Hushovd, Haussler in tandem for classics success

Despite the possibilities of major tension within Cervélo TestTeam, where budding superstar Heinrich Haussler and stoic Norwegian Thor Hushovd are both aiming for glory in the spring classics, their “co-habitation” works just fine.

Two captains fighting over the control of any ship usually means trouble. Look no further than the intrigue between Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador last year at Astana.

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Haussler and Hushovd have the guy in the middle in their sights this year. | AFP Photo

Despite the possibilities of major tension within Cervélo TestTeam, where budding superstar Heinrich Haussler and stoic Norwegian Thor Hushovd are both aiming for glory in the spring classics, their “co-habitation” works just fine.

Haussler and Hushovd marched step-in-step through 2009, dominating the spring classics before each had major success at the Tour de France, with Haussler winning a breakaway stage into Colmar and Hushovd taking one stage and fending off Mark Cavendish to win his second green jersey.

So instead of butting heads, both realize that the successful 2009 season was largely built on their mutual strength. Simply put, they are both better off individually working as a unit.

“There’s no problem between us. We want to win the big races as a team,” Hushovd said during a break in the team’s training camp last month. “Look at Het Volk (Omloop Het Nieuwsblad), maybe I won because Heinrich was in the breakaway. Everyone else was chasing. I could relax and when he was caught, I was ready to go.”

Haussler, whose meteoric rise was one of the top stories in 2009, agrees that there’s strength in numbers.

“We’re stronger together,” said Haussler, second at Milan-San Remo and Tour of Flanders. “We’re better off working together and we all know that. We have the best chance to win the classics with Thor, me, Klier. We’re better and stronger this year because we know each other better.”

For 2010, the plan is to hit the repeat button, ideally with a major classics win or two to replace last year’s bounty of podiums.

Haussler is getting his season debut under way this week at Tour of Qatar while Hushovd will kick start his season at the Volta ao Algarve in southern Portugal next week.

The pair’s success was an integral part of Cervélo’s impressive debut season, providing 13 wins between them, more than half of the team’s haul of 25 victories on the year.

Each had only raced on the one professional team before coming to Cervélo; Hushovd was nine seasons at Crédit Agricole and Haussler four seasons at Gerolsteiner.

When both teams folded, new sponsor Cervélo was quick to pick them up. Neither realized how significant their respective moves to Cervélo would mean.

“I am not used to being on a team with so many good riders,” Hushovd said. “At Credit Agricole, I was always alone. It’s better to have teammates there. For the classics, we have myself, Haussler and (Andreas) Klier.”

Hushovd was an already established star, winning a green jersey and wearing the yellow jersey at the Tour. Haussler, however, was nipping at the edge of major success, but could never seem to quite live up to the expectations that came with winning a stage at the 2005 Vuelta a España in his rookie year.

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Hushovd is happy to ride with - and for - his younger teammate.

“He was a big surprise for us. He changed a lot of things, the way he trained, got more serious,” Hushovd said of Haussler. “He never had a plan, he just rode his bike before. I think on our team, we took better care of him. Now he’s a top rider.”

Haussler admitted that he was a party boy in his early years as a pro, even hitting the discos the night before he won his Vuelta stage. At Cervélo, he made the most of a second chance by giving up his wild ways and buckling down his training.

Haussler barnstormed through the opening races in 2009, taking second at the Tour of Qatar, and two stage victories at Algarve before nearly riding away with Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (formerly Het Volk) and before notching another stage victory at Paris-Nice.

Racing together, they posted some remarkable results and learned to play off each as the season progressed. Hushovd says it was thanks to Haussler’s attack at Het Nieuwsblad that he was able to deliver Cervélo’s first big win of the year.

After Het Nieuwsblad, Haussler and Hushovd finished second and third, respectively, at Milan-San Remo. Haussler then won the bunch sprint for second at Flanders before an unlucky crash cost Hushovd a chance at Paris-Roubaix, where he was third. Haussler finished seventh and Cervélo had five riders in the top 20, more than any team.

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Haussler says he has some unfinished business to attend to in San Remo.

But it was at Milan-San Remo, where Haussler lost by fractions of an inch in a photo finish to Mark Cavendish, that the pair misfired.

As Haussler recalls, his apparent attack in the final 400 meters was meant to be a slingshot for Hushovd. The pair weren’t used to racing sprints together and there was no way for Hushovd to catch Haussler’s wheel. Only Cavendish’s tremendous burst kept Haussler from delivering a stunning victory.

“Before the race, we made the strategy that I was free to attack on the Poggio. It didn’t happen the way we expected and it came down to the sprint. It was our first race to sprint together. I came by him with 400 meters to go with too much speed. He had no chance to get my wheel,” Haussler says. “With 150 meters to go, I looked back and saw he wasn’t there. Then I looked again and I saw a big gap, and I thought, maybe I can win. Cavendish made a spectacular sprint and maybe I was getting slower in the final 50 meters after racing 300 kilometers.”

For 2010, Haussler says he has unfinished business with Milan-San Remo and Hushovd with Roubaix.

Both have targeted the spring classics as their first major early season goals. By working together, they both realize their chances for victory only improve.

“I don’t feel like a leader of this team. I have respect for guys like Carlos (Sastre) and Thor. It makes it even easier to work for them when they’re two superstars in the sport and they’re so down to earth,” Haussler said. “I know from experience that other superstars can be real assholes.”