VALKENBURG, Netherlands (VN) – Brent Bookwalter ends his 2012 campaign Saturday at the Giro di Lombardia and is looking to put a strong ending on what he admits was a frustrating summer.
After he rode to help Cadel Evans win the 2011 Tour de France, BMC Racing management left the 28-year-old American off the 2012 Tour squad. Rather than help the Australian in his repeat bid at the Tour, Bookwalter found himself shipped off to the Tour of Austria instead.
“I was the odd-man out,” Bookwalter told VeloNews. “I wanted to go (to the Tour) and I thought I deserved a spot, but it was up to the team to decide who went. The team decided to bring some other people.”
Bookwalter was one of Evans’ most loyal and hardest-working domestiques during both the 2010 and 2011 seasons. Many assumed that he would be a natural for a return trip to the Tour this summer as Evans lined up as defending champion.
The arrival of new names to BMC Racing, however, meant it was going to be a dogfight to earn a spot on the nine-man Tour roster.
Philippe Gilbert, Tejay van Garderen and British climber Steve Cummings, all three newcomers for 2012, punched their tickets to the Tour. Joining Bookwalter on the sidelines were Ivan Santaromita and Steve Morabito, two other riders who were part of the 2011 Tour-winning team.
“With so many new guys coming to the team, there was a reshuffling on where everyone stood. That was challenging. Hopefully I can get better because of it,” Bookwalter said. “When you have guys like Gilbert and Tejay, you knew it was going to be tough (to make the Tour team).”
After racing the Tour de Suisse, Bookwalter learned he was not going to the Tour when a plane ticket to Austria showed up in his email inbox. That meant he was racing the Osterreich-Rundfahrt and not the grande boucle.
“I didn’t realize how much I liked racing the Tour until I wasn’t there,” Bookwalter told VeloNews during the Vuelta a España. “When I saw the first week, with the crashes and everyone on the ground, I didn’t miss that at all. I did miss being part of the Tour and the team. The Tour is the only race where everyone brings their ‘A’ game. Everyone is 100-percent focused and there is a plan every day for what everyone has to do. Everyone knows their place and you execute the plan.”
Instead of tackling the Alps and Pyrénées, after Austria he returned home for summer in the United States for the first time in years.
“I didn’t follow the race too intensely, in part because I was frustrated that I wasn’t there,” he said. “I enjoyed being with my family, being at home at a time of year when I am normally in Europe. I tried to focus on preparing for (the Larry H. Miller Tour of) Utah and make the most of the situation.”
Bookwalter said it was especially tough watching Evans struggle through the race. The Australian, who suffered from long-running health issues throughout the season, eventually rode to seventh in Paris, but was well off the winning pace from the previous year.
“I wanted to be there for him, both at a personal level and as a teammate,” Bookwalter said of Evans. “We’ve been through a lot together the past few years. We’ve been there for some great times and some tough times. I could see he was struggling and I wanted to be there to help him. I felt a little left out.”
After watching the end of the Tour from home, Bookwalter rode to a solid 19th at the Tour of Utah, with third-place results on two stages, and then survived a grueling Vuelta a España, which included a breakaway effort in the final week of racing.
Bookwalter is in his fifth year with BMC Racing and he’s the longest tenured man on the roster, having joined the team in its first Pro Continental season, in 2008. Assistant director Michael Sayers rode for the team in its debut 2007 season in the U.S. and this week announced that he would leave the team at the end of the year. With one more season left on his contract, Bookwalter is hoping to get back to the Tour next year.
Whether that will mean working for Evans or van Garderen, who rode to fifth overall and won the best young rider’s white jersey, remains to be seen. Evans is expected to return as the team captain, with van Garderen having freedom to ride his own race.
“I was really excited to see how Tejay raced. He’s a great guy and he’s going to be a huge presence in the peloton,” Bookwalter said. “It was interesting to see how the Americans reacted to the Tour when I was back home. There was a big buzz for Tejay.”
Rather than experience that buzz back in the States, Bookwalter hopes to be back in France instigating it next summer.