From domestique to leader, Bookwalter thriving in yellow at USA Pro Challenge

BMC rider leads teammate Rohan Dennis by six seconds heading into final mountain stage

Oftentimes when competitors compliment their rivals it's either a psychological ploy or an effort to say the right thing in front of the press. But when a notoriously genuine fellow like USA Pro Challengestage 3 winner Kiel Reijnen (UnitedHealthcare) interrupts the usual press conference banter to praise a rider from another team, it's worth taking notice.

Before answering a question about the final climb and the final kilometres of Wednesday's stage win, Reijnen stopped the press to give a shout out to BMC's race leader Brent Bookwalter.

"I would be remiss if I didn't say how deserving a leader Brent is," Reijnen told the assembled journalists. "It's really awesome to see. I think there's a lot of people in the peloton who are happy for him. It's rad, and it's one of the cool things about being in this race."

Bookwalter, 31, finished with the lead group in ninth during stage 3 to preserve his six second lead over teammate Rohan Dennis and 10 seconds over Jonny Clarke (UnitedHealthcare) and Hugh Carthy (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA).

Over a decade of racing professionally, Bookwalter has notched a handful of wins. He took the opening stage at the Tour of Qatar in 2013 and wore the leader's jersey for two stages before ceding it to Mark Cavendish and finishing second overall. He was second to Bradley Wiggins in an individual time trial at the 2010 Giro d'Italia, and he finished second to Dennis at the 2013 Tour of Alberta.

Bookwalter finished fourth in July of this year at the Tour of Austria, and he was third earlier this month at the Tour of Utah, where he finished second on two stages. He took over the race lead in Colorado on Tuesday after Dennis paced the lead group up the final climb to Arapahoe Basin, providing a perfect launching pad for Bookwalter's race-winning move.

After the stage, Dennis appeared nearly as excited about the Booklwater's result as the winner was himself.

"Definitely," he said. "Especially after Utah, where he got so many second places and then yesterday third. It's great to see him finally pull off a win, and it wasn't a standard win, it was a hilltop at 3,400 metres."

Bookwalter's day job with BMC, however, has been to play the consummate domestique to riders like Cadel Evans, Philippe Gilbert, Thor Hushovd and, more recently, Tejay van Garderen and Dennis.

When he was asked on Wednesday to describe his feelings after winning stage 2 and leading one of the biggest races in his home country, Bookwalter said he had a huge amount of gratitude and enjoyment.

"It's the realization of a lot of hard work and sacrifice for others," he said. "It feels great. When I'm out training I don't think about riding in the wind for guys and lining them up for victories. I think about winning myself and leading races myself. It doesn't happen very often. I don't find myself in the race lead very often."

Bookwalter said his latest spell in yellow is even more special because it's taking place in his home country, where "there are people smiling with you and people that you can relate to."

Bookwalter still has a tough road ahead if he wants to keep yellow all the way through the race finale in Denver on Sunday, however. Thursday's stage from Aspen to Breckenridge will take riders back over Independence Pass and then the equally daunting Hoosier Pass near the end of the day.

After that, the riders will face an individual test on Friday with the 14km Breckenridge time trial, a discipline in which Dennis excels. Bookwalter is an impressive time trialist himself, setting up what could be a GC battle among teammates if everything goes well on Thursday.

It wouldn't be the first time BMC has grabbed the top two spots in Colorado; the team pulled it off in 2013 with van Garderen and Matthias Frank. Team director Jackson Stewart is clearly eyeing another one-two overall finish.

"It's incredible," he said of BMC's enviable position. "We've done it before with Tejay and Matthias Frank. But it takes a strong team, and not just a strong team, but a cooperative team, and we have that again here."

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