• Austrian Marco Haller (Katusha-Alpecin) greets fans at the Saitama Criterium 2018 on November 3, 2018 in Saitama, Japan. (Getty)Source: Getty
If there was someone Marcel Kittel missed most in 2018 it was arguably Marco Haller.
Sophie Smith

Cycling Central
11 Jan 2019 - 9:23 AM 

Through what was a forgettable first season with Katusha-Alpecin, Kittel would often lament the absence of Haller when he or his new lead-out faltered.

The pair briefly competed together as teammates before Haller was hit by a car during a training ride in April, fracturing his left knee cap and leg in an ordeal that took two surgeries to heal. The 27-year-old then underwent emergency surgery for appendicitis, delaying his return to racing until October.

Katusha-Alpecin's Marco Haller hit by car, out for months
Haller said he was hit while training in Austria after a driver ignored a stop sign.

In spite of it all Haller, from the hospital bed to rehab, followed the progress of his team intently. Now back in business, and with a Bay Crits victory to buoy confidence, the former national champion is focused on restoring Kittel to top status this season.

“At the Tour de France I went there to visit the team. I was staying very close to the boys for the entire year,” he said.

“We can’t deny it was a rather bad year for the team in terms of results, but this is professional sport and you have better days and you have worse days.

“I don’t see any reason why it should be bad again this year. I really think we will turn it around. A win at the Bay Crits already was something nice for team and myself. Make the most of it.”

Haller sews up Bay Crits title as Ewan wins again
Australian sprinter Caleb Ewan won his second-straight race at the Lexus Blackburn Bay Crits as Austrian Marco Haller secured the series title.

Haller will commence his WorldTour season at the Tour Down Under from next Tuesday before competing at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race. He is due to link-up with Kittel at Spain’s Clasica de Almeria before the pair hit the UAE Tour in February.

“The Emirates Tour is the first big goal together with Marcel because I think many of the sprinters will be there and it should be a good peloton,” Haller said.

“Marcel is a nice guy to work with and one of the best sprinters in the world. I’m very keen to have a nice 2019 season with him.”

“When you’re forced into a long break like I was - lying in a hospital bed, sitting a lot on the couch at home - only then you understand how much of a racer you are,” he said.

Haller appears to bring a natural and mature leadership to the squad that other teammates have also complimented.

“Marco is team captain, road captain and we really missed him last year. I think it’s going to be a lot better having him around,” said Alex Dowsett.

From a general sprinting perspective, Katusha-Alpecin is presumably in a better position this year too. Kittel is more familiar with the set-up and riders like Dowsett, who also joined the outfit in 2018 and were comparatively new to being part of a lead-out, now have a better understanding of the game.

“I’ve made a lot more enemies than I have done in previous years,” Dowsett offered as an example at the Tour of Britain in September. “At Movistar in the bunch sprints, I’d knock around on my own and try not to get in anyone’s way because in the sprints we weren’t taking it seriously at all. Whereas here with Marcel, or with Rick [Zabel], it’s serious, you are trying to ride people off wheels, jostle for position quite aggressively. I’m like banging handlebars and sort of in my head going, ‘Sorry, sorry, sorry.’”

Haller is not short on motivation as he looks to make-up for lost time, which he showed taking a stage win and overall honours at the Bay Crits. Katusha-Alpecin have Jens Debusschere (formerly Lotto Soudal) for sprints at the Tour Down Under but Haller has not completely ruled out his own chances in a strong team line-up that also includes Dowsett and Australian Nathan Haas.

“When you’re forced into a long break like I was - lying in a hospital bed, sitting a lot on the couch at home - only then you understand how much of a racer you are,” he said.

“I certainly enjoy riding my bike more than ever and I think that can be very important for this season of my career. I will take the positive out of it.”