Friends for six years, former teammates Mike Friedman and Brad Huff are back on the same team once again in 2010. After racing in Europe, Friedman returned to the United States and joined his friend at Jelly Belly presented by Kenda.
“He’s like my brother on the road, we share everything,” said Friedman who added with a laugh, “we don’t get intimate. Anything from girlfriends to personal issues to stress to future things we’re thinking about like where we’re going to be.”
“There’s real people and there’s fake people and Brad is a real, real person he genuinely really cares what you have to say, not only me but anyone for that matter and you don’t find very many people like that. It’s really nice to be on the road with one of your best friends, racing day in and day out and sharing lifelong experiences that you know you’ll remember.” continued Friedman when I talked to the two riders earlier this season.
The pair made their way up in the cycling world with the TIAA-CREF team which became Slipstream in 2006 and 2007. They split up in 2008 when Huff joined Jelly Belly while Friedman stayed with Slipstream and its progression to a ProTour team.
“A great rider, it’s really inspiring to see the development from 2004 to now.” said Huff about Friedman. “Looking on race results for major races, and there’s my best friend’s name amongst the finishers and not just the finishers but competitive in the races, in breakaways, in pulling back breaks and doing things for his team, leadouts for Tyler Farrar. It was amazing to see that happen and knowing it was my friend so it’s great to have him on the team.”
Back in the USA. “There are so many things that bring me here that it’s hard to pinpoint just one thing in particular. I think that I’m finding more reasons that it’s beneficial and I made the move here for my own development. “ said Friedman.
So why Jelly Belly? Team atmosphere was one reason for the 27-year old. “There’s a lot of great guys on the team as well and Brad has been instrumental in getting me in touch with Danny and getting us together on the same team, it’s something special.”
Another was opportunity. “I can have more opportunities for myself. I can get back to basics and for that will be winning races or having the opportunity to win races whereas riding with Garmin I was directly in the domestique role, I was never really going to be able to go for myself ever. And for a rider, that’s hard to do while it pays okay and it’s rewarding in different aspects. I wanted to be on top of the podium and be able to be in a little bit more of a leadership role and share my experiences. And also go for myself a little bit while on the road instead of always knowing ‘okay Mike you’re going to be the first guy for the first 120k and then if you’re there for the leadout, we’ll use you there too and then give you no credit whatsoever except for a meager thank you in the bedroom’” he smiled.
Also was the chance to see “the way a smaller team works from the inside out versus from the outside in.” One aspect of that is establishing the line of communication.
“On the bigger teams there’s a significant hierarchy of newbies to veteran riders and people that have ‘established themselves’ and with the territory there’s a lot of, not egos, but a sense of empowerment. While that is true, it’s hard to handle that in a team atmosphere when you’re always feeling like the underdog, always like in a position where you’re not on equal grounds. It’s nice to made to feel an equal and have people look up to you but also say ‘look I want to hear your opinion, I want to hear what you have so say, I want to hear what you think of the situation’ or I want to be able to come to you for this or I want to be able to help you learn this so you can help me in the future.” explained Friedman.
But a flatter hierarchy presents another problem, delegation. “The team so far has been really great as far as that aspect goes, when you have twelve guys versus twenty-five guys and one director who has many hats versus a staff of fifty it’s easier to be in a line of communication but it’s harder to delegate all the work. Once you figure that out, everyone is going to have a few things to do, not everything is paid for and we don’t have the biggest bus, you know you don’t need a twenty-five million dollar budget to win races. At the end of the day we still shave our legs and wear spandex and can win bike races, that’s the bottom line, yeah there it is in a nutshell.”
A first for Friedman this year. “I’ve never actually had a whole season in the US as a professional athlete, as a professional cyclist. It’s always been in Europe.” But he does want to go back to race in Europe.
“Coming into this program, not that I doubted myself but I didn’t realize that the experience I have can he shared as much as it can be and in the team meetings that we’ve had I do realize that I have lots of stories, lots of scenarios that I’ve been in that I can actually share and make the team better and I’ve realized that I do know what I’m talking about.” smiled Friedman.
