BMC Racing Team's Brent Bookwalter makes his living as a worker bee, riding in support of a team goal. But this season he's also made the most of his rare opportunities to shine.
Bookwalter, 29, won the opening stage of the Tour of Qatar by edging two other breakaway riders at the finish line just as the peloton caught them. At the U.S. Championships earlier this spring, Bookwalter was runner-up in both the time trial and the road race. He was outsprinted by veteran Freddie Rodriguez in the latter, an outcome Bookwalter has re-lived a few times. The weekend was notable for another reason: the first-ever joint men's and women's national championships meant Bookwalter and wife Jamie (Colavita Racing) competed in the same place on alternate days.
Raised in Grand Rapids, Mich., Bookwalter was a multiple collegiate road and mountain biking champion and honors biology graduate at Lees-McRae (N.C.) College. Bookwalter took second place in the opening time trial prologue of the 2010 Giro d'Italia and has twice finished the Tour de France, riding for 2011 winner Cadel Evans. He was also part of Tejay van Garderen's first pro stage race victory last month at the Tour of California.
Bookwalter recently spoke to ESPN.com by telephone from Europe. The following are excerpts from the conversation:
Ford: What did your two podiums at the U.S. Championships mean for you going forward?
Bookwalter: For me, it was a little bit of a transition. The past few years, I've felt like there was a possibility for me to win either title, I had the potential, but still felt like I needed a lot of circumstances and needed to get a little bit lucky. And of course that's still the case, as we saw from last weekend. The biggest thing I took away from it was confidence that I'm right there and capable of winning one of those titles. Hopefully I can make it happen before the end of my career. It was disappointing to come away with two seconds, especially in the road race, being the only rider there from our team. So many things had to come together, and I had to ride in a real particular way to get a shot at the win. And then to have it and miss it by such a small margin was frustrating. I've been kind of replaying it a lot, trying to make peace with it and move on.
Are you getting better at making that mental shift from being a domestique to going after your own chances in races now and then?
That's a huge challenge. Ninety to 95 percent of the race days I do out of the year with this team, I have a very explicit and demanding role, which is using every ounce of energy to help for a common team goal and help other leaders. I'm happy and honored to be in that position on this team with such a talented roster. But at the same time, I'm a competitor, and I still do have a drive to win. It takes a different mental training and approach to be able to switch into those moments and see them and seize them and actually be prepared to capitalize on them. I've been trying to work on that, and I feel like making good on those moments is more realistic the older I get and the more depth I get. A couple of years back, I kind of felt like I was always racing a little over my head, and with such a stacked team you think, 'If I ever do get an opportunity, what are the chances of me actually having what it takes to convert on this?' But now, I'm starting to get the experience, and everything's coming together so I can be a little closer.
How much has it helped your overall mindset to be strong and grounded in the time trial, even though you can't always go for broke there either?
Even that's been a learning experience in terms of what's realistic. I'm finding more and more that to do a good time trial at this level, I really need a course that's suited for me. There aren't many time trialists out there who can be good and obtain a result on every course at any distance -- there are very few of those guys, and unfortunately, I'm not one of them. I do think it's an asset and a strength of mine. I need the right course, the right distance and the green light from the team and the right circumstances in the race for the team to be able to go for it. It's something I still take pride in and train on and am still trying to improve at. It's nice to have a little facet of the sport where I have a little more control. I like the one-on-one effort of it and just racing myself.
As the husband of an elite racer, do you think the men's peloton has a role to play in helping boost women's cycling?
Without a doubt, they do. That's a question we have the responsibility of asking ourselves. In a sense, we're sort of all on the same team. Bike racing isn't a big enough world that we're able to draw a line. We all need to try to be as unified as we can. A victory for them is also a victory for us, because we're out there doing the same thing and it's a small niche. For now, I'm just trying to be as much of an advocate for women's cycling as I can. Jamie getting into racing at a little bit higher level has definitely given me a new appreciation for that. Getting to know some of her teammates and listening to her stories from the road and working with the women's national team a little bit, I feel more connected to it and more behind it than ever. I think guys are becoming more sympathetic to their plight and more behind the movement for greater and more powerful women's cycling. I'd like to see the governing body of our sport give them a little more attention and try to find solutions. If you're going to have a men's event and all the infrastructure is there, and you have these world-class women athletes available, why not include them and give it more substantial impact on the sport or the community we're in? It makes it a more evolved and more well-rounded event.
Photo Courtesy: Brent Bookwalter, LMC Athletics