Brent Bookwalter is relishing fresh opportunities to race to win this season at BMC Racing.
The veteran American was long a loyal lieutenant to 2011 Tour de France champion Cadel Evans, but with the Australian retiring in January, Bookwalter is once again seeing chances to be at the sharp end of the action.
“I already have had my chances in the early part of the season. I’ve had freedom to make my own races. Little opportunities like that, when I am not the second man to do the work, it’s fun,” Bookwalter told VeloNews in a recent interview. “I still enjoy working, especially when we have guys on fire, and I am happy to lay it on the line. It’s nice to be in the mix, reminding myself what it’s like to be racing for the win.”
Bookwalter, 31, has developed into one of the most consistent riders at BMC. He’s often in the trenches, doing the heavy lifting for his teammates to shine, and it’s a role he said he enjoys. Changes within BMC, marked by the arrival of Allan Peiper as sporting manager in 2014, helped to shake things up at the U.S.-registered team.
The team’s focus remains on the season’s major goals, at the spring classics and the grand tours, but the team also aims to be competitive in every race it starts. And that means there are more opportunities for riders like Bookwalter.
Bookwalter said the challenge is helping him and others on the squad to maintain their enthusiasm and motivation in the sometimes-brutal peloton.
“It’s easy to get maybe a little too comfortable in this worker role. It’s very important for the team, but at the end of the day, most of us got into racing because we loved riding bikes, and at some points of our careers, whether it was the junior ranks or mountain biking, we knew what it was like to win,” Bookwalter explained. “Or to race for the win, to be competitive, so it’s important to get back to that. I haven’t had any wins yet, but just being in the mix, being in the top 10s, smelling the finish line, that’s important.”
Now in his eighth season with BMC, Bookwalter has seen it all since the team’s inception. In fact, Bookwalter, along with Danilo Wyss, are the only current riders who remain part of the squad since its first season on the U.S. domestic circuit.
The signing of Evans in 2010 forever changed the direction and trajectory of the team. Along with the arrival of such riders as George Hincapie and Alessandro Ballan, BMC suddenly became a big-time team in the European peloton.
Bookwalter fought hard to keep his place with the arrival of several more top riders, and he earned the respect of his teammates and sport directors for his selfless dedication and hard work in the name of his captains. He became one of the intimate teammates to Evans, and rode with him as he made history as the first Australian to win the Tour in 2011.
Evans’ retirement in January also marks a new chapter for BMC Racing, with the rising prospects of such improving talents as Tejay van Garderen and Rohan Dennis, who won the overall at the Santos Tour Down Under in what was Evans’ final UCI WorldTour appearance.
“We are transitioning into the post-Cadel Evans era. We started the year off like that,” Bookwalter said. “I think it was kind of fitting that Rohan Dennis took the reins in Australia, and despite Cadel still being able to be competitive, he passed the torch quite eloquently, and Rohan picked it up, and we’ve been moving forward since then.”
Once again, Bookwalter is motivated to keep his place within the team hierarchy. So far in the 2015 season, Bookwalter overcame an off-season foot injury, and has been getting those chances he’s been counting on, riding into the top-20 at the Dubai Tour, Trofeo Laigueglia, and Drome Classic. Later this season, it’s likely to the Giro d’Italia or Tour de France, once again reverting to the helper role for the GC captains.
“I have ambitions to grow into a more prominent role with the team. I have been through a lot with this team, and know they can count on me,” Bookwalter said during a BMC team camp at the start of the season. “I am more aware of my own capabilities, and I know I have a lot more in me. I am excited to have the chance to show that.
“The last year or two, we have broken out of the mold of how we used to race. We are starting to race with a new aggressive style that bodes for us to move on after Cadel.
“With Cadel, we knew he could always deliver, so we started to race a bit defensively, knowing he could throw the big bomb at the end of the race. Due to broadening our mentality, we are seeing guys getting a lot more opportunities.”
It’s not as if Bookwalter hasn’t had results in the pro ranks. In 2013, he won a stage and finished second overall at the Tour of Qatar, and in 2010, barely missed out on the pink jersey in the opening prologue in Amsterdam. The man who beat him by two seconds? Bradley Wiggins.
“Every prologue is a different creature. Just because you do good in one, doesn’t mean you’re going to do well in another. Every since I did that prologue in 2010, people think, ‘oh, it’s a prologue, this is great for you!’ Well, actually, it was great for me that day,” he said. “There is no formula in a prologue.”