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Giro d'Italia

Bookwalter, Lewis shine in grand tour debuts

Two of America’s most promising young riders made impressive grand tour debuts during the Giro d’Italia.

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Two of America’s most promising young riders made impressive grand tour debuts during the Giro d’Italia.

Brent Bookwalter (BMC) and Craig Lewis (HTC-Columbia) each made it to Verona on Sunday in a remarkably challenging and grueling Giro d’Italia as each man’s first three-week stage race.

Lewis is tired, but happy.
Lewis smiles after finishing the final stage of a long, long Giro.

Both came away with solid individual results, excellent teamwork for their respective captains and renewed confidence for the future.

Each nearly snatched huge victories. Bookwalter was just two seconds shy of the pink jersey with second in the opening time trial in Amsterdam and Lewis unleashed a well-timed late-stage attack out of a 17-man breakaway only to get caught 100m from the line in stage 13.

Bookwalter buried himself to help BMC captain Evans while Lewis worked to help HTC-Columbia sprinters Matt Goss and André Greipel take stage victories.

The Giro also marked an important milestone for both riders. Each battled back from horrific crashes that nearly put an end to their respective careers. Bookwalter suffered a nasty crash in 2007 on the U-23 circuit that left him with a broken fibula and Lewis survived his harrowing crash in the 2004.

VeloNews caught up with both riders on the final stage of the Giro in Verona. Here are their reflections on their first grand tour:

On arriving in Verona

Craig Lewis: Somehow I survived. Coming into it, I’ve only done one big race – I did Avenir once. Then just week-long stage races,.I thought it would be way over my head, but once you get into it, it’s just like any other race. I am just as tired as if I just finished Liège. I felt better for longer than I thought I would. I felt great on the Gavia and alright in the final time trial. I feel like I am coming out of it strong.

Brent Bookwalter: It’s three weeks I couldn’t have fully imagined until doing it. When I was looking at the stages in the book, with the hard profiles, it wasn’t a certainty I was going to make it. It’s good to be here in Verona. That was a big goal (to finish). I was lucky enough to have this race in my plan since the end of last of season, so it’s rewarding to make it to the end of my first grand tour. Hopefully, there will be more, and some improvements for the future. I have been looking forward to get to this day.

On coming close to winning a stage

CL: Yeah, that was great, I came up 100 meters short. I gave it a shot, that’s better than just sitting in and getting fifth in the sprint. I was really happy with that day. It was really good.

BB: Personally, that first day was incredible, great to start off that way. It was nice to get a little personal gratification out in the first stage, then I could really focus on helping Cadel. Then surviving to Verona has been a special achievement. I was looking at the results, I think there are 60 or so DNFs, so that’s a lot for a field of this caliber.

Brent Bookwalter says that ride to L’Aquila 'was probably the most miserable day I’ve ever had on a bike.'
Brent Bookwalter says that ride to L’Aquila 'was probably the most miserable day I’ve ever had on a bike.'

On worst day during Giro

CL: I never had a bad day, because I went in with the idea of surviving the race and looking to get into a breakaway one day, and being there for Greipel. When the gruppettos were going early in the first week, I went with them. A lot of guys think they all have a shot at the overall, then they push, push, push, until they explode. That gives you a bad day. I never had one. I am healthy and still motivated, I could keep going if I had to. Three weeks are enough.

BB: The big shakeup day, the day to L’Aquila, that was probably the most miserable day I’ve ever had on a bike. I went through such huge range of emotions and physical sensations. There were times when I didn’t think I was going to make it. You look around and everyone was in the same boat. I go from representing the team in the breakaway, to being where I needed to be. Then the team called me back, I totally froze waiting for the main bunch to catch. I was freezing for 20mins. I drilled it a little bit, then got dropped to the other group. At one point, there were no team cars, no motorcycles, no official cars, no fans, nothing, I am in the middle of nowhere, I didn’t even know if I was even on course! When you make it through days like that, you realize that you can survive, that you can do more than survive.

On riding big Italian climbs

CL: The problem with the climbs, is usually in the day before, I was in a break or pulling on the front for Greipel, so I was going into them pretty worn out, and everyone else had a rest day on those days, they were just sitting on the wheels. But on the Gavia, I felt really good, I was happy with how it went. I am happy to have three weeks in my body and I think it’s going to change me for the future.

BB: They were unlike anything else I’ve ever raced. What really made them hard were the weeks preceding the climbs and the kilometers before the climbs. I was thinking when I was up on the Gavia, it shouldn’t feel as bad as it did, especially in the gruppetto. But all the fatigue made all the difference.

On role within team

CL: Gossy won a stage early, so we had no pressure, but Greipel stayed in the race for that stage. We controlled it from the gun and he nailed the sprint. He won fairly easily, so he was happy to have won that stage, and so was the team.

BB: We were stretched a little thin. In stage 11, we lost Louder and Santambrogio. Even before the race, with Ballan not able to race, and Morabito sick, George and Burghardt doing California, we were thin coming in. We made the most of it. I tried to wear as many hats as I could. That was usually being with Cadel in the early parts of the stage, some of the stages I lasted a little longer. I feel content and pleased with the effort. I left it all on the road. Cadel knows that and he’s been positive and supportive.

On supporting Evans on GC

BB: It gives you a purpose every day. In a lot of those big days, with multi-climbs or a summit finish, I cannot have realistic goals, but to have a guy like Cadel, that you know that every effort you put in will have some sort of result, whether that saves him 10 watts, 50 watts here, 1 minute in the wind there. It all contributes to the final push in the stage or when he goes for a race-winning move. It feels good that we’re contributing.

On biggest surprise

CL: I was surprised how every day we attacked from the gun. No one ever wanted to take it easy. When I first started watching the Giro when I was racing as a teen-ager, I remember those long days of them going 30kph. We never had one. That doesn’t happen anymore.

On finishing Giro after injury

BB: Three years ago at this time, I didn’t even know if I was able to race again. I was thinking about my leg the past few days, it feels strong. When you’re groveling up those climbs, that puts it in perspective of what real misery is. The bone ripped right though. I hit a light pole. We were sidewalk racing in Belgium and I karate-kicked the pole. I still have a hard-object anxiety.

Lessons learned during Giro

CL: We’ll have to wait and see, for sure I will come out of it 10 times stronger mentally and physically, and just reap the benefits of having a grand tour in my head and in my legs. I will be that much confident in future races.

BB: Physically, you’re putting your body through something that you would never be able to simulate outside of a race, so hopefully I will get some good compensation from that. The mental confidence of knowing you can persevere and endure even when you think you cannot. I’ve been taking a lot of mental notes, from Cadel, to stack up my experience book when I will be able to use them for myself.

Next plans

CL: I am going to Philly next Sunday. Then I get to stay home for month of June, then Austria, Poland and we’ll see what shakes out with the U.S. racing scene. Then do worlds, because I think Tyler (Farrar) has a good shot there. Maybe finish up with Lombardia again.

BB: I am flying back to the States later this week. Cadel suggested not to take too many days off the bike. He suggested to ride easy for a week, to let the system decompress, then wind up for the rest of the summer. Things can change so fast in this sport, especially when you’re a guy in my role. You have to be prepared and motivated for any race at any time.