In 2005, before the Tour of Utah was internationally recognized, Colorado's Andrew Bajadali claimed the overall victory with a win atop Mt. Nebo. Six years later the 38-year-old Boulder resident is looking for another top finish here and a confirmation that his health issues are behind him.
A noted climber who has races like the Tour of Thailand and Redlands Classic to his name, as well as mountains classifications in the Mt. Hood classic and Tour of Utah, Bajadali has been suffering from a knee problem which plagued him in 2010, but an off-season surgery has helped to alleviate his pain. After a long build-up from his lay-off, the Kelly Benefit Strategies/OptumHealth rider is ready to attack the Wasatch Mountain summit on the Tour of Utah's final stage to the Snowbird Ski Resort.
Bajadali had been held back by a tracking issue in his kneecap that caused him pain, and after months of trying physiotherapy and every non-surgical intervention possible, he gave in and went under the knife.
"I threw in the towel at Cascade Classic last year and decided to refocus on this year and get knee surgery in the off season," Bajadali told Cyclingnews.
"It's taken a long time to recover from that and get some decent fitness, so it's been a frustrating year for me. I'm not used to performing, but hopefully I can do something this week."
He has been focusing his season around Tour of Utah and the upcoming USA Pro Cycling Challenge, but his team did not earn an invitation to the Colorado event.
"It's probably why I am coming on form now, the whole season has been based around these two races."
So far the Kelly Benefit Strategies team has had its most success ever at this level, with Jesse Anthony taking the victory on stage 1 and making the decisive breakaway that put him into the top five overall, where he remains after the time trial.
Bajadali said the team has its work cut out on the stage 4 circuit race in Salt Lake City, which takes in 11 laps of a hilly 13km circuit through the Capital city.
There could well be a change in the overall classification as RadioShack, with Levi Leipheimer in the overall race lead with his teammate Janez Brajkovic in second, are less than a minute ahead of the Gobernacion de Antioquia riders Oscar Sevilla and Sergio Henao.
Everyone is expecting the team of the former race leader to try to blow the race apart.
"Who knows what's going to happen with the Colombian riders, they're the X-factor in this race," Bajadali said. "RadioShack is going to have to protect the jersey in the circuit race, and those guys are going to go crazy. Hopefully we come out on the positive side on that."