Culture

Day in the life: Heinrich Haussler

Full-gas training on open roads and two young sons keeping Australian veteran busy in southwest Germany.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought professional cycling to a halt. In the coming weeks we will be reaching out to pro riders and other personalities from the sport to understand how their lives are continuing amidst the shutdown.

Heinrich Haussler isn’t missing a beat during the coronavirus lockdown.

Sure, he missed out on his favorite northern classics, but he can’t wait to get back to racing. But the unprecedented racing stoppage has been a blessing in disguise. Haussler has been able to continue training outside, and he is getting to spend invaluable time with his twin sons, aged 5.

“I am so lucky compared to some of my teammates,” Haussler told VeloNews. “They’ve been riding the rollers for five or six weeks now. I’ve been training full-gas here the entire time.”

Haussler lives on the outskirts of Freiberg, on the edge of the Black Forest in southwestern Germany. Just five minutes from his home, he’s on low-traffic roads, riding a mix of dirt, flats and short but steep climbs.

“Things are much different here in Germany compared to what’s happening in Spain or Italy,” the Bahrain-McLaren rider said in a telephone interview. “The government seems to have gotten ahead of the virus very early.”

Schools and restaurants are closed, but people are allowed to go outside so long as everyone follows social distancing. For Haussler, that means he can keep training and riding his bike.

Location: Freiburg, Germany

What are the current regulations for where you live about going outside?

There are no limitations about going outside. When I came back from Paris-Nice, things were starting to shut down, but the government allows everyone to do sport. We still have so much freedom here in Germany, and I realize how lucky I am when I talk to my teammates. Some have been locked down for five, six weeks. It’s hard to get my head around how bad things are in other parts of Europe. Here, the weather is great, and I rode four hours this morning with no arm warmers or leg warmers.

Haussler is disappointed to be missing the classics, but warm weather, relaxed conditions, and family time make up for it. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

What races were you planning to do that have been canceled or postponed?

We were at Paris-Nice, and we could see how things were starting to close down. The team decided to leave the race because borders were shutting down, and we’re such an international team, we wanted to make sure everyone on the team got home safely. This year was the first year that I was going to miss Milano-Sanremo. I was on the schedule for every classic after that. It’s such a big block of racing for the classics that Sanremo just wasn’t ideal for me, even though it’s a race I love. San Remo isn’t as important for me anymore, and we have a whole bunch of other talented guys on the team who are better suited. Mentally, you need to be 100 percent for the northern classics, so we decided I would stay at home, and be a little fresher going to Belgium.

You love racing the cobbled classics, what was your reaction when you heard they were being canceled?

It was disappointing, of course, but you could see how things were going. It wasn’t a big surprise. It’s easy to say now, but I really believe we would have had a great classics season. The team’s really changed, and we race as a team now, and with the way we were racing early on, so it was a massive blow to the team to miss the classics. On the other hand you see what is happening, and it was the only right thing to do. One way, it’s disappointing because you have put all the work over the past five, six months to be ready for these races. And I’m 36 now, and I’m not getting younger. It’s another year gone, but it’s just the way it is. Everyone knows it’s a bad situation, and other things are more important than Roubaix.

What are you doing today?

Actually, today was my day off. The routine is pretty normal, with training and recovery. The obvious big difference is that we’re not racing. The best thing is that I have more family time. When we’re racing and traveling so much, it’s always mommy, mommy for the kids. Now they’re starting to ask daddy to help them do things. That’s very special.

Haussler’s twin sons are just five years old.

Are you doing a workout? If so, what specifically?

I’ve been training hard to be ready if and when we race again. It’s better now that the Tour de France has a date, even though it still might not happen. I’ve also been working with my therapist because we’re at home. When the season is on, it’s pretty much race and travel, and there’s no time for that. In 2017, I really had some bad knee problems. I was ready to stop cycling because of the pain. It didn’t matter which doctor I went to see, it never seemed to get better. One of my riding buddies said he knew a guy, and I started working with him. Within three weeks, I was back on the bike, riding two-three hours without any pain. I’ve been seeing him since then, and now I have no knee problems. When you get older, you need to invest time in your body. When you’re 20-21, you can do anything, ride six-seven hours, and you’re not even tired. The older you get, the recovery slows down, and you need to invest the time and effort to stay at the top level.

What indoor gear are you using?

To be honest, I don’t even have a home trainer. I don’t have a Zwift account. I see all these guys posting stuff on social media, and I have no idea how it feels. Guys are saying how brutal it is doing these races and sessions online. That’s why I am training so hard and long because I appreciate the fact that I can. I cannot imagine having to ride on the trainer without even having a target. It’s one thing if you’re recovering from an injury or you have a specific target. It’s a big question mark about how these guys are going to come out of this, riding the trainer day-in, day-out. A lot of these guys when they start racing again are not going to be 100 percent. Riding five or six weeks on the rollers is more mentally fatiguing than if you’re training outdoors.

What is your motivation for training right now?

I’ve been training like crazy. I’ve been training harder right now than I could during the season, you can afford to go hard because there’s no racing. I also do it because it’s fun. I’ve been hitting the cross bike and mountain bike as well, to mix things up. Even if I weren’t a pro, I’d still be out there on my bike anyway because I love riding my bike. I love smashing myself on the climbs, and coming back exhausted. When I stop racing, cycling will always be a part of my life. I won’t be one of these pros who never touch their bike again.

How are you communicating with friends and family?

The team has really been good at keeping everyone together. We do video updates with the whole team, we talk to our coaches and trainers. We have conference calls, and every morning, the whole team comes together for a core-training session every day at 9 a.m. Management will send out e-mails, with different riders, staff members, mechanics, in a general chat to discuss how things are going. And the riders, we have some chats going on WhatsApp, sharing videos and jokes. Everyone’s just trying to get through this.

When do you think you’ll race again?

I hope it will happen again, but we just don’t know where and when. Sometimes when you read about what’s going on, you cannot see anything happening until there is a vaccine. But here in Germany, things have really improved very quickly. The number of cases has dropped dramatically, and the government is already talking about getting things back to normal. It’s still a long way to August, so only time will tell. I think a lot depends on how the governments deal with it, and if things don’t get worse again. In five or six more weeks, we’ll have a much better idea if we’re going to be able to race again or not. It has to be safety first.