He loves it, he hates it, his 37-year-old body can’t get enough of it. Like it or not, Heinrich Haussler is diving headfirst into the mud and guts of the cyclocross season.
After dipping a toe into the Belgian winter last year and coming away pleasantly surprised, Haussler is already back in his ‘cross boots this fall.
The Aussie veteran kick-started his winter cyclocross campaign at the Baiersbronn race in Germany on Sunday, just two weeks after he had been slip-sliding over the treacherous cobbles of Paris-Roubaix.
He’s regretting it as much as he’s savoring every painful moment of-post race pain.
“This morning, my body’s a complete mess. My back was so sore after just a few laps and I was in a box by the end,” Haussler told VeloNews the morning after his CX season debut.
“Roubaix was only two weeks ago, but I’m just not used to that explosiveness and the damage on the body. It’s so hard. It’s basically a totally different sport. After the race, I was just empty, like ‘what have I got myself into, the whole winter I’ve got to do this?’
“I’m just amazed how hard it is – but I’m looking forward to it.”
So why is Haussler putting himself through the torment? Because he found that his flirtations last winter with the leg-crushing, heart-bursting efforts of ‘cross both fine-tuned his aging engine and took the chills away from a long German winter.
So this year, he’s back for more, and he’s going big.
Haussler has sketched out a schedule that will see him racing against the likes of Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert in a series of World Cup rounds and smaller European races in the coming months.
He’s keeping realistic, however. After suffering through three World Cups in his rookie season last year, Haussler’s one ambition for his return to the big-league of ‘cross in Tabor next month is simply to survive and thrive in his own way.
“I know I’m not going to have a chance, but I just want to do my best possible for myself. If I can finish a World Cup this year then I’ll be over the moon. Last year, I only got about 35 minutes in before guys like Wout and Mathieu were basically tapping me on the shoulder, saying ‘Hey Haussler, get out of the road’ before lapping me,” Haussler said this week.
“I’ve could feel Sunday I’ve got the fitness and endurance, but my technical skills are useless. If I want to race in Belgium soon I really need to up my game. It was a real eye-opener about how hard it’s going to be this winter.”
Suffering for next season: ‘Is my power meter wrong?’
Haussler knows he’s not going to be jousting with northern Europe’s finest as he runs, jumps, and pedals through the next few months. However, he does know that he can be up with van Aert and van der Poel when the winter mud gives way to the spring’s early classics next year.
His 18 years of experience and top results just need polishing off with some high-intensity training.
“Next year I’ll be 38. When you get older you just get slower, you know, you turn into a diesel engine” Haussler said. “You need to train harder and harder to keep up with riders that are basically little kids, with all their explosive fast-twitch, bang, power, strength, whatever.
“In ‘cross – not just the racing but also the training – it turns you into the machine that you need to be for the classics and sprint. That’s one of the main reasons I’m doing it, to try and get better on the road. And, obviously, it’s too much hard work to do it if you don’t love it – but I absolutely love doing it too.”
The formula worked for Haussler last year.
After a short stint of ‘cross racing, the Aussie came hot out of the gate in the road season, placing fourth in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and enjoying one of the best classics campaigns of his far-reaching career.
Haussler’s one regret about his late-career conversion to cyclocross? That he didn’t discover it earlier.
“All the running and that explosive training, you suffer so much, but it’s worth it – it just gives you a massive motor, a massive engine. It’s changed my winters totally. I don’t need to do these 25 hour weeks in the cold anymore, I’ve got plenty of miles in my legs already,” he said.
“You do cross for a while and go back out on the road and do intervals for the classics and you think, ‘shit I need to stop and calibrate my power meter, it’s not right because it just feels too easy.’”
Getting it all out before it’s too late: ‘No regrets’
Haussler’s 10th place finish in Paris-Roubaix at the start of the month showed that the Aussie has still got what it takes to better riders more than a dozen years younger than him.
Haussler has one more year left on his contract with Bahrain-Victorious and has no desire to hang up his wheels any time soon. But he knows the pro cycling clock is ticking against his 37-year-old frame.
Enter YOLO Haussler.
He’s hoping that additional in-race support from Bahrain-Victorious and Merida and an all-in attitude to the winter will leave him happy that when retirement does come, he’s done all he can.
“Last year I was doing ‘cross races, but I was only really on the start line,” he said.
“This year, I really want to try and get as good as I can. I just want to try and do the best I can and get everything out of my body, and see how far I can get on the road and cyclocross. If it’s only a little bit better, or if it’s a lot better, it doesn’t matter,” he said.
“I just want to know when I stop my career have absolutely no regrets – if the best I could do was 10th in Roubaix, that’s fine I can live with it, but I don’t want to stop in one or two years and think ‘aahh shit, what if.’”