Nearly a decade ago, Heinrich Haussler came within inches of winning Milano-Sanremo, and on Saturday, the IAM Cycling veteran punched back into the frame with a confidence-boosting seventh place.
Saturday’s promising top 10 behind winner Arnaud Démare (FDJ) in the race that marked his arrival in 2009 bodes well for the upcoming northern classics.
“I am very, very happy,” Haussler said Saturday. “This top-10 place will remain an excellent memory for me, and above all, will give me the sort of confidence I need for the rest of the classics.”
Haussler’s photo-finish loss to Mark Cavendish in 2009, quickly backed up with second at the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) and sixth at Paris-Roubaix a few weeks later, was a high-water mark for the now-32-year-old Australian. Since then, he’s struggled with injuries and setbacks in what’s become a long-running quest to recapture that form. He’s only won one race in each of the past three seasons, with his last victory coming in the 2015 Australian national championships.
For Haussler, Saturday’s brush with victory after a few bleak years only fuels his confidence going into the northern classics.
“I have matured and focused on my work all winter,” Haussler said. “I really worked to clear my mind of all those disappointments of the past years. Today, I feel my efforts and sacrifices have been rewarded. I don’t intend to stop here, since I am always thinking about the coming races.”
Things went well for IAM Cycling during the season’s first major classic. Not many counted them as favorites, but the squad snuck Roger Kluge into the day’s main breakaway, taking pressure off the rest of the team riding behind in the main pack. Kluge shrugged off flu-like symptoms, and snuck into the day’s main, 10-rider breakaway that held all the way to the Cipressa.
Leigh Howard started as the team’s other hope for a bunch sprinter, but he got gapped on the Poggio, crossing the line 47th with a group at 36 seconds back.
Spanish veteran Vicente Reynes helped pace Haussler over the Cipressa and Poggio, and then placed him on the wheels to make the final charge down the Via Roma. Haussler sprinted behind Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) and Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) for his best classics result in years.
“I really received unconditional support from the team in this nervous final that was marked by many crashes,” Haussler said. “I am very grateful to Reynes, who used his vast experience to place me in the right position at the right time. It would have been hard to do better under these conditions.”
Up next for Haussler are the major races in Belgium, with E3 Harelbeke, Gent-Wevelgem, and Flanders, and then Paris-Roubaix. He’s hoping Saturday’s kick is the beginning of a return to form.