After years of an aggressive but linear progression, the BMC Racing Team took a giant step forwards this year with the addition of World Champion Cadel Evans, US National Road Champion George Hincapie and other big name riders in its quest to race at the Tour de France in 2011, if not sooner. The UCI Pro Continental team was awarded the Wildcard status earlier this week for the second year in a row which opens up the doors for invites to the ProTour races.
American Brent Bookwalter has grown with the team starting with his 2008 season where he returned after an 11-month recovery from a leg injury to tackling both NRC races in the US and prestigious races such as Paris-Roubaix, le Critérium du Dauphine Libéré and le Tour de Romandie in Europe last year.
The 25 year old (26 in February) also showed great promise in time trialing by winning the Tour of Utah Prologue, making it not only his first NRC win but his first victory since his return from his injury. Not a surprise in itself as Bookwalter was the the U23 National Time Trial Champion in 2006 but not bad for someone who barely did any TT training. That’s all going to change now.
I caught with Bookwalter last week as he was juggling his training schedule to accommodate the winter conditions in North Carolina. We talked about his goals for the year, his tentative schedule which does include a Grand Tour and his move to Girona. Of course, as in many conversations with cyclists, the first question had to be about the weather.
How do you adjust your training with the cold weather?
The weather hasn’t hindered me at all actually, it’s been good enough. For me if it’s dry and the sun is out, it’s all very manageable especially this time of year. I haven’t really missed a beat in my training because of the weather which is nice and it’s kind of a relief too to get through this time of the year but now I have to take a trip to Arizona and get out. The point I’m at now with the team and my schedule, I have to get the time on the bike and I have to get the quality so if that means going somewhere else, I just have to buck up and do it so fortunately I’ve been able to stay here and get it done.
You’re starting your third year with BMC. The team has progressed every year but this year, the team is taking a huge leap with the World Champion on board.
I know, it’s exploded.
Are you ready for this?
I think so, we’ve been stepping half steps or full steps every year and maybe this next year is more a step and a half or two steps, but if I want to be in this sport I want to keep on improving and move forwards and going forwards means going towards where we’re going this year, that’s just the reality of it. I’m excited for it and I think I’m ready for it, time will tell. It’s really exciting, it’s awesome, it’s crazy to have where we are now and the schedule we’re looking at and the teammates I have a reality as opposed to that far off distant goal or dream or plan.
What goes through your mind with the distinct possibility of racing a Grand Tour this year?
That’s very prevalent in my riding for the underlying, I guess you would say, motivator or back-thought this year, I’m definitely using that as some visualization and motivator. Once again, that’s kind of the same thing, that’s the next step of where I want to go and what I want to do and to actually have the team where I will likely have the opportunity if I’m ready, fit and capable, you can’t ask for anything more. I’m really grateful. Usually a lot more pieces have to fall into place to really get where you want to go in a few months or a year period and this year, I really feel if I take care of myself and do what I know I can do and be where I know I can be with my body, my heath and my race fitness then everything I could want and ask for will be right in front of me, that’s great. That’s unique.
That’s huge. Do you feel extra pressure then?
Well yes, I think there’s a new level of accountability and pressure from the teammates to each other because we all know that we have this opportunity and we have guys like Cadel and George who have these huge resumes and big careers and they’re investing in this team and we all want to show them that they made a good investment and go forwards and do it together. But then there’s also pressure from myself wanting to make good on the privilege and opportunity. You never know how many more chances or opportunities you’re going to get like that so I’m definitely trying to stay focused, mount up but not lose track. It’s still racing bikes, riding bikes and no matter what year it is, going forwards it’s always a big year. Every time, I think no matter who you talk to this time of year and you can probably attest to this, it’s like ‘this is going to be a really big year for us, lots is going to happen this year….’ that’s always the same so I feel that we as a team have risen up to that for the past couple of years and I, as myself, have risen up to that as well and I’ve got to do it again even if it’s maybe a half step or full step hard.
You’ve had one camp where you’ve met everybody once right?
