MIDWAY, Utah (VN) — For most of the past decade, Brent Bookwalter has settled into a unique position in the pro peloton. He’s often a steady fixture, animating stages, controlling breaks. He’s a consummate team rider for whom the podium’s top perch remains elusive.
But that wasn’t exactly what the BMC rider had in mind when his signed his first contract with the team in 2008.
“It’s sort of been a product of this team, its evolution and development,” said Bookwalter, 31. “When I started with the team, I think I was at the point where I could be a team leader in every race, and I could be the one getting worked for and getting results.
“But then, as you know, the team took a different path, and I was very happy to be a part of it. I’ve been very fortunate to be a part of getting some big signings and stepping it up to the ProTour. From that point, I really embraced the teammate role, the worker role. I realized I could sort of make a career for myself and define myself as a teammate for some of the best riders in the world.”
Bookwalter’s last individual win occurred in February 2013 at the Tour of Qatar. He finished second in the road race and individual time trial later in the same season at the national championships and second overall at the Tour of Alberta.
“It’s interesting,” said Bookwalter. “A couple of weeks ago I did the Tour of Austria. It was kind of the first time in years I’d done a race and tried to do a GC ride in a race with mountains. That showed me I can still do it. I wasn’t the best climber there. But between some consistent climbing and opportunist riding and breakaways and gaining a few seconds here and there, I finished fourth overall, and that was confidence-inspiring. I can still climb.”
Bookwalter’s resurgence has continued in the Tour of Utah. With his fifth place in the uphill finish in stage 4 as well as second in stage 3 and third in stage 2, Bookwalter is third overall, trailing new race leader Jure Kocjan (SmartStop) by four seconds with three stages remaining.
Bookwalter, who will ride for BMC again next season with Richie Porte as a new teammate, was instrumental in Cadel Evans’ victory in the 2011 Tour de France. He has six other grand tour finishes while teammates, most notably Tejay van Gardenen and Taylor Phinney, have ridden into the European spotlight.
“I’ve been a part of some lifetime achievements, and I never could have done it if I were the leader on a smaller team,” said Bookwalter. “But with that, the downside is that there’s less opportunity for myself. At times, the ambition or the fire to win, sort of just becomes stifled. It’s a by-product of just selflessly working for others.
“So that’s been a challenge the past couple of years. I have the depth and the experiences to get results on my own when my time comes, where it’s a WorldTour race or the Tour of Utah. I’ve worked really hard with my really close family and friends and my mental coach and personal coach, and we’ve tried to transition my mentality.”
While not considered a top-tier climber, Bookwalter is not discounting his overall title chances. Pre-race favorite Tom Danielson (Cannondale-Garmin), the two-time consecutive winner, did not start because of a positive out-of-competition drug test. Chris Horner (Airgas-Safeway), runner-up the past two seasons, hasn’t had top form this season.
“There’s not a clear overall GC favorite, there’s not that guy. Chris Horner’s team has been out in front supporting him. But other than, there hasn’t been a GC team that’s stepped up to control the sprints, so anything can happen. I feel strong this week. I am open-minded. With the finishes I’ve had, the team has been supporting me really well.”