By Kirsten Robbins in Redlands California
Coming off last weekend's San Dimas Stage Race, defending Redlands Classic champion Andrew Bajadali and his Kelly Benefit Strategies/Medifast took a few days in between events to get together and show off the squad to its supporters and get its strategy together to help its newly signed talent defend his title this weekend.
Team director sportif Jonas Carney explained, "We went through sponsor meetings, we had photos and general administrations stuff," he said. "It was nice to get everyone together, the entire team. We had our Redlands squad out here all ready but brought the whole team in together."
It was a tough start to the year for the team who began their season with the Tour of California. "Not only was it the first race and biggest in the northern hemisphere, but we were all sick so I can't say it was pleasant experience," admitted Carney who said his team's morale has significantly improved since February. "The team morale is really high now and we are all coming around and clicking with riders and teamwork. We had some good efforts on part of some riders this month. No one is sick - we are all strong and ready for the weekend racing."
Last year's Redlands Classic champion found a home with Carney's team based on his impressive resume and potential talent as a long term GC rider. "In the last five years he has been getting better and better," said Carney. "We have had an all North American team so we were trying to find a GC contender who also North American and who would fit in with the team and who can contribute in all styles of racing -- Bajadali fits in well with that program."
This year's Redlands Classic has gone through a major change, losing the major mountain top finish at Oak Glen which has been the decisive factor in previous editions. According to Carney the field will be competitive even without Oak Glen because of the high quality of field, which include full teams with riders Tom Danielson (Slipstream), Victor Hugo Pena (Rock Racing), Cameron Evans (Symmetrics), Javier Zapata (Caico), Scott Nydam (BMC),Dominique Rollin (Toyota-United), Rory Sutherland (Health Net), Alejandro Borrajo (Colavita/Sutter Home), Ben Jacque-Maynes (Bissell), and Matt Rice (Jelly Belly).
"It will be hard for everyone," said Carney. "We have a guy who has won it before and is capable of winning it again. He is riding at one hundred percent fitness and in good health and we have other riders who can support him in GC. That new Beaumont race will depend on wind, and will be really hard if the wind is strong. If it's not windy there will be a field sprint but it will be small."