After a relatively quiet day during the opening stage at the Tour of Utah Monday, BMC Racing threw caution to the wind during Tuesday's stage 2, sending Joey Rosskopf into a three-man breakaway and then launching Brent Bookwalter to the stage victory on the first summit finish at Snowbasin Resort.
Rosskopf infiltrated the breakaway after a fast hour of racing in which multiple moves attempted to get away but nothing could stick. The BMC rider joined Marco Canola of Nippo-Vini Fantini and Holowesko-Citadel's Oscar Clark in a move that got away on a small climb after the first sprint 25km into the race.
Rosskopf took the first category 2 KOM, then dropped his breakaway companions as the field was closing in on the second KOM of the day at the top of North Ogden Divide. Rosskopf held off the field over the top and was eventually brought back into the fold after the descent and lead-up to the Snowbasin climb.
"It was great," Rosskopf told Cyclingnews after the stage. "We had two plans, and we sort of had to do both. We thought there was a chance for the break to go the finish, but obviously not with three guys.
"That was plan A," Rosskopf said. "Plan B was that if we were together on the climb, ride a solid tempo to discourage attacks and let Brent sprint it out for the win. It was a great finish for him, because he can climb and sprint."
Plan A was out the window when Rosskopf got caught, but he wasn't finished fighting for his team. Bookwalter said he had initially tried to talk Rosskopf into riding for GC during the race, but Rosskopf said he was more comfortable just riding aggressively.
"We've seen it before that he's good at doing that, and he's always good in Utah," Bookwalter said. "It was a big ride to get up the road, but the ride he did on the climb too was just incredible. He was out there all day covered in salt, and he came back and was still riding the front and popping guys off of that group. He's an animal. We definitely haven't seen his limit. He's still getting better."
Breaking through the runner-up rut
Tuesday's win is Bookwalter's first since he took stage 2 at the USA Pro Challenge in 2015, and he credited the lack of pressure on him at this race for the result. He waited patiently in the lead group on the final climb as riders threw attack after attack, some of which initially looked promising.
"Coming into this race a little more relaxed and not having my whole season or month of prep riding on this served me well today, because I could just sort of sit back and say, ‘If these guys stay away, well it's not like I've been staring at the big asterisk on my calendar on this day for months. This race always means a lot to me and I'm inspired to do well, but that laid back approach helped."
Ironically, it was the pressure Bookwalter put on himself to reward his teammates' day of work that propelled him to the finish.
"My teammates were putting pressure on me and I almost didn't even want them to," he said. "I felt pretty good but I wouldn't say I was as confident as I was in Tour of California. But yeah, the further up the climb we went the better and better the team was riding.
"[Manuel] Senni was there and Joey was there and Kilian [Frankiny] was there, and so I kept getting more confidence from that and putting a little more pressure on myself. Then at the end it was just about picking the right moment and timing it right, and gambling a little too."
The gamble obviously paid off, as Bookwalter passed late-breakaway rider James Piccoli (Elevate-KHS) and took the win ahead of Rally Cycling's Sepp Kuss, with Piccoli getting third. Kuss now leads the overall race, tied on time with Booklwater and Piccoli. Despite not getting the leader's jersey, Bookwalter said he and the team met their expectations for the stage.
"I didn't really know how I was coming into this race," he said. "I wasn't super confident, to be honest. It's kind of a rebuilding phase for the next part of the season, and we wanted ideally to keep myself, Kilian Frankiny and maybe Joey in a good GC position going into the TT tomorrow. I don't know where Killian finished, but I imagine he's still right there within seconds, so mission accomplished."