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Haussler hoping to turn season around in California

After three straight second-place finishes, Heinrich Haussler hopes his day will come soon to get on top of the podium

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SANTA ROSA, California (VN) — Heinrich Haussler is not a man to mince his words.

Asked to rate his 2012 season thus far — a season that includes a fourth-place finish at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad to highlight an otherwise disappointing spring classics campaign — the Garmin-Barracuda rider summarized it succinctly, saying, “it’s been shit, really.”

It was a stark admission from a rider who has struggled to return to the form he enjoyed in 2009, the year Haussler finished second at Milan-San Remo and the Tour of Flanders, and won a mountain stage of the Tour de France, soloing across the finish line in the rain and in tears, four minutes ahead of his breakaway companions.

A heavy crash with Mark Cavendish at the 2010 Tour of Switzerland ended his Tour ambitions that year (as well as Tom Boonen’s), and Haussler spent the remainder of the season recovering from knee surgery. It was an excuse the Australian was able to fall back on during the 2011 season, but he admits it’s not something he can use to justify his lack of results this year.

After his Garmin team drilled the pace down Jamison Creek Road on stage 2 Haussler finished the bunch sprint in second, as he did on stage 1. He scored another runner-up result on Tuesday after appearing to have the stage win in Livermore within his reach. After three stages the Aussie sits second overall at the Amgen Tour of California, but he realizes that registering wins is what matters most.

“All through the classics I was there, but I wasn’t there.” Haussler told VeloNews. “I couldn’t go with the big guns, and that’s pretty disappointing for me. The years before I had an excuse: I was injured. I didn’t have the preparation or the training. But this year I did, so I’m not happy with the way things went. I can understand why people are asking, ‘Why was he so good in 2009 and not now?’ I’m also frustrated. After the classics I was sitting home, lying in bed, and there’s just questions, ‘why isn’t it working?’ Now I’m really focused on the second part of the season.”

However, what that second part of the season will include is very much uncertain. A disappointing classics season forced Haussler to shift his focus away from the Olympics, but with Garmin likely to focus on both GC and sprints at the Tour, he doesn’t see a role for himself on that squad.

“At beginning of season, the Olympics were the big goal,” he said. “But obviously the Australians are so good at the moment, with results popping up everywhere, and I’ve had no results, so unless I pull something out of my ass here [in California], two stage wins, or a stage here and a stage at the Tour of Switzerland, I’m not really in contention to put up my hand and say, ‘Look guys, I want to ride.’ There are other guys who are stronger. It’s a five-man [Olympic] team and two of those guys are going to be time trialists, so there are only really three spots for proper road riders.

“My chances don’t look so good at the moment, and that’s why I said I want to do the Tour; if I’m not going to make the Olympic team, I don’t want to sit around all season and do nothing,” he continued. “But even to make the Tour de France team with Garmin is going to be tough, I don’t really fit in there, either. It’s a bit of a pain in the ass at the moment. They are going more for GC. I’d like to go for attacks; if I went to the Tour I’d like to do my own thing, not ride every day at the front.”

If he doesn’t ride the Tour, Haussler said he would race the Tour of Poland. Beyond that, riding the Vuelta a España is also an option, though Haussler said he’s not excited about racing in the baking heat of the Spanish sun, particularly if he’s not using the Spanish tour to prepare for the Australian world championships squad, which he is unsure of making.

Haussler’s contract with Garmin is up at the end of 2012, and though he admits he’s not sure how his skill set fits into the team’s structure — particularly as Belgians Johan Vansummeren and Sep Vanmarcke have stepped up as its classics stars — he said he’s happy with team management.

“It’s still a long way until the end of the season,” he said. “I haven’t made any decisions, my manager’s speaking with teams but it’s not like I’m not happy. I like the team. They’ve been looking after me even though I haven’t been bringing the results that I should be. But I’m confident that I’ll get back to that level.”

Asked if he is still enjoying racing a full three years after his best season, the 28-year-old hedged his answer.

“The classics weren’t that enjoyable this year, like they used to be,” he said. “After Wevelgem and Harelbeke I was just empty. The team was in Ghent for three or four weeks, and after Harelbeke I said, ‘Look, I need to freshen up. I need to go home.’ So I just went home, only trained once or twice up until Flanders, and I felt something coming back. I could actually attack a bit, and get up to the front in the important stages of the race. I’m excited to come back again. It’s been a bad two years now, but you can’t always have good years. I’m not really that worried anymore. I know I’ve got good form. It’s definitely coming.”

Unfortunately for Haussler and Garmin, Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) knows he has good form as well, and has put a road block in front of the Aussie for three days in a row. Haussler will have one more chance Wednesday, when the bunch takes in the 210km stage to Clovis.