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Giro d'Italia

Bookwalter searching for a break at the Giro

The BMC rider talks to VeloNews about making it into breaks, a demanding and competitive task in grand tour racing

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MONTECATINI TERME, Italy (VN) — It’s a different kind of Giro d’Italia for BMC Racing this year. Perennial favorite Cadel Evans is happily enjoying retirement, so instead of riding full-out for the pink jersey, the U.S.-registered team brings a new, flowing dynamic to the season’s first grand tour.

Italian up-and-comer Damiano Caruso is the team’s GC man, and hopes to punch into the top-10 overall and perhaps even better, if things go well. Everyone on the team openly admits they’re not on the same level of the Giro’s three aces — Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), Richie Porte (Sky), and Fabio Aru (Astana) — so the team is bringing a pragmatic, wide-open attitude to the Giro.

“We do not have a leader like the top three guys, but we can still make a very good Giro,” BMC sport director Valerio Piva told VeloNews at Thursday’s start. “We would like to win at least one stage, and maybe Caruso can even ride into the top-5. There is no pressure on him, but we want to animate the race. To go on the attack.”

And that’s just what BMC’s done so far. Through the opening five stages, BMC’s red and black jerseys have snuck into the breaks and challenged for the wins. Philippe Gilbert was third in stage 3, and wants to come out of Italy with another Giro stage win on his palmares.

“I would like to win a stage. I think there will be more possibilities,” Gilbert said earlier this week. “The team is very motivated here. Everyone is excited to race.”

In addition to Gilbert, BMC is loaded with other explosive, experienced riders, such as Amael Moinard, who escaped in stage 4, Silvan Dillier, Marcus Burghardt, and Stefan Kung. Any one of those riders will have freedom to ride for results.

“I’ve been telling the guys they can ride into the breaks,” Piva continued. “We have a team here who can help Caruso, but also to ride into the breakaways. We’ve already been active. People are not used to seeing BMC race this way.”

Another rider looking forward to this new style of racing is BMC veteran Brent Bookwalter. One of Evans’ longtime loyal lieutenants, Bookwalter started this Giro with ambitions to help Caruso, but also to look for the right moment to sneak into breakaways.

“There is no shortage of guys going up the road for us. It’s not your typical BMC grand tour strategy. It’s reinvigorating to have a little more freedom. The other teams are giving us some room to move as well,” Bookwalter told VeloNews. “There is more freedom and flexible, and more chances for us. It’s been a nice change to get back into that attacking mentality.”

The new attitude at the Giro reflects an overall shift at BMC in the wake of Evans’ retirement. Tejay van Garderen is the team’s man for the Tour de France, but at just about every other race this season, the team has been racing in a more fluid, aggressive manner.

Bookwalter has already seen his chances this season, and hopes to ride into at least one breakaway during this Giro. As everyone knows in the peloton, it’s not easy to make the break, especially on days that favor a breakaway staying clear.

The battle to ride into the day’s breakaway is usually the most heated racing of the day. Bookwalter said it’s a combination of luck, perseverance, and tactical guile.

“A few breakaways have stayed away, but that will only mean some very hard fought battle to get into the breaks,” Bookwalter explained. “By no means is it a formality, but that helps all the guys on the team, that we are all pushing each other along.

“It can be chaotic, exciting, and really you have to be switched. Little things can make a difference, you go through the neutral start on the wrong side of a traffic circle, and it can take you 10km to get back to the front. And then you miss the day’s break.”

In last year’s Giro, Bookwalter rode into the breakaway on the Zoncolan stage, riding to an impressive fifth place deep into the Giro’s final week.

Bookwalter said the calculus of breakaways has changed in the modern peloton. He pointed to Wednesday’s stage, when the break had more than 10 minutes on the peloton, but only two riders — winner Jan Polanc (Lampre-Merida) and Sylvan Chavanel (IAM Cycling) — managed to hold out. Chavanel crossed the finish line a bike length ahead of the chasing GC favorites.

“Never underestimate the power of the peloton or the hidden motivation of the teams to bring back a breakaway,” Bookwalter said. “These days, anything goes, and you never know when one team might have an interest to chase down the break.”

The battle for the breakaway is typically the most intense racing action of the day, and no one sees it. Gone are the days of riding piano. As soon as the flag is dropped on the stage, the battle begins. Different teams and riders attack and attack until the right combination of riders and teams sticks. Teams don’t want to miss a move, especially if the group gets too big. But if it’s a long, flat stage with headwinds, not too many are eager to ride for nothing.

The battle for breakaways is one that is fought out on the roads, before the TV cameras turn on.

“It’s unfortunate that the sport hasn’t found a way to capture that and show it to the audience, it’s often the most exciting racing of the day, more so than the end of the stage,” Bookwalter said. “In a finale like [Abetone], there are only a handful of guys racing for the win. But in the first hour of racing, there can be 100 guys racing to get into the break. It’s intense.”