Mike Friedman used the full force of his Optum Pro Cycling presented by Kelly Benefit Strategies team to secure the yellow jersey he wore most of the week at the team’s hometown stage race, the Nature Valley Grand Prix. Friedman sprinted up Chilkoot hill for a second place finish at the Stillwater Criterium behind JJ Haedo (Jamis-Hagens Berman), securing his general classificaton victory in the process.
Surprising for a veteran rider with a long and successful career, it was Friedman’s first stage race victory on American soil, and proof positive of his full recovery from his 2011 surgery for a kinked iliac artery.
“My team was unstoppable today – I didn’t have to work at all, and on a course this challenging, teammates are what separates winning and losing,” said Friedman. “It happened to be me in the yellow jersey after the week of racing, but my teammates and I strongly feel that a win is a win for all of us. Everyone contributed in a huge way to get this done.”
The team was rewarded for their hard work with 1st place in the team classication competition, standing together on the final podium in Stillwater.
Jade Wilcoxson, who headed into the race with a one second gap in the overall standings on Team Tibco’s Shelley Olds, suffered an ill-timed crash in the final corner to relinquish the yellow jersey. Wilcoxson went down hard into the barriers and sustained serious injuries, effectively ending in incredible run that included her recent USPRO road race championship and two stage wins in Minnesota. Wilcoxson will recover from her injuries during a forced but much deserved break.
“I took a little bit more risk than I needed to,” Wilcoxson told cyclingnews.com. “I felt really good today. I probably would have been just fine sitting on Shelley’s wheel and sprinting with her up the hill. But maybe I got a little greedy and wanted to gap her off when I didn’t need to. Unfortunately, I paid the price. I feel more bad for my team that worked so hard all week. And to not get to come home with yellow is a little bit painful.”
Wilcoxson ended up second on the overall standings, and mounted the final podium injuries and all to address the Stillwater crowd. Her team was highly impressive in the race, winning three stages and holding several leaders jerseys for the majority of the week.
Optum p/b KBS Men Dominate Stillwater Criterium to Secure Yellow
It was the third consecutive year the Optum p/b KBS men have claimed the overall win at the stage race, with Friedman joining 2012 champion Tom Zirbel and 2011 champion Jesse Anthony at the top of the podium in Stillwater. Friedman and his teammates were dynamic on the short, twenty lap course centered around the daunting 17 percent grade hike up Chilkoot Hill. The course called for complete control of the peloton, and Friedman’s five-man team responded accordingly.
“I was super nervous coming into the race,” Friedman told cyclingnews.com. “I was freaking out. I woke up like 3:30 in the morning and I was analyzing, like okay this could happen or this could happen. All the different scenarios were playing out in my head. I talked with Jesse Anthony this morning and I talked with Tom Zirbel at the race, and he said, ‘Look, man. Just trust us. Here’s what we’re going to do. Just have faith in us.'”
The six-man Optum p/b KBS team spread out across the front of the race each time up the climb, effectively neutralizing most attacks on the hill. Any riders who did manage to escape were reeled in on the false-flat backside, and absorbed on the steep descent leading back into Chilkoot.
The NVGP three-peat is an exclamation point for a long and successful block of racing for the team. The athletes now head into a hard-earned break before gearing up for late summer goals like the US Criterium Championships, Tour of Utah, Colorado’s US Pro Challenge, and the inaugural Tour of Alberta.
“We have been going pretty much non-stop since training camp in February, and have had success here in America, in Europe, and in Asia,” said Performance Director Jonas Carney. “The guys are really tired and really deserve some time off. It will be great for us to recharge our batteries and I expect everyone to come back even stronger for the second half of the season.”
The rest of the Optum p/b KBS men’s team returns today from the UCI 2.2 ranked Tour de Korea, where sprinter Eric Young claimed two stage victories. They will join the rest of their teammates for a few weeks of rest and rebuilding before commencing the second half of the summer campaign later this July.