Oh so close.
Garmin Chipotle’s Will Frischkorn, out ahead of the peloton in a four-man breakaway from the first 10 kilometers of the Tour’s third stage from Saint-Malo to Nantes, came within a wheel’s length of winning a stage in his first grand tour.
Not a bad ride for a rider who only learned he was heading to the Tour de France a week before the start, on a team that earned a wildcard invitation to the world’s biggest bike race.
As Frischkorn’s group looked poised to stay away to the line, European members of the press corps began asking me about this rider — “the Amer-i-can, Freeeeshkorn. What can you tell us about heeeem?”
Ha. The tables have finally turned, my European colleagues.
You’ll have to forgive me if I sound a little excited about Frischkorn’s ride. Not only has he written rider diaries for velonews.com for years, he also lives in VeloNews’ hometown of Boulder, Colorado. He’s been a member of the Colorado-based TIAA-CREF/Slipstream/Garmin-Chipotle program since 2005, and even invited several members of our staff to his wedding.
So what to tell those who didn’t know anything about Will? Where to begin? He was brought up in West Virginia and went to prep school in New England. He’s a classy guy, with such gourmet tastes in food and wine that he briefly attended culinary school. He’s close friends with Boulder-based riders ranging from Scott Moninger, who he rode with at Mercury in 2000 and 2001, to former Kodak Gallery-Sierra Nevada pro Pete Lopinto, who rented a room in Frischkorn’s house several years ago. His father Carl, a wealthy venture capitalist, sometimes drives a motorcycle in the caravan at domestic bike races. Will comes from a comfortable background — he’s certainly not racing because he has no other options.
But what about wins, they asked me. What are his best results?
Well, he won the Univest Grand Prix last year, I told them.
“The Univest… what?” they replied. “What else?”
“He was second overall at the Tour of Missouri last year,” I said.
“He won the national under-23 road championship,” I told them.
“In Europe,” they scoffed. “Tell us what he’s done in Europe!”
“Okay, he was third in the under-23 Tour of Flanders, also in 2003, riding for the U.S. national team.”
Silence. But it seemed I was getting somewhere.
“He was in the breakaway all day at Milan-San Remo this year,” I told them. “Don’t you remember?”
“Ah. Really?” Finally, they had something to latch on to.
Frischkorn proved that March day along the coast of northwestern Italy that he could ride off the front with the sport’s best.
And though he didn’t win Monday’s stage, his second-place ride was easily the best ride of his career.
The fact of the matter is that Will has been a domestique, riding in the service of others for the majority of his pro career. It’s a position he’s comfortable with, and has shone in.
I remember writing a column about Frischkorn three years ago, when he’d first signed with Vaughters at TIAA-CREF. I wrote about how he’d been regarded by many as the future of American talent since he’d worked his way up the Mercury pipeline. Frischkorn rode for Mercury’s junior and amateur squads before joining its professional squad in 2000, turning down an offer to join U.S. Postal in the process. He’d also suffered from varying back and leg problems, and had jostled around his riding position quite a bit. He rode alongside Chris Horner, Tom Danielson, Ivan Dominguez, Tim Johnson and Phil Zajicek on the 2003 Saturn dream team, and after an unremarkable 2004 season riding for Colavita Olive Oil, Frischkorn signed with TIAA-CREF.
Vaughters said back in 2005 that it was “now or never” for Frischkorn to make the step up to the big leagues. I guess he was wrong. Frischkorn, who has been staunchly anti-doping throughout his career, found a home on Vaughters’ developing, progressive program that eventually grew into a Tour de France squad. “Now or never” was a three-year process that culminated in Monday’s career-changing ride.
Most of all, what I wanted to share with my pressroom colleagues was something that just wouldn’t translate well across international media — Will is just an awesome guy. He’s friendly, intelligent, well spoken and polite. He’s been so mature, for so long, it’s easy to forget he just turned 27. He’s the guy everyone knows that doesn’t hesitate to say hello first when he sees you, and always hits you back with an email or text message when contacted. (Although I had a feeling Monday evening that he might have been a bit overwhelmed.) I challenge anyone who has spent any amount of time getting to know him to say differently.
Following the stage Vaughters called Frischkorn his “old best buddy on the team,” adding, “Will is one of the original guys on this team. I’m pretty happy about that.”
For initiating the attack Frischkorn was awarded the most aggressive rider of the day, and he now sits third overall heading into the stage 4 time trial. Garmin also leads the team classification, 41 seconds over Cofidis. Frischkorn’s ride will help make up for the sting the team undoubtedly felt when Trent Lowe was caught out after a crash in the peloton with 26km to go. Lowe didn’t go down, but he finished in the third chase group, losing nearly three minutes to other best young rider contenders like Andy Schleck and Riccardo Ricco.
On the way out of the pressroom I was talking about how exciting it had been to see Will in the break — the last man chosen on a wildcard team nearly winning the stage — and a journalist jokingly called me a “fan.” That’s not something any reporter wants to hear, particularly from another journalist. But I had to concede the point. Monday was one of those days when I threw all journalistic objectivity out the window. I wanted Will to win, because, above all, I know him, and I like him.
Besides, it’s not often the European journo’s come asking me for information, so Monday was a something of victory for us both, Will. Thanks for that. I have a feeling they’ll remember you next time.