He made his way over to the table easily, in the skin of a man who’s done this sort of thing for years and years, and always looked good doing it. Heinrich Haussler is a bike racer, but he’s also a guy. The kind you’d drink a beer with. The kind who can walk into a bar and look like a guy, not a bike racer. In other words, Heinrich Haussler is cool.
On this night, in the Middle East, he was relaxed. We looked toward the classics campaign he’s in the middle of now. He hadn’t had a drink in months and seemed to be throwing everything he had at this season. Time is money in pro cycling. It’s been hard for Haussler in recent years to notch a top result. His success came early, and not easily, but very early. It’s been difficult to get back to the level that saw him win a stage at the Vuelta a España as a rookie in 2005. He finished second at both the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) and Milano-Sanremo in 2009, and won a stage at the Tour de France that year.
But the rent is high in the space he occupies, somewhere between the speed of a Peter Sagan and the strength of a Tom Boonen. Thing is, both those guys are better at what they do, meaning Haussler (IAM Cycling) has to find other ways to win. And he says he likes that. Sitting in the bunch is shit, he says. Here’s what else he had to say on that night in February.
VeloNews: How’d you come to the sport?
Heinrich Haussler: I got a bike for Christmas. My dad was a soccer player when he was younger and had really bad knees, so he started cycling. Did a few races, and the local club where I grew up started to get popular and a week after I got my bike did a few races.
It is a long time ago. The season ends, you have a month off, and then you’re already getting ready for the next. It’s always the same, it flies by. I’m 29. I’m not going to ride until I’m 40. Every year it’s getting harder and harder racing at such a high level. I can’t see myself doing it for that long. Maybe another three years. Then after that maybe just help out at the classics.
When I was young I had a good season my first year and everything went to my head and I got very arrogant, took things for granted, and as you get older you have to try harder. I’m older and wiser and I know what I need to do. Back then you just train and go out and have fun, go to parties, and then injuries. … Had an operation on my knee. Last year I broke my hip. It’s all setbacks, it’s just the way it is in cycling. Every cyclist has setbacks.
VN: What would you tell your 24-year-old self?
HH: Do your shit different. I’m not worried about anything I’ve done in the past, because it’s made me the rider I am today. I live for the sport.
VN: But you don’t seem the type to be so self-involved you’re cranky with your close ones over it.
HH: I’m not cranky with my girlfriend or friends. They have to put up with a lot with me not being around, living out of a suitcase, you have to keep all this stuff in order at home. There’s a lot of stuff going on before I leave, it’s not easy. That’s why I say I want to do this in the next three years, go try everything, try to win the classics and if it doesn’t work I’ll try to pass on to younger riders to teach them.
VN: What’s the biggest thing you’ve sacrificed? What’s the hardest part?
HH: Just [not] being at home. When people ask what are your hobbies or what do you do for holidays … I don’t have holidays, just being at home, sitting on the couch watching TV is my hobby. Even then it’s like, you get a text about wanting to meet up and then you just don’t want to.
VN: Everyone’s going to remember the crash between you and Cav [at the 2010 Tour de Suisse]. Do you still think about that?
HH: It’s nothing against Cav. I had already had problems with knees before and I was just coming back and during one of the first stages I was really working towards the Tour de France and the crash happened and just after that I had to get operated on, and even after that I had to do rehab. It just went on and on and on and then [I] changed to Garmin. Not saying a wasted two years, but I mean, I signed a big contract after 2009 with Cervélo [TestTeam] and the contract was taken over.
VN: Is there a reason it didn’t work out with Garmin?
HH: I think everyone thought it was going to be this massive classics team that would just smash and it just didn’t work, it didn’t happen. I mean, for some guys the team is great, like the American guys and time trialists, and for me it just wasn’t that great.
I don’t always want to compare [IAM Cycling] to Cervélo. But it is the same atmosphere, same top tier of riders, it will take time; it’s not as easy as it was back then. It’s also new to me, the classics team, and now it’s more about building up the younger guys and showing them more tips on how to race the classics. We have [Sylvain] Chavanel, who is a big for the team, especially the classics. He’s one of the best riders in the peloton. He can do everything. Climb, go GC, time trials, wins these stages in the sprints, or the classics.
VN: You’ll be on the Tour team?
HH: Yeah, for sure. First I’ll do classics then the next is the Tour.
VN: You had a good year last year at the classics. Consistent. Is it enough to finish third, fourth, fifth?
HH: Everyone wants to win, but it’s more about racing. But it’s the way I like to race, like in 2009, just attacking. I want to go there and race hard and make people suffer. If you can do that and you’re in the position, you can do that and attack, it’s the best feeling ever, especially in Belgium. Crazy roads, people screaming your name, it gives you adrenaline to go harder at 60 kph. That’s why I love to race the classics that much.
VN: If you’re going to win, you can’t just sit in the bunch. Do you have to race differently now?
HH: Now everyone is at such a top level. Everyone is so strong. The whole team is top classic riders. It’s not just like three or four classic riders. It’s going to be very difficult. Last year we were a new team and we were learning still, this year we have one year under our belts and with Chavanel, people on the team will be more motivated to be part of the team.
VN: You classics guys … you pick the hardest races where the most could go wrong. You train five months for two days of racing. Would it not be easier to target something else?
HH: Sure, it could be. But the sensation of when you’ve been in the fight, attacking, people screaming your name, you want that feeling and sensation back.
VN: Is there something you think when you read the pieces we write — is there something that journalists are constantly getting wrong?
HH: If people aren’t happy with what I [say], they say they shouldn’t read it. Sometimes people tell me to watch my language, but it’s just how I am. I’m not going to change what I say.
VN: Are you happy with what the sport has given you so far?
HH: Absolutely. I’ve seen so many things, it’s given me the opportunity to earn money. Not big, big money, but decent money, but what the average person would have to really work for.
VN: When you reflect on your career, what still drives you crazy? What do you want the record of Heinrich Haussler to read?
HH: It doesn’t have to say anything, I know inside myself. If I try and make my training to be 100-percent serious, if I’m not good enough to win with my training and health and all this, then it’s just the way it was. But I’m giving it 100 percent and I know that inside myself.
VN: If you hadn’t been a cyclist what would you have done?
HH: I have no idea. I started cycling when I was six. I went to Germany when I was 14. Pretty much gave up on school pretty early and focused 100 percent on cycling, trying to be a professional. So if it didn’t work out … I would have had to go back to school and study. I’m not a person that could work in an office or something.