Heinrich Haussler took up cyclocross racing in 2019 as a side-project to compliment his long career on the road. Two years later, the Bahrain-Victorious rider can’t get enough of it – so much so that he will be toeing the start line of the CX worlds Sunday.
“It’s really addictive,” Haussler said. “Cyclocross demands a lot from your body and I love that.”
Heading into his 18th season as a pro roadie and having achieved two second-places in the sport’s fabled monuments, the Aussie veteran had initially taken to the muddy mayhem of European ‘cross racing to keep the motor running through the off-season. It has now become both an indispensable part of his training for the classics, and something of a late-career love affair that he regrets not throwing himself into earlier.
“Next month I will turn 37. As you get older, you lose strength and explosiveness, and those are qualities you need in the classics and the sprints,” Haussler told Sporza.
“During ‘cross racing and training, you sprint up a slope, jump off and on your bike, put on a gear and sprint. And that is always with a short recovery period,” he continued. “And your body adapts to that. I have already noticed that when I do interval training on the road. ‘How easy is this sport?’ I think.”
Haussler has raced six ‘crosses this season, including two rounds of the prestigious World Cup. Though the 36-year-old is one of the many to find themselves getting lapped by dominant players Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel, his real ambitions are a few months down the line at the opening weekend of the classics.
“The benefits you get from the cross are enormous,” he said. “For the classic riders, cyclocross is definitely the best preparation. You can see that with Mathieu and Wout, for example, they crush the whole peloton.”
After racing the worlds in Ostende on Sunday, Haussler will hang up the ‘cross bike for a short period before heading back to the ruts and guts of cyclocross for two races in the weeks ahead of the “opening weekend” of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. For Haussler, the final blast of ‘cross racing will make for the perfect tune-up for his classics challenge.
“Rest assured that you will see me at the front in the Omloop and Kuurne,” he forecast.
Though Haussler has taken a DIY attitude to this year’s ‘cross season, racing without support staff or mechanics to clean and prepare his bikes, he plans to return next year having been given the green light and promise of support from his Bahraini team. But for now, Haussler is just a wide-eyed fanboy riding on luck and passion.
“You can’t imagine how happy I am – like a child – to be able to race the world championships,” he said.
“All those [cyclocross] guys are incredibly strong. Their technical skills are enormous. When I see that, I’m a little angry that I didn’t start cyclocross 20 years ago,” he added. “I look up to them all. During the warm-up, my cell phone is in my shirt and I am almost too embarrassed to ask them for a selfie.”
And his ambition for this Sunday’s world championships?
To not get lapped.
“If I finish the race without Mathieu chasing me down, then my first worlds will be super successful,” he said.