The Redlands Bicycle Classic is a world-renowned event that has earned the tag-line, “where legends are born”.
No doubt that is because multiple grand-tour champions, world-class pro’s, Olympians and national champions from around the world come, each year, to compete in the five-day Redlands Bicycle Classic, an event that has a heritage of nearly 35-years.
Besides world class competition, the race is also a proving ground for top-level local and regional teams looking to test themselves amongst some of the world's best.
For Leo Bugtai, this would his first professional stage race as well as his first 5-day event, not to mention his first time racing amongst an international peloton of riders.
To say that he was both excited and nervous for this opportunity would be an understatement!
After a brutally tough event that demanded he give his absolute best, each day, we caught up with Leo to talk about this milestone in his cycling career for this weeks BWC Athlete Profile. Enjoy!
Leo Bugtai completed a cycling milestone, finishing his first pro-level stage race with his SoCalCycling.com race team at the Redlands Bicycle Classic. Photo Credit: Christy Nicholson, EchelonDesignPhoto.com
Primary Sport/Discipline: Road Cycling
Average Hours of Training Per Week: 18-22hrs.
Upcoming Goals: The North Star Grand Prix & Elite National Championships
Question #1: Congratulations on completing the Redlands Bicycle Classic, Leo! As your first Pro race, there is little doubt it was hard, but how did the experience stack-up to your expectations?
Leo Bugtai:Thank you, the Redlands Classic did not disappoint!
The Redlands Classic is something we’ve been working on since I started with Big Wheel Coaching.
The experience came pretty close to how I had envisioned it. The race didn’t catch me off guard, as it has for others, because I had experienced people behind the scenes consistently educating me on what to expect.
What I learned though the race was the importance of every physical, mental, and technical aspect of being an Athlete that I have absorbed since the beginning of my racing career. It tested all of my abilities to the limit!
In addition, what really surprised me is that I hardly knew anyone at the start of the race, the Redlands Classic peloton is so diverse featuring riders and teams from all over the country and the world!
Coaches Perspective/Coach Brian: I am so proud of Leo for all he accomplished during the Redlands Bicycle Classic. Over 180-riders started the race, with more than fifty riders being eliminated on day-one, and even more were eliminated with each subsequent stage.
I knew that this race would challenge Leo to his core, but was confident that he had the strength and tenacity to finish, which he did to a rousing cheer from his family and friends!
As his coach, what I was most excited about was seeing that he arrived at the start of each day, hungry to compete.
Although each stage was physically demanding beyond expectation, Leo was excited for the opportunity to race hard, which had a substantial positive impact on his performance in the days' event.
Despite the fatigue and demanding nature of each stage Leo arrived at the start with a smile! Photo Credit: Leo Bugtai
Question #2: What are some of the most memorable moments of your first pro stage-race and what was your favorite stage?
LB: The final miles climbing up to Oak Glen, which was a six-mile climb that came after over 90-miles of racing was a real test of my self-determination.
It was so steep... and to make matters worse you couldn’t avoid the wind, it was an uphill headwind!
I will never forget my first RBC, specifically how mentally and physically deep I had to go just to finish.
I’m not afraid to admit, I literally cried in agony and relief when I crossed the finish-line at Oak Glen.
I had been fighting the whole 94-miles, every inch of the 10,000’ of elevation gain, and the entire 4hrs of the race.
It was then when I realized why we train so hard. And to think this isn’t the hardest race in the world is mind boggling to me!
For sure my favorite stage was the Downtown Redlands Criterium, which was known to be the “easiest stage” of them all (I use quotations on "easiest" because it wasn’t and isn’t easy).
I haven’t had the opportunity to race in many technical criterium’s so figuring out how to take each corner smoothly (there are nine!) while maneuvering through a field of 150-riders and maintaining speeds above 30mph was a demanding, yet fun, experience.
Also, I should say the spectators at Redlands, specifically the crowd at the downtown stages, gave me goose bumps when I would hear them cheering us on!
It felt surreal in comparison to events I’ve done in the past.
Coach Brian: There is nothing quite like stage-racing at the professional level, the speed, intensity, and crowds are incredible!
From the outside, each stage seems like a monumental challenge in and of itself, yet cyclists race each day as if it was a stand-alone event!
When Leo and I spoke just before the Redlands Classic, I gave him this advice. “Don’t save anything, ride every day as if there is no tomorrow, and be willing to go ‘all in’when the race situation demands.”
The purpose of this advice was that I didn’t want Leo to calculate his efforts. I wanted him to be completely present in the race and be able give his absolute best performance.
Although the Redlands Criterium doesn’t seem monumental, when compared to the other stages of the race, it absolutely demands an Athletes best effort and I am happy that Leo heeded this advice.
Even during the criterium numerous riders were cut from the race, and unable to start the next day, proving the fitness, skill, and focus it required to complete this stage was immense.
