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LEON, Spain (VN) — After three frustrating seasons, Heinrich Haussler (IAM Cycling) says the magic is back and promises to be a factor in Sunday’s Milano-Sanremo.
The German-Australian nearly won the 2009 edition of “La Primavera,” losing by fractions of an inch to Mark Cavendish just weeks before riding to second at the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders).
After injuries and an unsatisfying stint at Garmin-Sharp stymied his progress, Haussler made the move to the new Swiss IAM team for 2013.
“I am absolutely flying,” Haussler told VeloNews. “I haven’t won a race yet, but the way I am climbing and feeling. It’s that same lightness exactly like in 2009. I’ve never been climbing this good.”
Haussler, 29, will anchor the start-up IAM Cycling team for Sanremo and the cobbled classics to the north. The team has earned selection to all the major classics this spring, something of a surprise for a first-year team. Last week, the squad confirmed its invitation to Flanders.
“It’s a surprise. I didn’t expect to get into all the classics,” Haussler said. “It’s a reward to how much the team has been working. It’s already like a top-level team. The main thing for me was to go to Sanremo and Flanders.”
Those two races — San Remo and Flanders — are where Haussler announced his arrival in the peloton three years ago.
He had been knocking around, scoring a few wins, including a stage at the 2005 Vuelta a España, but never reached his full potential. Haussler admitted he was spending too much time in the bars in the off-season and not enough time on the bike.
With the move to Cérvelo Test Team, he said he put his wild days behind him and got serious. The results came with Cérvelo in 2009. Following his breakout spring campaign, he won a stage at the Tour de France from a breakaway. Haussler cupped his teary-eyed face in his hands as he crossed the line in Colmar, making for one of the most memorable images from the 96th Tour.
In 2010, some heavy crashes knocked him back and when the Cérvelo team folded, Haussler finished out his contract with Garmin, but by his own account, he never quite fit in.
“The last two years haven’t been so good,” Haussler said. “That’s just the way it is. Sometimes you just don’t fit into a team. Garmin’s a great team, but I didn’t fit in. I needed a new team and I needed to do what I want to do.”
When IAM Cycling, a new Swiss team backed by a financial investment firm, came calling last fall, Haussler was quick to sign on.
Despite the risk of not knowing what his racing schedule would look like, Haussler said the atmosphere reminds him of what he found at Cérvelo.
“In 2009, when I made that step of going to a new team, I had a good experience with that at Cérvelo,” he said. “Everyone is just motivated, everyone wants to get out there and show that we’re good. Because it’s a Swiss team, it has that Swiss mentality of being 100-percent organized. So far it’s been great.”
Haussler hasn’t notched a win yet this season, but he said he was confident he has the form to challenge for victory in the coming weeks.
When asked if he would be racing for revenge in Sanremo and Flanders, Haussler insisted he was not.
“I don’t have scores to settle,” he said. “The way I am feeling now, I know I am back and I can actually do something. Not like that last three years.”
For Sanremo, Haussler said he hopes the race is fast and selective, with damage to the peloton coming over the Cipressa and the Poggio.
“I want it to be as hard as possible. It would be nice to get rid of some of the sprinters,” he said. “[Cannondale’s Peter] Sagan is taking the piss. If there’s a sprint, that’s the wheel to follow.”
Haussler believes he can be a player Sunday and said he’s afraid of no one. Well, no one except Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Leopard).
“The only person I am worried about, who I cannot follow, is Cancellara,” he said. “He’s been riding smart, not showing how strong he is. I know he’s back on his top level. He’s the man to watch.”
Haussler’s confidence is clearly sky high. Whether his legs are the same as 2009 remains to be seen.