By Gregor Brown in Gent
American squad Slipstream Chipotle opened its Spring Classics season successfully thanks to the efforts of Michael Friedman. The 25 year-old American made the day's escape in the 63rd Omloop Het Volk - riding free at kilometre 15 to eventfully finish in 12th place. Huub Duyn and Christophe Laurent came in 30th and 32nd respectively, while Steven Cozza was recovering from jet lag and Tyler Farrar just content to roll into his adopted hometown of Gent.
"It is a start, it is kind of unknown ground for our Slipstream team, and we are making ground quickly; it is a real honour to be a part of that," said Friedman after animating the day for the argyle squad.
He mustered every bit of energy he had when the race went into the red to hang on and finish within the top 15 in one of Belgium's top races. Friedman was impressed when Gilbert passed by, but did not lose sight even though the lights were dimming. "I was a already in the hurt locker [when Gilbert passed at kilometre 173]. I was in the pain cave and I had dropped the flashlight, so it was pretty dark at that point," he laughed. "I was just hanging on. Like I said, it is an honour to be here and be a part of it."
It was the first time Friedman had tested his legs in the semi-classic, and based on today's result he should be prepared for his date with the monstrous Paris-Roubaix. "I am one of the fat kids on the team," he said with a smile on his tired face. "I have a big job coming up in Roubaix for Magnus Backstedt, so I got to be prepared for it."
Easy to spot with his moustache, Steven Cozza crossed the line in 93rd while looking forward to some jet-lag-free days. "It did not go so well for me. Halfway though the race I stared feeling better, but by then it was too late.
"I am happy for Friedman, and [his ride] is good for the team. I hope for me that tomorrow [in Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne] it will be better. I think that flying over here was bad for my legs, but it is usually like that on the first race and then it gets better. I usually suck in the first races, and I flew in on Tuesday. This is European racing, and [the Tour of] California was nothing like today, that was a cake walk."
Tyler Farrar, who led the Tour of California before being sent out the back with sickness, closed out Het Volk in his adopted hometown. After a 13 years hiatus the race finished in Gent, where the 23 year-old from Oregon makes his European base.
"There was a little bit of bad luck, I was in that big crash," he noted of the incident at kilometre 142. "We were car 15 [in the caravan] and I had to stand there and wait for a bike change. I was not hurt, but I had to wait as the cars passed. After that, there was a big gap and guys were everywhere."
Finishing in Gent was special, but really Farrar was jut happy to finish the 199-kilometre race. "I heard some friends yelling for me when I came into town, but it was more at the start. When I was coming into the finish it was just a matter of survival."
The Professional Continental team lines up in the 193-kilometre Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne tomorrow, starting a European campaign that already includes guaranteed starts in Paris-Nice, Paris-Roubaix and the Giro d'Italia.