Mike Friedman's dream of winning the TD Bank International Championship may have come up a little short last Sunday, but the 27-year-old Jelly Belly-Kenda rider went down with guns blazing, attacking the lead group with 500m to go only to be caught in the frenzied dash to the line won by Matt Goss (HTC-Columbia).
Friedman may have finished in 11th place but what the experience did prove is that he loves racing back in the States. "This is my all-time favourite race out of Paris-Roubaix, Flanders, Tirreno-Adriatico, Milan-San Remo, even the Olympics," he told Cyclingnews. "I went to school in Allentown [Pennsylvania], I'm from Pennsylvania, I love Philadelphia and I love this race.
"I don't care that it's not the same USPRO championship. It's an epic race, the fans are amazing and the course is amazing. What they go through to shut down half the city on this side of the [Schuykill] River is unbelievable."
Friedman turned pro in 2006 for Jonathan Vaughters's Team TIAA - CREF squad and he remained with the organisation through 2009, when he spent the season based in Girona, Spain for the ProTour Garmin-Slipstream team. Friedman's experiences as a European professional has proved invaluable for his transition to the US-based Continental Jelly Belly presented by Kenda team.
"The transition coming here has been easier than I thought it would have been. I learned a lot, actually," said Friedman. "I'm honoured to be part of this program. I couldn't have gone anywhere else and had the effect that I have here. Coming here I've been able to really realise why I enjoy riding my bike. I'm having the time of my life."
Friedman saw first-hand at the 2009 Tour of Missouri the calibre of riders who would be his teammates this season. "I watched them in Missouri last year and they would attack and get away when I, on Garmin, was doing a full-on chase to keep it together. I realised that these guys had engines and I was pretty impressed.
"Coming to the team I just used some positive affirmations, really made the guys believe in themselves, and just changed a few things organisation-wise, teamwork-wise, and telling them we're going to do things a certain way. It really changed the environment and we came in [to 2010] swinging."
Among the highlights thus far this season have been Kiel Reijnen's victory at the Tour of Thailand, Friedman's win at the 10-day Tour of Korea, and an aggressive performance in the Amgen Tour of California which saw team members make virtually every break.
Been there, done that...
Friedman's knowledge comes from his experience with a ProTour operation, but his tenure proved to be a double-edged sword. "Without Garmin I wouldn't have the knowledge I have now about what works organisation-wise, I wouldn't have had the race experience over there to learn the stuff that I have now about reading a race and for that I owe them a lot. Also, the ProTour taught me how to suffer, and I suffered bad in Europe."
However, there were other aspects of his previous team which Friedman is glad to put behind him.
"Riding for Garmin I was basically on house arrest in Girona. If you go for a beer, everybody knows 'Oh my god, Friedman's drinking a beer'. It's like being babysat.
"Other riders that I looked up to, or management, never gave me positive affirmation, or took me under their wing and gave me positive feedback. I would get a meagre thank you for being a super-domestique.
"I would do everything that I was asked and do it selflessly, giving everything I had, even if I didn't finish a race. And then I find out that I can't get a job after because I have no results to stay with Garmin or any other team in Europe or the US. Jelly Belly was the only team that actually offered me a contract."
Friedman has taken a leadership role and makes a point of providing positive feedback to his teammates. "I learned a lot from my own experience about how to take the guys and say, 'This is what we're going to do, this is why we're going to do it, this is how it works... You know what, you rode great today'."
And Friedman sees plenty of potential within the Jelly Belly team. "I love it here. I love these guys and I love the team. I'd like to see this team grow, and not just as a developmental program, but also a hit squad," he explained.
"We have the core guys that can ride selflessly 100 percent and with a guy like Danny Pate or whoever we could find that could ride against the guys at California you're not going for breakaways because you're smashed from Thailand or Korea, but you're actually riding for the overall because you have a hitter."
Friedman has found a home with a team that has had a lengthy presence on the US professional scene and a unique sponsor. "Danny [Van Haute] has had a program for 11 years, which is the longest-running sponsor in [US] cycling history, and it's a product that you can give to the fans.
"You won't get free health care, you're not going to get a free loan, you're not going to get a free GPS, but you will get free jelly beans. You will get the same product that we use on our bikes on a day-to-day basis in training and racing. That's really cool as a rider because you can have a real hands-on relationship with your fans and that's what it's all about."
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