Climbing onto the top step

Trying to track down the recent winner of the Redlands Cycling Classic was made a little tougher...

An interview with Andrew Bajadali, March 29, 2007

Even though Jelly Belly's Andy Bajadali got a late start as a pro in the sport, he has been steadily working to get noticed in the US peloton. Last year, Bajadali won the overall at the Tri-peaks Challenge, took third overall at the Tour de Toona and turned many heads by hanging tough with the ProTour elites at the US road championships. Bajadali, riding last season's success into 2007 with his team, recently won the overall at the Redlands Bicycle Classic. Mark Zalewski spoke with him following his win about what to expect out of him and his team in 2007.

Trying to track down the recent winner of the Redlands Cycling Classic was made a little tougher than normal - it seems that his mobile phone was mysteriously damaged in celebratory events later that night following the race. "Yeah, we were getting a little rowdy," he laughed, recalling the fun. "I broke it in a horse stall - the host house we were staying at had horses." Not one to point fingers, Bajadali only said, "Uh, Mike Jones was involved..."

Bajadali and the team certainly had reason to celebrate, having taken the overall win that day by riding smart in the final road race - taking the jersey off the shoulders of veteran Scott Moninger and his new BMC team - something he owes in part to his teammate and friend Alex Candelario. "I've been known to blow my bullets early, but Alex helped me with that," he said. "The gap was coming down and Moninger was chasing. I rolled up to Alex and said I was gonna go, but Alex told me to chill - and it worked out, Moninger did the work and the gap didn't come back."

"In 2005 I wore the leaders jersey at Gila for four days and we defended each day with just four guys. I know how difficult it can be. I lost the Gila on my birthday in the last ten kilometers! So I know that pain for BMC, especially for a new team - I know how difficult it can be. But we can all identify with it."

"I'm thirty-three right now... If I am still motivated to get out and train in the cold of Colorado, I think I can go five more years." -Andrew Bajadali on his late-blooming career

"It was the plan early on at Redlands, to keep me safe. The road race is really hectic, like every year - guys were going left and right, everywhere at times. My form was coming good at Central Valley, and I knew we were going to be competitive. I felt really good on the climb [the first stage,] and I came off only in the last 300 meters. Then the next days felt really easy - I never felt like I had to put in a huge effort."

Part of that feeling likely comes from the confidence he has built from strong racing and good placing the past couple of seasons. "The season last year was big for me. I was on the podium at Toona - and a breakthrough for me at the end of the season. I won the Tri-peaks Challenge which wasn't a slacker race by any means... but I've been knocking on the door for years [for a big win]. The day before the Sunset stage [at Redlands] I counted that I had been on every major podium but never on top."

But Bajadali gives credit where credit is due - his team, which was a new team for him last year. "Alex has been a good friend of mine for years and got me on the team. Last year as a whole was good. Our team stepped it up - like our victory at Sea Otter with Matty Rice. It's easier to get the results when everyone is happy and working together."

Baj, as he is called by his teammates, came to the sport a little later than most - which is why he is just getting noticed by some now. However, he does not plan on slowing down any time soon. "I'm thirty-three right now, thirty-four racing age this year. But I feel like I am still getting stronger each year. Maybe because I started cycling late, only racing since I was twenty-three. So I'm a little fresher now. If I am still motivated to get out and train in the cold of Colorado, I think I can go five more years."

"Personally, I'm looking toward a good Philly week. I think the course in Reading is good. I did a suicide move there last year, but I think I should have saved it for the hill. And Philly is alwasy epic. But a big goal for us is Tour of Utah. And we are going to China to do Tour of Qinghai Lake."

After his gutsy ride at the USPRO road championships, the chance to up his stock in the pro peloton was there. "I did have some interest from another team, before South Carolina actually, but I was on a two year contract with Jelly Belly. And I'm not the type of guy to just walk out. The sport is too small and I'm not into burning bridges. Plus the team is great - Danny Van Haute and I click really well."

Even US playing field

Bajadali said that the racing so far this season is illustrating what he thinks is a balance of power across the teams. "It's cool to see the firepower dispersed over the entire peloton this year. We've had several different winners from a lot of teams already. I think the whole season is going to be like it has been for the past month, not just two teams taking all of the wins."

As well, he thinks that the upcoming schedule for the season also shows a balance coming to the North American races in the context of the UCI calendar. This is something that he says makes him feel content to continue racing here, rather than automatically trying to make the jump across the Atlantic. "Racing in the states is getting so international, you can race here and get to race against internationals. I think I'll stick to the domestic calendar and focus on what I am good at - hard races, climbing races."

As for this year, even with an expanded schedule of races, Bajadali said this was the best way to start. "It's a good start to our season. All our guys are motivated and I think this victory has told us we are on the level and want to keep doing it." Unfortunately it seems that the realisation has come a little too late, with the team passed-over to race at the Tour de Georgia.

"We are disappointed we are not going to Georgia. It is kinda hard to swallow, but after our effort from last weekend we can look forward to the entire season. It's long and there are a lot of great international races ahead. You have to look at it that way, not just two months in the early season, but get goals going early and try to fulfill the entire season. A lot of people shut it down mid-season, but I like to keep it going into September!"

In an effort to keep it going, Bajadali is taking a little break after his win. "I'm gonna take a week off of racing. I've been going since the Tour of California. We are doing the US Open next - really big TV time and the course is good for us. It's pretty long and I hear there are cobbled circuits. It's definitely something Alex and I fancy! He's done some racing in Belgium. Then we are going back to defend our victory at Sea Otter."

It may be only early into a long season, but Bajadali promised Redlands was not just a flash in the pan. "I think you'll see a lot from us this year!

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