Despite the turmoil of the Lance Armstrong doping scandal, life goes on for the majority of the riders inside the peloton today.
Among those is Heinrich Haussler — the 28-year-old hopes that a fresh start with IAM Racing for 2013 will help him return to the winning ways of his magical 2009 season with Cervélo TestTeam.
Haussler struggled to find his place at Garmin-Sharp after Cervélo crumbled at the end of the 2010 season. Add some debilitating injuries and health issues, and after two uninspired seasons, Haussler knows it’s time to produce some big results.
He’s hoping the move to the Swiss-backed start-up squad, where he will be one of the team captains, will give him the extra motivation and support he says he needs to deliver.
“I really haven’t had any results in the past two years. I really just need a change. I need to try something and head to a new team,” Haussler told VeloNews. “I am looking forward to a new start. I really want to get into it next season. I am really motivated for it.”
Three years ago, Haussler burst into prominence, riding to second in both Milan-San Remo and Tour of Flanders before winning an emotional stage across the Alsace through the rain at the 2009 Tour de France.
When Cervélo pulled the plug on the team at the end of its second year, Haussler went from being the center of attention to an outsider at the Garmin outfit. The results in 2011-12 were solid and consistent, but nothing like his breakout 2009 season.
Haussler was among seven riders who joined Garmin for the 2011 season. That marriage was rocky at best. Thor Hushovd, then the reigning world champion, jettisoned after one season to BMC. Others left, too. Haussler was under contract through 2012, but by the end of this season, only Andreas Klier remained for 2013 among the Cervélo crossovers.
It was a double-edged sword for Haussler at Garmin. The team wasn’t keen to back him in the big races when his form and fitness were questionable, and Haussler said that without team backing, he would struggle at best.
“You need a really strong team around, especially in the sprints and the classics. Without a team, you’re nothing,” Haussler said. “There were a few occasions this year when I did reach that level. It was bad luck or maybe I didn’t get enough help. I am not complaining. I knew going into those races that I was going to be by myself.”
Haussler said he never quite gelled with Garmin’s style of racing, which — especially at the spring classics — seems to be open to all comers. Rather than the team rallying around one leader, it allows riders on top form to go for glory. Even in 2011, when Garmin won Paris-Roubaix with Johan Van Summeren, he was the secondary leader behind Hushovd, a tactic that delivered Garmin one of its biggest successes ever, but raised questions from the likes of Haussler.
“It was different with Garmin. You cannot always compare things to the Cervélo TestTeam, but I liked Cervélo’s philosophy. There were the captains and the team was built around those riders,” he said. “That’s exactly what I need. I need a team around me. I have six, seven guys riding for the one guy. Especially now, it just seems more important.”
You cannot blame Haussler for being nostalgic about Cervélo. After turning pro with Gerolsteiner in 2005, Haussler notched some early impressive wins, including a stage at the Vuelta a España in his rookie season.
After joining Cervélo in 2009, Haussler said, he left behind his wild times and began to train and live like a professional bike racer. He said the team ambiance and structure was just what he needed to step up to the next level.
“When I see the other guys, we always talk about how good it was with Cervélo. Maybe it was a once-in-a-lifetime team. A lot of the guys were just average riders, but they got the opportunity and we just grew on that team,” he said. “We went out there and had fun. It was unbelievable. Teams come and go, cycling goes on. It’s something I will never forget. I have very good memories.”
Haussler is hoping to create some good memories again at IAM Racing, a new Swiss-backed team sponsored by a financial investor with at least a three-year commitment.
Haussler’s on a two-year contract with the team and will be one of its top riders going into its debut season. Others include Gustav Larsson, Thomas Lofkvist and Johann Tschopp.
“I am not worried that I cannot get back to that level. It’s really motivating me for next year,” Haussler said. “We’re going to be Pro Continental and we will be depending on invites, so hopefully we can kick it off at the beginning of the season with some good results. And the invites will come.”
Haussler will meet his new teammates at the squad’s first gathering in early December in Switzerland.
“If you start winning races at the beginning of the season, it would be similar to Cervélo, they’d want those riders in the big races. We will have to depend that will get invites to those big races,” he said. “There’s a good mix of riders. Hopefully at our first team meeting [we can] really come together. That’s so important, so hopefully we can just kick off really united.
A new team and new challenges: Hitting the repeat button on 2009 is just what Haussler’s hoping for.