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Bookwalter brings experience, depth to Mitchelton-Scott’s GC push

The Australian outfit is a perfect fit for the American all-rounder, who can support Yates or Chaves in the mountains at grand tours.

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You can never have too many friends in the WorldTour. If you go to bike races, you’ll often see riders chatting with sport directors from rival teams. Part of that is being social, yet another aspect is networking.

So when Brent Bookwalter was sniffing around for a spot on a team for 2019, he didn’t have to look far.

“I’ve always had good contact with those guys and I’ve always liked the vibe of their team,” Bookwalter said. “We had a few conversations and it came together pretty quickly.”

That’s how many deals are done in the peloton. While top stars have agents who shop around their marquee clients, most riders will handle their own negotiations. An agent and lawyer might step in later to work out the details and write up the contracts, but most riders are careful to nurture relationships with teammates and managers across the entire peloton.

That’s how Larry Warbasse landed at Ag2r La Mondiale when Aqua Blue collapsed late-summer. Warbasse’s friendship with star rider Romain Bardet led to a connection with French manager Vincent Lavenu. Now he’s taking a crash-course in French and is poised to join the French superstar in 2019.

So when the future of BMC Racing was looking uncertain last summer, Bookwalter was keen to secure his future. BMC Racing later found a deal to stay afloat with Polish shoemaker CCC stepping in as new title sponsor, Bookwalter was already leaning toward Mitchelton-Scott.

Bookwalter’s move from BMC to Mitchelton-Scott is a milestone for both parties. Bookwalter, 34, has only raced professionally with BMC Racing and he will also be the first American rider to join the GreenEdge franchise.

“I had a great time with BMC and they supported me and helped me grow as a professional,” Bookwalter said. “I am also looking forward to working with a new team and a fresh start. It’s exciting.”

White said it is coincidental that Bookwalter is the team’s first American rider. Despite the Mitchelton-Scott’s obvious Australian tilt, he said the team doesn’t sign riders based on passports.

The timing was perfect to bring on Bookwalter, regardless of which country he comes from.

“We’re always looking for riders with the right fit for our team,” said Mitchelton-Scott sport director Matt White. “We’ve been in a touch for a long time. The window opened and it was a perfect fit.”

The exit of sprinter Caleb Ewan (to Lotto-Soudal) means that the team is prioritizing GC results in major stage races. A few riders like Matteo Trentin or Daryl Impey might freelance the occasional sprint. White said the team’s conversion to a grand tour team is now complete following Ewan’s departure.

Simon Yates confirmed his grand tour potential with victory in the 2018 Vuelta a España. Coupled with his twin brother Adam and the recovering Esteban Chaves, Mitchelton-Scott will need riders like Bookwalter to protect their leaders across the season’s grand tours.

The departures of riders like Svein Tuft (to Rally) and Roman Kreuziger (to Dimension Data) opened up a roster spot that fit Bookwalter like a glove.

The team needed multifaceted, experienced riders who could climb as well as protect a leader on the flats. That’s what Bookwalter’s been doing for much of his career, with nine grand tours under his belt.

Bookwalter, who can also contribute in team time trial efforts as well as post his own results when the time is right, was the right rider at the right time.

“We are always watching riders and staying in touch so when we have an opening, we already have a few people in mind,” White said. “We’ve been in contact already the last couple of years. The guys in Girona know him, and you look at what he’s done in his career, it’s a no-brainer. It’s just that before we didn’t need a rider with his talents at that time.”

Bookwalter knows what it takes to win a Tour de France. He rode alongside Cadel Evans during the Australian’s historic Tour victory in 2011. He’s ridden several more grand tours supporting riders like Richie Porte and brings a steady hand to a young and ambitious team.

“We haven’t discussed calendars yet, but it’s obvious he will be racing in the grand tours,” White said. “When you’re going after winning grand tours, you need blokes in that sort of skillset.”

With the Yates twins and Chaves all riding for grand tour podiums, it is likely Bookwalter will be busy in 2019.