Get to know our men’s team director, Andy Bajadali. A former professional mountain biker and road racer turned DS extraordinaire. Bajadali spent the last five years of his racing career with our team before retiring in 2012 when we were Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies. As part of our “Things With” interview series, we’re getting to know the players that contribute to our overall success.
I didn’t really have a solid ‘plan B’ for when I retired. I think a lot of people are in that same boat – all the chips are in and you’re so focused on the racing and traveling and everything that entails that you don’t really have time to plan. The time goes so fast and then all of a sudden, you’re at the end and you don’t know what to do.
I worked with Boulder Junior Cycling before joining Rally Cycling. It’s a big non-profit development program for kids from 9-18, and there’s a real mix of skill levels, from total beginners to national champions. I got started very late in the sport whereas a lot of kids get very serious at 15. They have a lot of mentorship and coaching and whatnot and I didn’t have any of that, so giving back to the sport and helping kids side-step some of the hurdles that I faced was super appealing for me, and it still is.
I didn’t start racing until I was 20-21. I think my past is a little different from a lot of people, I didn’t really do a lot of sports. I was always very athletic and naturally competitive, but in my early teen years, I was more focused on high school.
I stumbled into mountain bike racing. My friends took me out one day and I just rode away from them. I had a lot of fun, so I thought I’d get a bike and see what I can do. I lived in California at the time and they had a good local series, the Lake Tahoe series – this was probably the hey-day of mountain bike racing, early- to mid-1990s – so I would go and race on the weekends and work my way up through the levels. It was just for fun at the time. I didn’t really have aspirations to be a pro right away or anything like that.
I started road cycling in Boulder. I moved out to Colorado two years after high school, and I was introduced to road cycling by my sister’s friends from the coffee shop where she worked. Chris Wherry (former national pro champion rider) and a couple of other high-level amateurs took me out on 100km smash fests. You get sucked into the culture in Boulder, it’s very endurance sports-oriented and very competitive – everyone is a pro or a wannabe pro.
I raced the mountain bike professionally for a couple of years. This was with a local company – Dean Bicycles. But then the bottom fell out of sponsorship in the late 1990s-early 2000s and I wasn’t making any money, so I made the decision to go all-in on the road bike.
I went over to race in Belgium in the summer of 2000. I went with a couple of buddies and we raced kermesses around Ghent and Flanders. We just got our teeth kicked in for several months while learning the ropes and it was great! We were racing three days a week, riding 30km to the race, doing a 120km kermesse, then riding home. We’d get home at 10 pm at night but we were getting really strong.
Europe taught me bike racing isn’t all summer flowers and alpine passes. Belgium was a great introduction to racing professionally. You’re doing all your own stuff, cleaning your own equipment, living in messy conditions – it makes you decide right away whether racing is for you. I cut my teeth as an amateur in the States and worked my way up from there. It took forever, but I had some good results.
I won a lot of stage races. I won one of the inaugural Tours of Utah, the Redlands Classic, and the Tour of Thailand. I had some good victories, a lot of podiums, and finished second in the National Road Championships in 2009. I’m pretty stoked on what I accomplished having come into racing so late.
I’m very proud I raced clean my whole career. I have my standards. I have no ill will against the people who made the choices they did, I just don’t look at them in the same light as someone who played within the rules. Knowing what we know now about other US riders can mess with your head a bit when you quit racing. But I’m over it, I made my choices.
My only regret is not starting earlier. I think I could have gone a lot farther if I’d started even three years earlier. I had the engine to race in Europe at a super high level and there were some teams interested in me, but I think it always came down to age. When I started really going well, I was 27/28 already and at that point, they’re looking at younger riders. It’s even more cut-throat now – the interest disappears as early as 23.
I love being a director. I’m able to help everyone to learn from my mistakes! When I’m in the car in a race, say following a break, I’m helping the rider go for the win. Sometimes the mind is so frazzled at the end of a long race that you lose the capacity to evaluate the situation. I made so many frigging mistakes in my career – in breaks and race win situations – and now I can help our riders avoid those mistakes. That’s a shitload of fun.