Yes, sort of. Last November, they did a Euro meet and greet and planning and then they did an American one. Not everyone together but it made sense it was good. We got all the American guys at least together and we had one of the Swiss guys, Danilo Wyss, who wasn’t able to do the one in Switzerland earlier in the fall so he flew over to Salt Lake for those two days. We talked schedule and get clothing fit. It was great, to see the guys and get some information on your schedule and even then we could really see the gears turning and the plan unfolding with stepping up to this level, not only from the rider standpoint but from the team and logistical, staff and resources standpoint. They’re really dotting all the I’s and crossing the T’s and giving up all we need, as far as I know, it’s all new to me. (laughs)
It sounds funny to ask, but is it still the same BMC team?
Yes, I think it is and it isn’t. It has many of the same elements but in some respects it’s not because just looking at our racing schedule and our roster, there’s a few American guys on the team that I’ll definitely miss this year and of course I’ll miss doing some of these NRC races that we’ve done in the past years as well. Maybe it’s not the same team in that perspective but where we are now is what we were trying to do for the last couple of years so in that respect it’s all connected and tied together.
Do you know which races you might be doing?
It changes all the time or it seems like. I’m not doing Tour of Qatar this year which I just found out a couple of weeks ago which is very nice (chuckles), I’m pretty psyched about, that’s a long trip and it’s crazy racing, stressful. I’ll be starting a little bit later, with GP dell’Insubria-Lugano and GP di Lugano in Switzerland which I think are Cadel’s first Euro races also. Then a tentative schedule with that race in Tuscany of the gravel roads, the Eroica, then maybe Milan San-Remo, Criterium International, Circuit de la Sarthe and then hopefully hit a couple of the Ardennes classics and the plan right now is to hopefully start the Giro if all things go well.
Nice. So are you moving to Europe for the season?
Yes I am. In the midst of all this, I’m finding an apartment over there and jumping in with both feet which is crazy. I’m going to be going over there the middle of February and I’ll be over there sort of indefinitely. Hopefully I’ll be back sometime end of May if I did the Giro and I need to come back a little bit after that. That’s a big undertaking for sure. I’ve spent a fair amount of time in Europe and I guess I consider myself having lived there before with the National team and all the hotel time we’ve spent this year but being more self-sufficient and figuring it out myself, it’s a lot different. Luckily I’m super fortunate that I have a place like Girona and all the other Americans that came before me and are already there, everything is all laid out, it’s super fine.
So it is Girona.
Yeah, it sounds like I’m going to share a place with Ted King.
You know that style becomes important then.
Exactly, I know, the King of Style. I’ll be the peasant of style or the jester of style or something (laughs). High expectations to live up to with Mr King, I know. We were teammates back on Priority Health, I’m excited about that. We came through a similar path with the collegiate cycling and have sort of arrived at the same place at the same time, it will be a good fit, it will be good to get back with him. It’s nice that we’re not on the same team because we’ll be able to come back from racing and spend time with someone else other than the same dude you’ve been staring at for the past couple of weeks.
Yep, you can talk about something else.
Exactly like style.
And he bakes, what else do you need?
He bakes, I know my girlfriend was super-psyched about that, I was like ‘yes, Ted likes to cook and bake’ and ‘really that’s awesome’.
I know that’s the best part in my opinion, forget style, he bakes. (laughs)
That’s right. I can hold my own in the kitchen too, I can put together some good stuff.
So are we going to have a competition between you and Ted?
Maybe we can do our apartment versus someone else in Girona, I don’t think we could be beat. I don’t know if I want to go up against him necessarily.
I consider that you had a breakthrough last year where you came back finally one hundred percent after your injury. Or even more, you came back stronger and finally had that NRC win. What did you learn from that whole process of coming back which took over a year?
It took a long time but I felt I was improving and chipping away the entire time and I had good people and support around me encouraging me to do stuff. I was really fortunate not to hit any real rough spots, knock on wood, it was a relatively smooth year. I think that the biggest thing that I learned, as cheesy as it sounds, was to keep believing in myself no matter what. Truly believing that you can do it, not just saying it but really heartfelt and listening to people around you. I think it’s been commented on my career that the people that know me maybe believed in me more that I believed in myself, I feel that I took a step there last year and that’s something that I want to continue forwards with, having that internal confidence at least and applying that to the training and racing.
Let’s talk about this year. What are your goals this year? What would make this a good year?
