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by Michael Better
July 13, 2016
Photography by Neal Rogers
BMC Racing’s Brent Bookwalter entered the Tour de France on a high. He finished third overall at the Amgen Tour of California in May, and was selected to the U.S. men’s road team for the Olympic games alongside teammate Taylor Phinney, who is not riding the Tour, a week prior to the start of the Grande Boucle.
After nine days of racing, Bookwalter was licking his wounds, relieved to reach the first rest day, after experiencing the most painful aspect of cycling right from the start.
The 32-year-old American was involved in a high-speed crash on Stage 1, along with GC contender Alberto Contador (Tinkoff), who abandoned the race on Sunday. Bookwalter went from the high of being selected to represent his country at the greatest sporting spectacle on the planet, to battered, bruised, and covered in road rash.
“I‘m definitely feeling better and somewhat relieved to have gotten through the first week, especially the past couple of days,” Bookwalter said at his team hotel in Andorra on the Tour’s first rest day. “Seeing other guys like Alberto Contador and Michael Morkov (Katusha) – riders who went down hard on Stage 1 and had to leave the race – it is definitely somewhat of a relief for me to reach the first rest day nine stages in.
“These first nine stages that I have done in every [Grand Tour] are always super demanding and it is a long week – especially being a nine-day first week as opposed to a seven-day week. It is a big physical load, even at 100 percent, and I was a little comprised right from the beginning. So I am proud of how I pulled through and proud of the team around me for the guys being able to pick up a little bit of slack that I left for them at times. But I am also still proud to be able to contribute myself, even if I was not at 100 percent.”
Bookwalter, who is riding his eighth Grand Tour came to the Tour with the objective of assisting team co-captains Tejay van Garderen and Richie Porte in whatever capacity they would need. His recent breakout performances — second overall in last year’s USA Pro Challenge and fourth at this year’s Amgen Tour of California stage finishing atop the hors categorie Gibraltar Road — showed he would be an important an asset when the race entered the mountains. But his crash put him a bit on the back foot.
“These past couple of mountain stages, I definitely was not one of the last guys with Richie or Tejay. I was doing more work early,” Bookwalter said. “That said, I think everyone is seeing that Damiano Caruso and Amaël Moinard are climbing really well. So Tejay and Richie have been really well supported and taken good care of.”
The dramatic temperature swings on Sunday did not help with recovery or make for an easy ride into the rest day.
“It reminded me of that Palm Springs stage in the Amgen Tour of California a few years back (2013) when guys were just passing out,” Bookwalter said of the heat at the beginning of the stage. “It really felt [Sunday] like we were descending into a furnace with a hair dryer in your face. I was definitely giving a little bit of a buffer to the guy in front of me on some of the downhills.
“When it gets that hot, you think about the pavement melting and tires rolling and other crazy stuff happening. So the heat had everyone suffering. Then, surprising as it was, going up the final climb of the day we could see rain off in the distance. But I did not anticipate it being hailing and so cold. It was like going from a furnace to a freezer, all in the course of 30 minutes. That was tough. I was back at the team car, taking on more jackets and trying to stay warm.”
While the rest day may have allowed Bookwalter’s body to get that little bit extra recovery, it is not just lounging around and doing nothing for the riders. There never truly is a “rest day” at the Tour de France.
“It was busy, like always,” Bookwalter said. “It always feels like there is going to be more time in the day. But it kind of fills up fast. From the time you ride, to the time you do a couple meals and then massage, a physio treatment and then take a nap, that is pretty much it. There is not much thumb twiddling or time killing.”
Bookwalter hopes to be going better each day, as the peloton enters the second week of racing. The second week includes a little bit of everything for the peloton to tackle.
“It is a pretty diverse week,” Bookwalter said. “Tuesday, we have another hard uphill start again. We have the finish on Mont Ventoux coming up. We have a time trial coming up. And then, at the end of the week, we have two of the hardest days of the Tour, for sure. Hopefully, I will be operating back toward a fuller percentage of my full speed and able to help more in the mountains than I was able to in the first week.
Bookwalter is looking forward to getting back towards the front of the race and chipping in wherever he is needed to safely guide his two team leaders.
“Hopefully, I will be just another versatile guy in the mix, whether that is helping them on a climb later in the race or getting bottles or controlling early or riding position in the wind, I am happy to do all of that,” he said. “They brought me here to do all of that. So it is really going to vary what I do, day by day.”