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The forgotten man of Australian cycling, Heinrich Haussler (IAM Cycling), has thrust himself back into the public consciousness by outpointing young gun Caleb Ewan (Orica-GreenEDGE) to claim the 2015 national road race title in Buninyong.
Haussler, in what he described as the “best day of my life”, out-sprinted a tiring Ewan to snatch victory on the line.
Ewan was isolated in the closing stages of the race and had to cover several attacks as the breakaway splintered, but an inexplicable attack across the top of the final climb may have cost him dearly in the sprint to the finish that came soon after.
Being the fastest sprinter in the group, Ewan needed only to cross the top of the final climb with the leaders to put himself in with the best chance of winning, but instead chose to attack on the steepest part of the course to try and distance his rivals.
While the attack did damage the chasers, precious energy must surely have been wasted. He was soon rejoined by a group of a six, and it was this group that contested the sprint to the finish line in Buninyong.
Former national road race champion Jack Bobridge (Budget Forklifts) struck out for the line first but Campbell Flakemore (BMC), Ewan and Haussler were quickly onto his wheel.
Then Ewan started his attack from a long range which gave Haussler a chance to slingshot out of the Orica-GreenEDGE rider’s slip stream and surge past, spending less time sprinting into the block-head wind than his younger opponent.
It was a perfectly timed move by Haussler but the second time this championship that Ewan has finished second after starting his sprint too early. Steele Von Hoff beat him in similar fashion at the criterium title last Wednesday.
Whether this is because of youthful enthusiasm or due to a tactical flaw in his approach to sprinting is yet to be determined, but at just 20 years of age and in his first full year of elite competition, the young tyro has plenty of time to sort out any issues.
But the day belonged to Haussler. Having only won two races since 2011 after seemingly having the cycling world at his feet (he won a Vuelta stage as a neo-pro), Sunday’s victory might be the one that reignites a career that had become stagnant.
Haussler’s career peaked in 2009 with a Tour de France stage victory and an agonising second place to Mark Cavendish at Milan-Sanremo.
In that race Haussler looked to be taking line honours having broken away from the field. But Cavendish, also at the peak of his powers, chased him down, taking the victory with only centimetres remaining. It was a gut wrenching defeat, although many thought there would be other chances.
But year after year of injury and poor form saw the once rising star of the sport turn into an also-ran, one of those could-have-been-a-champion types that litter sports the world over.
There have been glimpses of form of course. A string of second placings to Peter Sagan at the 2012 Tour of California showed that he could still put up a fight, but wins proved elusive.
Not only does Haussler get to wear the green and gold jersey of a national champion, his confidence in his own ability and in his race craft has received a huge boost.
Whether this is enough to return the 30-year-old to the top of his form remains to be seen, but it certainly is a step in the right direction and one that everyone in cycling would like to see.
The talent is there. The passion is there. The fitness and health seem to be there. Hopefully the wins will follow.
Well done Heinrich Haussler, 2015 Australian road race champion.