Sunday, 11 January 2015

Old Dogs/Young guns and the Triumph of Experience

 The subtleties of cycling as a sport may be lost on those who are only part time or occasional viewers of road racing but I can assure you the finish of today's Australian  Road Race Championship was a thing of beauty. Heinrich Haussler, a rider who could conceivably be called a veteran despite still racing on a top European team, managed to outfox his young breakaway companions to take an emotional and well deserved victory.

 The winning break went away with about three laps of the 10km circuit at Bunninyong left to complete, leaving sentimental favourite Cadel Evans in the main group which would eventually fail to capture the leaders.

 A leading group of sixteen which included young gun Caleb Ewan, the hottest young prospect in Australian cycling, established itself two minutes up the road from the main group and was never headed.

 Orica-Greenedge, the biggest team in Australian cycling had two men in lead and former world pursuit champion Michael Hepburn, riding for our local superpower, shredded the break on the penultimate climb of Mount Buningyong setting the race up for young Caleb Ewan, certainly the fastest finisher in the race. Alas, being the fastest doesn't always assure you of victory. Such is the beauty of cycle racing.

 Heinrich Haussler, a rider of sublime ability but rotten luck who has won a stage of the Tour de France and been runner-up in two of the biggest one-day cycling races in the world, Milan to San Remo and the Tour of Flanders also made the leading break and was dropped on the last climb of the mountain only making back to the leaders on the descent with six kilometres to go.

 Haussler has spent the last six years battling his way back from injury, operations and set-backs and was always a chance as he eased himself onto the back of leaders as the race ran down.

 His breakaway companions were to a man younger than him and Caleb Ewan committed the cardinal sin of trying too hard on the last climb, breaking away and trying to win alone, the ultimate form of victory in cycling.

 He was reeled in by his companions and the stage was set for a six rider sprint finish. It was here that Haussler showed his smarts.

 After doing a turn on the downhill to help reel in an attack, he managed to drop in on the wheel of Ewan, a man who he had obviously identified as the one to beat and as the youngster took off too early into a headwind, Haussler pounced, easily taking the title by a length with Ewan second.

 An obviously emotional Haussler pumped the air like a drowning man reaching for a lifeboat and declared to reporters after the race that it was the greatest moment of his life. A fitting end to a race which crowned a fitting champion.

 Sometimes old dogs, knowledge burnished by years of experience, triumph and heartbreak, can defeat those young guns for who everything comes easily simply through guile and subtle use of superior tactics. Haussler wasn't the fastest today. But he was the best. And that was enough.

 Congratulations to him on a great victory and the opportunity to wear the Australian Champion's jersey for the year on the roads of Europe.

 Have a nice day.

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