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BALLARAT, Australia — While all the pre-race buzz surrounded recently crowned time trial champion Richie Porte (Sky) and retiring Tour de France winner Cadel Evans (BMC Racing), the oft-forgotten Heinrich Haussler (IAM Cycling) stole the show by out-sprinting 20-year-old neo-pro sensation Caleb Ewan (Orica-GreenEdge) and Neil van der Ploeg (Avanti Racing Team) for the Australian road race title Sunday in Buninyong, Victoria.
In what would have been a near identical runner-up finish to his crushing defeat to Mark Cavendish at the 2009 Milan-Sanremo, Haussler avoided near disaster crossing the line in front of the 2014 under-23 national road champion Ewan as he was in the process of dropping his chain.
“I said no, this isn’t going to happen again,” Haussler said after the race. “I was just trying to get everything out of my legs just to try to get to that line first.
“It was a really tough sprint and the lactic acid was coming out of my ears, and those last 100 meters was like back in Sanremo.”
The Australian/German dual national, who was forced to renounce his German citizenship to be eligible to race for Australia at the 2010 UCI Road World Championships in Geelong, had spent the majority of the 18-lap, 183.6-kilometer road race in a 15-man breakaway that had dissipated and reformed several times over the middle of the race in a game of cat and mouse. A group of 17 riders, including Haussler and Ewan, established itself on lap 16 before splintering in a race-winning break midway through the penultimate lap.
It has been lean times for the 30-year-old Haussler since his breakthrough year in 2009 that included a stage wins at both Paris-Nice and the Tour de France, as well as second-place finishes at Milano-Sanremo and the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) while riding for the Cervélo Test Team.
The promising one-day specialist was forced to abandon his hopes of racing for Australia after a nasty spill at the 2010 Tour de Suisse sent Haussler’s career spiraling downward with a nagging knee injury. His most notable accomplishments since have been two stage wins at Bayern-Rundfahrt (2013-14) and the points classification title at Paris-Nice in 2011.
“To be honest, I still can’t believe it,” said Haussler. “It’s seriously the best day of my life.
“Since 2009, it’s been ups and downs, up and downs, coming back, building up, getting down, building up.
“The window really worked out to come out in December to Australia to get ready for nationals and Down Under and everything has fallen into place, and seriously it’s the best day of my life and I don’t know what to say.”
Of the 149 starters on the day, under balmy conditions only 57 riders finished including both Evans (11th) and Porte (22nd). Porte and Evans never featured in the race as rivals marked them out of contention.
Last year’s champion Simon Gerrans (Orica), who also won in 2012, was forced to withdraw prior to the start after suffering a broken collarbone while on a training ride in late December.
For Haussler, who joined then Pro Continental team IAM Cycling in 2013, the new year marks a significant return to form and he looks to have his career back on track.
“The team has to really step up,” he said of the IAM’s new WorldTour status. “We have a lot of good new riders and there has been a big change in management — everything has changed.
“At the end of the season, everyone will be saying, ‘where did IAM come from?’”
Haussler will now join his IAM teammates, including fellow Australian Dave Tanner, who finished 23rd on the day, at the Santos Tour Down Under, the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, and the Tour of Qatar before returning to Europe to prepare for the spring classics and a second shot at Sanremo and Flanders.
“You know the classics are a big goal,” Haussler said. “That’s my passion and what I want to get ready for. It’s going to be really hard to get a good result there but that’s what I want to do.
“I want to go to Down Under now and try to win a stage there. Obviously that’s going to be hard but that’s a goal and to basically build form for the classics.
“It may be one of the last years that Sanremo is going to be a sprint again, until they put bigger climbs in it, so definitely Sanremo,” concluded Haussler. “It’s the thing that’s been in the back of my mind and then Flanders and Roubaix.”