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Heinrich Haussler Q&A: ‘Van der Poel is an absolute freak’

35-year-old Australian talks racing with van der Poel, why riders need brains as well as brawn, and his mentoring role in Bahrain-McLaren.

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When Heinrich Haussler (Bahrain-McLaren) won a stage in the 2005 Vuelta a España, Remco Evenepoel was barely five years old.

At 35, Haussler is established as one of the elder statesmen of the peloton. He’s amazed at the emergence of young riders like 19-year-old Evenepoel and 22-year-old Egan Bernal. That only makes him motivated to keep racing and share his knowledge.

He’s watched the younger riders rise with both awe and interest. He’s bedazzled by their collective ability, but notes that they’re missing some of the racing acumen and experience that they will need if they truly want to become one of cycling’s legends.

That’s where Haussler comes in. As he rides into his 17th season, it’s his turn to share the love. He was once one of the peloton’s young puppies, winning a Vuelta stage at just 21. Now he’s developing into a mentor and teacher for today’s phenomena.

Haussler won two stages of the Tour of Qatar in 2011, and placed second overall. Evenepoel was 12-years-old at the time.

VeloNews caught up with Haussler to hear his takes on how “Gen Z” is reshaping the sport.

VeloNews: You won a Vuelta stage in 2005 when you were 21, what does it feel like looking back at that now in 2019?
Heinrich Haussler: It feels like a lifetime ago. When I see some of the younger guys in the peloton, I say to them, ‘when I won that stage at the Vuelta, you were still wearing your nappies.’ It does feel like a long time ago.

VN: You’re now one of the veterans in the peloton …
HH: In my head, I don’t feel old or feel like one of the older guys. I remember when I was starting out and I was looking at the veterans, thinking man, they’re already 35-36. I’m in that situation now, but I don’t feel like it. As long as you love what you’re doing, the age doesn’t feel it.

VN: You’re still younger than Valverde [40 in April]…
HH: Man, he’s still flying. What a rider. He’s still top of the class.

VN: It seems like riders are having longer careers these days. So despite the youth boom, there’s still room in the peloton for older riders?
HH: I’m not saying that younger guys are not smart, but they aren’t. They’re very strong, but they don’t have the brains. You’re seeing every team having two or three veteran guys, especially in the grand tours, to keep the young guys out of trouble. We can read the race. It’s about giving the guys tips, on where to ride in the bunch, when they need to be at the front. It’s important to have an older rider who can share that knowledge.

VN: Do you try to take on the role of mentor at Bahrain-Merida [to become Bahrain-McLaren in 2020]?
HH: I do. I had that when I was younger, at Cervélo, with guys like Roger Hammond and Andreas Klier, they taught me everything I know, and I am forever grateful. It’s not often that the older guys share. I’m thankful for that and I see myself going in that direction, passing that knowledge to a new generation. It’s not something you’re born with. It’s a learning process that takes many, many years. Remco [Evenepoel] can go out there and do what he does because he’s so strong. He doesn’t have to think. When you put the two together, you get a rider who is unstoppable.

Haussler will focus on guiding rising talents like 25-year-old Mohoric in 2020. Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images

VN: Maybe that’s Mathieu van der Poel?
HH: When I see that guy race, it’s bloody impressive. He’s an absolute freak. He’s great for the sport. I love how he switches from mountain biking to ‘cross to road. I do a lot of mountain biking myself, and I know how hard it is. The engine you need and the amount of watts you need to produce in the one-and-a-half hour on the bike is completely different from what we’re doing on the road. You’ll see him do a mountain bike race one weekend, and then rock up to a road race, and he’ll win a stage. It’s mind-blowing.

VN: You raced with him in the spring classics, what’s he like on the bike?
HH: Oh man, he pisses gold and shits diamonds. He’s amazing. Like what he did at Flanders. He crashed at Kwaremont. The pace is so high there, and there are no ‘sticky bottles’ or behind the cars, because there are no cars at that situation. I remember him coming past me on the Koppenberg, and I didn’t know he had crashed at that point. For most guys, it would be game over. And it wasn’t like he was right back up. He fought back and finished fourth — it was just unbelievable. He’s one of the biggest talents that cycling’s has ever seen.

VN: You have one more year on your contract, you’re healthy again, you had a good classics season, how long do you want to keep racing?
HH: I want to keep going as long as possible. You only get one chance to be professional. Once it’s done, it’s done. I am just going to use every opportunity I can. So long as I am having fun, so why not? Doing a grand tour at the end of the season is good [the Vuelta] and it carries you into the spring classics.

VN: So you will continue to develop into that captain’s role?
HH: For sure. In the classics, we have Matej Mohoric and Ivan Cortina coming up. I am going to be more for them next year. My main focus is to help out in the sprints and to shine in the classics.