A teary-eyed, mud-caked Haussler could barely express himself Sunday after finishing 10th place in a Roubaix that will live long in the memory.
Haussler had scored one of his best results in the race he loves most, and had been sharing teammate Sonny Colbrelli’s madcap victory celebrations just moments before he came to the mixed zone to speak to the press.
“At the moment I’m almost crying because I’m that happy … but I’m just that completely f**ked, I can’t show any happiness at the moment,” Haussler told reporters in the Roubaix velodrome.
- Colbrelli: ‘I didn’t think i could even finish Paris-Roubaix’
- Riders react to the first wet Roubaix in 19 years
At 37 years old, Haussler was by far the oldest racer in the top-10, and definitely the most delighted.
While an elated Colbrelli was ushered to the podium presentation, riders like Gianni Moscon, Yves Lampaert and Wout van Aert spoke to the media with glazed eyes and harrowed faces, shell-shocked at the six hours of rain, mud and crashes they had just endured.
Not so for Haussler.
The Aussie veteran was celebrating with every teammate and staffer within reach, embracing whoever came close with a muck-splattered bearhug. With the Roubaix rookie Colbrelli landing a season-topping score for Bahrain Victorious, and team rider Marco Haller also in the top-20, there was a lot to cheer for.
“I just can’t believe it …. Sonny’s a f***ing machine, his first Roubaix and he pulls it off,” an emotional Haussler said in praise of his Italian teammate. “He kills it in a Roubaix like this …. it doesn’t get any harder than this. If the team’s smart, they will give him a contract for six years!”
Haussler has had a long and illustrious relationship with the “Hell of the North.”
With 13 previous rides on the pavé under his belt, including two sixth-place finishes and a canny ability to rattle his way into the top-20, Haussler was a name nobody dared rule out ahead of this weekend’s race.
Haussler had pinned all his focus on this year’s autumnal Paris-Roubaix in the hopes of hitting his cherished cobblestones in top form. The tactic worked. He was one of the few that could follow Mathieu van der Poel when the Dutchman started his relentless pursuit after Colbrelli and hung tough in the small group that would later sprint for fifth place in the velodrome.
‘Hardest thing I’ve ever done’
Haussler’s experience racing cyclocross and intimate knowledge of the cobbles had left him quietly confident ahead of what was the first wet men’s “Hell of the North” since 2002. He was happy riding whatever the weather and could navigate the pavé with his eyes closed.
Also read: Haussler’s late-career love of cyclocross
It turns out that he found the 100-kilometer appetizer before the first section of stones the most tricky.
A nerve-riddled peloton ripped through torrential rain and deep puddles in the opening hours of the race, and riders spilled left, right and center. Stefan Küng crashed multiple times, and even bike-skills supremo Peter Sagan hit the tarmac.
“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” Haussler told reporters, reconsidering his previous appetite for a wet race. “I don’t need that again.”
“It was better for me once we started to hit the cobbles because before it was just very hectic [at the start],” he continued.
“I was riding super-low tire pressure today and to be honest, the first 100 kilometers I was suffering a lot just because they’re low pressure. But once I hit the cobbles I felt very comfortable. I had a bit of luck and then once we got to the cobbles, I felt pretty comfortable.”
Although his road season is now over, Haussler won’t be sat on the sofa long.
After becoming an avid cyclocross fan and making his pro racing debut last winter, “Heino” will be throwing himself back into the European mud before he knows it.
With one season left on his contract with Bahrain-Victorious, the muck of the CX winter could make for a preview of a possible swansong at the next Roubaix in six months’ time.
Maybe he will have composed himself by then.