By Fred Dreier
On the eve of his first try at Paris-Roubaix’s infamous pave´, Mike Friedman understandably has a few butterflies in his stomach. The 25-year-old Slipstream-Chipotle strongman is only a handful of months into his first-ever European campaign. And Friedman, affectionately called “Meatball” by the peloton, stands as one of his team’s chief lieutenants for its captain, 2004 Roubaix winner Magnus Backstedt.
Friedman struggled through a frustratingly rainy Tour of Flanders last Sunday — he hit the tarmac more times than he’d like to remember. But the native Pennsylvanian is keeping his good humor. As he has done for the past month, Friedman will take the line at Roubaix with a novelty plastic license plate emblazoned with “MEATBALL” strapped to the back of his saddle.
VeloNews caught up with Friedman to talk cobbles, carnage and everything in between.
VeloNews: Sounds like you’ve had a busy month. What kind of attitude are you bringing into this race.
Mike Friedman: You know, when you talked to me at the end of Flanders I was starting to get burnt. Leading into Milan-San Remo I had been drilling myself on the road day after day. Right after Milan I flew to rainy England for the track world championships, rode the trainer for three days and got my head kicked in during the races. That was discouraging. Came right back for the Three Days of DePanne and people were just flying from day one. Made it to Flanders and crashed once, then again.
Will [Frischkorn] and I went down in the same crash and worked together to catch back on, and right as we did the group screeched to a stop and we almost piled back in. Will looked over at me and said ‘Dude, I’m so cracked.’ I was like, wow I’m right there too.
VN: So you’re feeling cracked.
MF:Ha, ha. No. So after Flanders I flew back to Girona on some early flight, and after getting some rest I was sitting in bed thinking “why am I so burnt out?” I sat there and thought back to four years ago when I was just getting back into cycling. I was in some pro 1-2 regional race in Florida and did an amateur move, went off the front early and got caught close to the finish and dropped. And I thought, wow, that wasn’t that long ago. As soon as I thought of that, the weight lifted off of my shoulders. This whole thing has been just steps of progression, like a ladder, and it’s gone by quickly. The more you do it, the more you learn. Now it’s like, wow, I’m racing in Europe and doing recon training with Magnus Backstedt and I’ve done races like Milan-San Remo, and it really hasn’t been that long.
VN:What do you expect to see tomorrow?
MF:Tomorrow is the day you take all of the risks. It’s the day you shoot for that hole and just go for it. Sometimes you make it through that hole and sometimes you go down. I know I’m going to crash tomorrow. It’s just a matter of how many times I go down, and how many times I get back up.
VN: Tell me about what you learned from the team’s “Cobble Camp” a month ago.
MF:Well, we didn’t have the Felt Roubaix bikes for the camp. They are phenomenal. Way beyond what we expected — and we expected a lot. The first day we rode the first 13 sectors of cobbles, just past the Arenburg Forest, and I rode most of the day with my hands up top. The second day my hands were so sore I immediately got dropped because I couldn’t grip the bars. I thought “how am I going to do this?” So I tried putting my hands in the drops, and I could curve my thumb over and just get the fat part of my hand on the bars. It was a lot easier. I raised the bars one centimeter.
So I learned a lot. These [cobblestones] are really different from what we saw at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne or Het Volk, it’s much worse. The cobbles are caked in mud, so a few sections are pretty smooth. But if it rains, which it probably will tomorrow, it’s going to be a total blood, mud and shit fest.
VN:What would be an ideal race for you tomorrow?
MF:I’d like to be one of the last guys there to help Maggy. We’re not obviously going to put all of the pressure on him. We have Julian [Dean] and Martijn [Maaskant] who got 12th at Flanders. I’m going into tomorrow as the helping hand. If I can make it 220k and help those guys close gaps, then that’s great. Some of the guys who have raced [Roubaix] told me if I can make it to the first feed zone, great. If I can make it to the second feed zone, that’s a really great ride. If I can make it all the way, that’s phenomenal.
VN:What has the peloton’s reception been for your “MEATBALL” license plate? What’s the story behind it?
MF: I was joking around with Steve Blick from Oakley at the Los Angeles [track] World Cup and he said I needed to have a license plate that said “Mike” on the back of my bike. I told my dad who is a truck driver that he should look for one for me, one of those cool old metal ones. The one I got is plastic and you can put your own message in decals on it, which is sweet. I was like ‘Wow, that’s a great idea!” So I tried it at Het Volk for the first time.
I did it jokingly, I didn’t expect it would be a hit with the fans. I did it just to give the guys on the team something to laugh about. I mean, everyone in the peloton can be so frickin’ serious. I’m still racing serious, but I thought it would be a good gag. And the other riders think it’s funny. Fabian Cancellara came up after Het Volk, and his team manger asked [Slipstream team manager] Johnny [Weltz] “If Mike is the Meatball, then what does that make Fabian?”