Really if I could have the same season as last year but to do that at the level we’ll be consistently at this year, that would be a good intangible goal, I know that’s not a performance defined goal. Last year I had a season where I probably did half of my race days, or maybe a little bit over half, in Europe. This year, I’ll probably have 90 percent or more in Europe, that will be a unique step and a challenge in itself, racing at that level week in and week out, not having the Cascades, Redlands and Elk Grove to come back to, to be comfortable, to hone the form and race more aggressive. I just want to obviously be productive for the team, stay healthy, keep improving and really take hold of any individual opportunities that I get. I know with this team, it won’t be every race where I’ll have a chance to really go for it myself so I’d like to be mentally and physically capable and ready to seize that whenever it comes, do that not only for myself but for the team as well.
Do you have races in the US except for National Championships at this point?
As of now, there’s nothing on my schedule through May/June. I think that the team is going to do Tour de Beauce maybe, Missouri, Nationals, the other races in Canada at the end of the year, Philly I think. Maybe the team will slide into an NRC if we can get it worked out and there are team people around and all that. We have a few U23 guys that will be doing mostly U23 National team stuff but we’ll maybe also need to race them here, it wouldn’t be bad if it worked out if we had guys back in the States who were resting and needed some tune up racing, if we could jump in with those younger guys and do a race in the States, that would be cool, I’d be excited for that.
What’s your role with the team in these races?
That’s been great. Coming off the tail end of last year and going into this year, I’ve gotten a little more defined role, the management wants me to be more of a stage racer, a potential GC guy for the future which for me is great. When I started road racing that’s what I saw for me but then last year, I had this chance to do some racing in Belgium and to do Paris-Roubaix and that sparked a different part of me. I would be really excited and motivated if that was the path they encouraged me to go down but relative to the other guys on the team, I think the stage racing is a good fit for me. With our roster and our race schedule we’ll have two distinct programs, as opposed to last year where we’d take the invites to wherever race we could get in, look around at the team, gather a handful of guys, hope they’re good and put them in. This year, we’ll have some more specific and defined approach and preparation for those races, I’m banking on that paying off for the team and me, I think it will.
You’ve got some pretty good guys to watch and see how they approach the big races.
Exactly, I know.
Have you changed your training and are you doing more time trial training then?
I actually am, I have a time trial bike at my house right now, I’m looking at it.
Yeah (laughs). It’s sweet. Which is also awesome, it’s really cool, I’ve been with the team for a couple of years now, not only have I been with them but they’ve been with me and they are investing that time, energy and resources into helping me improve in that area. That was one thing they did, they sent me a TT bike over the winter, I’m playing with my position on that. There are some plans for some specific TT testing, honing my position and more, that’s really exciting to know that you have all the resources and the tools to achieve your max potential.
That’s very cool, last year you basically didn’t train on your TT bike.
Exactly. I’ve ridden my TT bike more this winter than I had in training all last year combined probably. It opens up a whole other can of worms though. Because when you have only that race, you just jump on it, ride as hard as you can and you’re like ‘oh that was not comfortable but I rode hard’, sometimes it worked out and sometimes it didn’t. And now I’ve ridden it enough to start picking things apart and racking my brain, I was just telling my coach the other day ‘this is sort of exhausting riding this time. Every time I go out, wow I think I need to smidge this around a little bit, look at the data on this’. But that’s good, once again it’s where I need to go.
Have you changed your training at all given the 3-week Giro looming?
A little bit but I wouldn’t say much. I raced much later last year than I did the year before so that right there is affecting my preparation a little bit right now, not necessarily in a bad way, I still took a chunk of time off. I feel in my training I got back to good training fitness quicker than usual from that late race season last year so that’s been good. The volume and the repetition day after day will be the challenge in the big stage races, I think I’ll also grow in response to that.
Lastly, how’s your Spanish?
It’s not good. I took three years of Spanish high school and one semester in my last year of College so I have a little bit of foundation. I wound up taking a little trip with my girlfriend to Costa Rica this fall, I took ten days and we took a little bit of Spanish class which was king of encouraging, it’s really the first time that I’ve been in a foreign language speaking country outside of a bike race so it was nice to immerse yourself in it and not be in the bike racing bubble. I think I learned more that week than two years of Spanish language class combined (laughs), I think once I get over to Spain and start living there it will hopefully come along but it’s definitely on the to do list.
Bookwalter will be joining his team for a training camp in California before flying off the Europe in February.