“I do want to go back to race in Europe, I belong there, I know that I do but I can use as a stepping stone to develop other things that I was lacking before that I couldn’t gain on Garmin even if they gave me everything that I could possibly hope for, there are things that as a developing rider you need.”
Third year for Huff. “I am excited about this year, we have a lot of new faces on the team, a lot of influential riders that are very strong, moldable I might say. Having an old teammate Mike Friedman coming back is a great experience not just for me but for the team to have his knowledge and his abilities on the team will be a big lift for us all.”
A lot of changes indeed on the 2010 Jelly Belly roster with 7 new riders joining 5 returning team members. “It works great. I always hate to see riders go, go to other teams.” said the 31-year old who sees no problem with building cohesiveness.
“We’ve had positive changes this year, great supportive sponsor that are behind us notably Jelly Belly, Kenda, Focus Bikes, Compex, the list goes on. It’s just great to see the family atmosphere and how everyone is really supportive. We’ve really pulled together this year and understand the importance of unity on the team and having faith in each rider and their abilities. I hope for a lot and I plan for a lot this year.” he continued.
More than a sprinter. “Sprinting is definitely one of my strengths, last year didn’t really show that. But also, whenever I’m strong and my form is on, I can be a powerful rider that can do breakaway also not on mountain stages but rolling terrain at times. I’ve had good luck in really difficult races at times.”
“The first year I was on Jelly Belly I had a great week at Philly week.” said Huff about the three races in 2008. He finished third at the Lehigh Valley Classic, fifth at the Commerce Bank Reading Classic and tenth overall in the Triple Crown final standings. “Those are hard races, they had hills and stuff and I performed well. I just want to do well for the team and be a team player and I think helping the younger riders develop.”
The prospect of other teams beefing up their sprinting this year with a looming possibility of a battle of leadout trains doesn’t worry Huff. “No change of plans. We feel capable of going up against any team out there, if not in the lead then right behind them, we’re excited about it.”
Goals. Like many other Continental teams, the Tour of California is a major goal for the year, but not the only one.
“We’re going to be racing in Asia more this year and highlighting Tour of California as our first major racing goal, all our races are important to the Jelly Belly presented by Kenda team, but Tour of California we really want to perform and have a great showing and then, to be determined if Tour of Missouri is able to happen. The new venue for Crit Nationals, going to China and possibly Australia late in the season. Once again, the Jelly Belly team is all over the world from early until late.” said twice National Crit Champion Huff. Once in 2005 as an amateur. And again, in 2006 when he was the first American, and second rider, across the line to claim the USPro Elite Crit National Champion title.
“Even at 27 years old and I’ve done some of the biggest races, there are things that I realize that I need to do,” said Friedman who also added California, Philadelphia, Nationals and Missouri as goals. “I can timetrial when I train for it so I’d like to bring that up back to par and every year the weight has to come down a little lower, I’m just a bigger guy and just takes a little time.”
Not a surprise to hear that one race the Missouri-native and resident Huff would love to shine at is the Tour of Missouri. ”Last year was really rough for me, I had separated ribs and it was hard to even stay in the field sometimes. I’d really like to be able to perform well because I felt I had a chance at good form and had misfortune.”
Sum of the parts. “For sure, for sure.” replied Friedman when asked if the duo was stronger when riding together.
The two did have a chance to race together last year when they both showed up at Superweek races. And it was obvious that the pair was having fun.
“There are races where they have big teams and we’re there by ourselves, we’re there enjoying each other.” explained Friedman. “You don’t necessarily have to work for each other every single time but you kind of fool around, ‘Brad is in that breakaway I’m not going to chase it down’ and we might even share some of the money at the end.”
One such race was the Chicago Criterium where Huff soloed to victory after a late race attack on the final lap.
“The thing is that we’re so strong, we are talented and when you put it together, we’re almost unstoppable. The thing is we would have gone 1-2 if I didn’t stop sprinting, I stopped sprinting because I saw Brad win and I was celebrating and I got a fourth. That was the Chicago crit and we were by ourselves,” smiled Friedman who finished fourth. “It’s not rocket science, it’s riding a bike and it takes practice, perseverance and it doesn’t take long before you’re on top of that podium.”