. I want to show people that I can win the big races," he said of his goal for the coming season. In the Garmin-Cervélo classics team, he seems to have won the chance to chase victory at Milano-Sanremo in return for supporting Thor Hushovd’s ambitions at Paris-Roubaix. If all goes according to plan, the trade-off could well yield results for everyone involved. Along the way, Haussler will look for his chances at the Ronde van Vlaanderen, where even the pros get goosebumps from the raw energy on display. Most of all, he will be hoping to put last year’s disaster season behind him. It’s a nice day to start again.


Credits for photos and art used in the Barbie montage: Passo di Gavia panorama (above couch): original pictures by Frisia Orientalis, assembled and edited by Daniel Schwen. California beach shot (through window): Mark James Miller, original photographer. Both images licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license for adaptation, copying, distribution, and transmission with attribution. Use of these images does not imply endorsement or approval by the original artists. Crayon art copyright Jen See, Podium Cafe.