At 38 years of age, Heinrich Haussler thought that his chance of ever representing Australia in a major championship was well and truly over.
He had been a surprise omission from last year’s worlds team despite the course in Leuven ideally to his characteristics, and after missing out for a fourth straight year it looked like his time had passed.
Fast forward another season and Haussler has made the cut and the long journey from his home in Europe to Australia for this year’s UCI Road World Championships, where he will hope to draw a talented home team together in support of pre-race leader Michael Matthews.
“This might sound cheesy but this is going to be one of the proudest moments of my career,”
Haussler told VeloNews minutes after stepping off a flight to Australia.
“This is something I’m really looking forward to, and it’s going to be a special day. I’m 38 years old now and this is probably going to be my last worlds. To do that in Australia, in front of my school friends cheering me on, it’s going to mean so much to me.”
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Haussler’s last appearance in the green and gold came back in 2017 at the Bergen Worlds in Norway. He’s missed out on selection every season since then as selectors looked to crack the code that would land the men’s team its first elite rainbow jersey since Cadel Evans in 2009.
Despite a bout of COVID, Haussler has structured the second half of his season around a possible ride at worlds and part of his motivation stemmed from missing out in previous editions of the event.
“It’s been a while since I’ve done worlds but I’ve been working hard all summer,” he said.
“I spent all summer away from my wife and kids and up at altitude. I’d then go straight to races and then back to altitude. The last time I raced worlds was back in Bergen, so quite a long time ago. I was pretty gutted when I wasn’t selected last year, especially when it was in Leuven and designed for classics riders. I was heartbroken last year but there’s been a lot of communication between them with myself and the core group and Australian management so we can get things on track for our home worlds.
“To be honest I was still a bit surprised to get the call-up. Sometimes age can be a factor. Sometimes teams or directors can see a 38-year-old say ‘sorry it doesn’t matter how much experience you have, you’re too old.’ Some national teams want that experience though as a road captain to help keep the guys in position so that the leaders can just switch off and follow wheels. That’s what I want to do. I want to help the team be a team.”
The major talking about when it came to the selection of the men’s team centered around the selectors’ decision to base the team around Matthews while Caleb Ewan was left at home.
Ewan is Australia’s best sprinter but the Lotto-Soudal rider has struggled with consistency all season. He mised out on stage wins at both the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France but did win the GP de Fourmies / La Voix du Nord at the weekend.
The course does not lend itself to a bunch sprint, and while Haussler is friends with both Ewan and Matthews, he also recognized that the selectors had a tough decision to make.
“Either way you’re going to get some shit from the press if you don’t because he just won but nothing against Caleb but he’s had a lot of bad luck this year,” Haussler said.
“He’s been successful this year but maybe not winning at the Giro or the Tour… It’s a really tough decision but I honestly don’t think we’ll have 30 to 40 riders finishing together at Worlds. It’s not a climb where you can float over, and having guys like [Tadej] Pogačar and [Wout] Van Aert, it’s going to make the difference.”