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Q&A Heinrich Haussler: ‘The legs are back’

2009 Milan-San Remo runner-up speaks out on Flanders changes, Hushovd departure

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SISTERON, France (VN) — Heinrich Haussler (Garmin-Barracuda) likely won’t be making many of the lists of top favorites for this weekend’s Milan-San Remo. Second to Mark Cavendish in a photo finish in 2009, Haussler has suffered through two frustrating, injury-plagued seasons. He recently spoke with VeloNews about his hopes for the spring, the impact of Thor Hushovd’s departure on Garmin and the route change at the Tour of Flanders, where he also finished second in 2009.

VeloNews: How is the form coming out of Paris-Nice?
Heinrich Haussler: It’s been a little bit cold, good hard racing, not real real hard. The other day, I went into gruppetto, so I didn’t want to go too deep and I could recover for San Remo. It’s been good, except for that first day, when I crashed. I was in the front group with four guys, someone crashed right in front of me. I went down with nowhere to go.

VN: How are you feeling going into San Remo?
HH: I am fit, I am confident. I am not worried about my form anymore. I’ve got good legs. Yesterday, on the climbs, I was starting to feel like I have the legs from 2009. Normally, I’ve already peaked around Qatar. This year, I want to peak next week and into April. I think I am going to have a good year.

VN: Some say Milan-San Remo can be won not at 100 percent fitness, do you agree with that?
HH: I believe you can do that, but to do that, you have to be an incredible bike racer, loaded with talent. If you look at the guys who’ve won, they’re all big names. It’s never going to be a guy who’s never won a bike race before. It all depends on what happens. If they go hard, or if it’s going to be a sprint or a small group, either way, I am ready for the different situations.

VN: What’s the ambiance at Garmin going into the classics? You lost some riders, namely Thor Hushovd. How does that affect things?
HH: We lost Thor; maybe that’s not such a bad thing, because now we can ride with just one captain or even with two captains. We will have a good classics team. Sep Vanmarcke, he’s really stepped up. The way he rode at Het Nieuwsblad, he took the piss out of everyone. Now we have one more option to send guys up the road. I think it’s great.

VN: You said that a strong classics season would mean a lot to you, to show that 2009 was no fluke …
HH: I am getting back to the level again. I hope so. It’s not that easy to get to that level. Back then, I just thought I would get better every year. That’s why I didn’t take those races so seriously sometimes. I just rode stupid. Now I’ve learned that you have that form once in a lifetime, when everything just goes perfect. That only happens once in your career and it’s really hard to get to that level again. If I do, I will use it in a different way and fashion.

VN: That’s part of being a pro, getting through the highs and lows, how have you matured as a rider?
HH: You get wiser — you have to. This team is great, especially with the older guys who give you tips, how to do things, how to train, how to race the classics, positioning. The older you get, the wiser you get. I just want to get back to that level and race again, because once you’ve been there, at that top level, when you have that little bit missing it’s frustrating.

VN: What do you think of the changes to the parcours at Flanders?
HH: To be honest, I don’t like it at all. I’ve been disappointed with what they’ve done to the race. That’s why I am concentrating more on San Remo than Flanders. I’d like to win there, but I think it’s stupid what they’ve done to the race. All the races are just getting harder and harder. They think we’re bloody machines. I don’t know what they’re doing.

VN: So you think the new changes make Flanders too hard?
HH: Why did they have to change it? The prestige of the race has changed. It’s just really hard. I don’t like it. Why do they have to change a race like Flanders? It’s like not having Roubaix finish in the velodrome — it’s just stupid. I know nobody cares what I think; it’s just my opinion.

VN: You will race Roubaix?
HH: Oh, yeah, I love racing on the cobbles. That’s one of my favorite races of the year. I wouldn’t miss that for the world.