By Gregor Brown in Meerbeke
Sunday's Tour of Flanders was another opportunity for Garmin-Slipstream's Steven Cozza to experience one of the year's biggest races. Unphased, the American attacked several times to try to form a second escape group mid-way into the 260-kilometre race.
"I felt good. I've always dreamt of being in this race," said the Garmin rider to Cyclingnews. "It was good to get it in my legs for the first time; I think I can do something here in the future.
"I figured since it was my first race here I would use up all the gas in my tank. I definitely gained a lot of confidence today with the experience."
The selection included Aleksandr Kuschynski (Liquigas) and Wim De Vocht (Vacansoleil), and dominated the early portion of the race. Cozza made two attempts to form a different group: one after 114 kilometres and a second - with Roy Curvers (Skil-Shimano) - after 169 kilometres. The attacks showed the same grit Cozza displayed last spring in Het Volk and De Panne, even if they came to nothing.
"I feel like I am going in the right direction. It was just a matter of learning the course after the big moves went in the finale, but I definitely plan on having a good ride here in the future."
Cozza's teammate Martijn Maaskant went on to close the day in fourth. The team will call Cozza into duty next Sunday for the Dutch companion in Paris-Roubaix. Maaskant, 25, finished fourth last year in his debut.
"Today I felt the best on the flat cobbles than on the climbs, which is good for Martijn and me at Roubaix. Plus we have Svein Tuft, who will be strong for Roubaix."
Cozza missed Flanders and Roubaix last year due to a crash and subsequent fractured collarbone in De Panne. He will join the American team for the famed French race, one of cycling's hardest one-day races.
Check out full coverage of the Tour of Flanders, including video of the finish, on Cyclingnews.