Dennis and Bookwalter in familiar, uncertain team dynamic amid California GC contest

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SALINAS, CA (CT) — BMC Racing teammates Rohan Dennis and Brent Bookwalter find themselves in a familiar, uncertain situation with an eye on the top step of the general classification at the Amgen Tour of California.

Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-QuickStep) leads the race, but within the BMC Racing team, which rider will be granted protected-leader status is less clear.

After Wednesday’s Stage 4 finish at the Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey, Bookwalter sits 40 seconds behind Alaphilippe, and 21 seconds ahead of Dennis.

It’s a scenario that, in some ways, mirrors last year’s USA Pro Challenge. At that race, Bookwalter won the second stage, just ahead of Dennis, opening a six-second lead on his teammate. On stage 4, Bookwalter was unable to follow a late-race attack from Robbie Squire over Moonstone Road into Breckenridge; Dennis was able to follow, and countered to win the stage, taking the race lead by 13 seconds. Dennis then secured the overall victory in the 13km time trial, beating Bookwalter by 31 seconds for an overall winning margin of 40 seconds between the two BMC riders.

If it was a tough pill for the American  to swallow — it would’ve been the biggest win of his career, on home soil, while for Dennis, it wasn’t even the biggest win of’ season — he didn’t let it show. Bookwalter was first to congratulate Dennis on his stage win in Breckenridge, saying, “All in the family, man. It’s all good. There is some disappointment in losing the jersey. That said, there are no hard feelings. I’m really happy for him.”

Neither man is in the yellow jersey in California, but either could be after Friday’s 20km Folsom time trial — and that could affect how the team’s tactics play out on the road, on Thursday’s uphill stage from Lodi to South Lake Tahoe, and perhaps again on Saturday’s difficult circuit in Santa Rosa.

The time gap between the two, 21 seconds, is a rough estimate of the time that Dennis will likely take from Bookwalter in Folsom; both are strong against the clock, with Dennis one of the best in the sport.

“Look, no offense to Brent, I think I should be able to take that out of him on the TT, but it just depends on the stages before then,” Dennis said. “I might have to put my head in the wind and actually work for him, so I might lose time these next few days. Ideally we’ll have both of us there, like we did in Colorado, but yeah, it’s still a long way to go.”

Asked his take on the situation, Bookwalter agreed that 21 seconds is a good estimate of what he’ll likely lose to Dennis. He also mentioned the similarity to last year’s Pro Challenge scenario.

“I think I’m in a good position,” Bookwalter said. “I’m still in the hunt, and I think Rohan is too, for that matter. I think for him to do a minute on other guys who are not as strong in the time trial over 20k is not unreasonable. I’m even looking at him in my rearview mirror, thinking man, I only have 20 seconds on him. So you know I’s almost put him and I even, as far as our time trial strengths and the time gap to the leader.

“Like we showed last year in Colorado, the first priority is that BMC Racing Team succeeds,” Bookwalter continued. “I definitely have some personal ambitions here. I think this race probably means more to me than it does to Rohan, maybe like how it did in Colorado, too, but at the end of the day we gotta throw that aside and go for the team success.”

And either way, Alaphilippe’s ability in the time trial is largely unknown. He came to the road from cyclocross, and was originally positioned as a sprinter before emerging as a world-class climber.

“I checked Alaphillippe’s time trial records since he’s been a pro, and it’s up and down,” Dennis said. “Last year [at the Amgen Tour] he only lost eight or nine seconds [to Peter Sagan]. There was a time when he lost two and a half in minutes in a 28km time trial. I think it’s a bit up in the air on how much we can take out of him. Obviously he’s in good form, so we’ll just have to wait and see.”

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