Cycling is a family affair in the Bugtai house! Leo's father is always pushing him to work harder and train more, so much so he is willing to support him when he trains in the rain! Photo Credit: Leo Bugtai
Question #3: Following the Redlands Classic, what events are you most excited about and training for later this season?
LB:There are a few logistical hurdles to clear in order to get to the big events out East this summer, but the ones I’m looking to do are the North Star Grand Prix in Minnesota and Elite National Championships in Maryland.
I also want to get some results locally before the season is through.
We have some great SoCal racing on tap for the remainder of the season like the 805 Crit Weekend and the Barry Wolfe Grand Prix. Both of which I want to do well at.
Coach Brian: It is exciting that Leo is going to be able to use his Redlands Classic experience and fitness at summer events like North Star and Elite National Championships!
Each of these events will put Leo in pelotons of riders he does not know on roads he is unfamiliar with, which can be quite daunting.
Being a successful cyclist demands that a rider be able to handle the unknown and figure-out ways to be perform optimally in dynamic situations as much as it is about incredible leg strength.
For Leo these events are going to give him the opportunity to see what racing at the professional level is all about!
Leo has come a long way since he began racing, and the journey is only gaining momentum with his recent Redlands Classic success! Photo Credit: Leo Bugtai
Question #4: What is/are your favorite workout(s) in training? Also, please share a ‘knowledge-bomb’ you learned while preparing for (or during) the Redlands Classic.
LB:Coach Brian prescribed many sub threshold, 5-1/2hr rides leading into the Redlands Classic.
Sometimes they would include some interval work, each hour, but I often took this as an opportunity to do a bit more, which on a few occasions, turned into epic rides.
I would wake up early to ride solo for a bit, then meet up with some friends around 7:30AM, and motor with them on their favorite training ride before having to venture home to complete my day in the saddle.
These rides turned into more than a hard workout, they were awesome adventures!
Long training rides are still difficult, despite their moderate pace, but are one of the things I love most about riding bikes.
Something I learned while training for Redlands is that there are many layers to physical and mental preparation.
It takes a great deal of time to prepare for a PRT (Pro Road Tour) race such as the Redlands Bicycle Classic and it took me months to prepare!
Along the way you need to prepare your body, nourishing it well, and mind, feeding your soul to ensure you can suffer day-in and day-out for what is to come.
If you rush the preparation for a PRT race, you’ll most certainly be humbled when you get to the event.
A simple piece of advice leading into an event of this caliber is to stay disciplined!
Remaining disciplined in your lifestyle, sleep hygiene, stretching routines, workouts, and even taking some time to calm your mind is essential.
Preparation doesn’t mean getting serious a month before the race…!
For me, I knew it would take at least 5-months to physically prepare, and that is on top of all the race experience I got since receiving my Category 1 upgrade in December.
All of this work and I barely made time-cut each day at the Redlands Classic and placed 107thoverall out of the 180 starters goes to show there is still much more room for progress and growth.
In fact, I’m still preparing!
Coach Brian: Leo has been a a diligent “student of the game”, since we began working together, but don't let his results fool you, this is a monumental accomplishment! This result vaults Leo into a whole new level of racing.
When he originally approached me about coaching, we talked about what a major accomplishment it would be to line-up at the Redlands Classic, not to mention what it would mean to complete it.
Although I knew with the right preparation and build-up he could achieve everything he dreamed of, the daily grind of training can often construe our vision and blur the sight of our dreams. Think of it like a ship at sea, sailing through a storm at night, and what it would mean to see a light house, then lose sight of it. It can be all to easy to lose hope, unless the candlelight of determination burns bright!
I am happy to say that Leo was excellent about verbalizing when he was having trouble with workouts or when his body required more rest. This allowed us to continually taper and adjust his training to ensure he was as prepared as possible for his big race.
Despite the humbling nature of this level of racing, what I told Leo after the race is that next year, he will suffer the same, but get better results.
My advice was that the sport of cycling does not discriminate, everyone will suffer, even the most gifted Athletes, but the one constant is that hard-work and dedication always get rewarded in this sport.
I look forward to all that lies ahead for Leo and am so proud of what he has accomplished in his cycling career thus far.
After such a demanding event you might think Leo would be heading to the beach for some R&R...not so! Monday morning Leo was back at work, doing his day job, and thinking about his next cycling adventure. Photo Credit: Leo Bugtai
We hope you have enjoyed reading about Leo Bugtai’s Redlands Bicycle Classic success and that it will inspire you to achieve your very best!
At Big Wheel Coaching we take immense pride in each of our Athletes and applaud their efforts as we have first-hand knowledge of the dedication and sacrifice it takes to be a successful cyclist.
That is why we encourage every Athlete to test themselves to their maximum.
We think the famous poet, T.S. Eliot, sums up our feelings on training and racing with this quote:
“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far it is possible to go.”
Until Next Time, Be Safe, Train Hard, & Have Fun!
-Brian & Joy McCulloch
Big Wheel Coaching