Friedman finding his form with NVGP race lead

Despite a frustrating start to his season, veteran Mike Friedman is back on form, leading the Nature Valley Grand Prix

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

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Mike Friedman (Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies) sprinted to second place at the Nature Valley Grand Prix Cannon Falls Road Race Thursday night out of a break of 16 riders. The effort put Friedman in the yellow jersey, and showed the veteran rider is on good form, despite a less than ideal start to his season.

After spending his early season working in the leadout train for Ken Hanson at several European races, Friedman got sick while racing at the Joe Martin Stage Race.  Finding himself in a hole, Friedman dropped out of the Tour of the Gila, skipped the Amgen Tour of California, and went back to his home in Golden, Colorado, to get himself back on track.

“This was the worst that I’ve been at the beginning of the year,” said Friedman. “Sometimes cycling has those ups and downs. You have to learn how to stay calm, know you’re not a crappy rider, and try to get out of it.”

For Friedman that meant taking a few days off and then getting back to having fun and serious training. “You just go home and collect yourself and make sure you relax, recover, and make sure you start training again,” said Friedman who likes to go off-road adventuring on Colorado’s dirt fire roads. “I take the mountain-road bike, a mountain bike with road bars, and I just go out and ride for hours. It’s pretty rad.”

Prior to turning professional in 2007 with Slipstream, Friedman was primarily known for his success on the track. He rode for the U.S. at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and has contemplated a return to the boards, depending on what events make it into the Rio Games. “If they do the omnium, I should try,” said Friedman. “I have the ability to do it but it would be a matter of seeing what USA Cycling will support.”

With two children, aged four and six, a full time return to European racing is an interesting, but challenging prospect for Friedman. “That would be fantastic, to get back to Europe, but I would have to have a fantastic race at [the USA Pro Challenge] and basically do something unbelievable there to get a contract back in Europe,” Friedman said. “It’s something I would consider, but I’ve got a family now, and that would be a big thing to change.”

Friedman enjoys the lifestyle of a professional cyclist, and is far from packing it in, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t think about life after racing.

“I have a lot of interests. It could be anything from teaching, going back to school, starting my own little business, there are a lot of different things,” he said. “It’s going to be a transition because you get used to living a certain way with this lifestyle. You have freedom and choice over what you do on a daily basis, and that’s going to be the biggest change for me.”

For the fun loving, and adventurous Friedman, that kind of freedom meant exploring the Home Depot and Goodwill stores located next to his race hotel in Minneapolis before the road race in Cannon Falls.

Though not generally thought of as a GC rider, Friedman has performed well in past stage races, including an overall win at the 2010 Tour de Korea. His sprinting ability, and ability to recover quickly, has moved him into the race lead at the Nature Valley Grand Prix.  Given how well the entire Optum squad is riding, with three riders in the top five GC, a victory — if not for Friedman, then for the team — is within reach.

The overall win is a major goal for the Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies team, whose primary sponsor is located in Minneapolis. “Racing’s not over, but we are happy to be back in the yellow jersey,” said Friedman after the Cannon Falls Road Race. “We are going to do our best to represent it, and then we are going to race our asses off.”

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