World Championships: Q and A with Brent Bookwalter

Veteran rider starts sixth elite Worlds road race with USA national team in Richmond

Brent Bookwalter has become a staple of the USA national team that competes annually at the World Championships, having raced in six of the last eight editions. For the 2015 UCI Road World Championships, he has earned the privilege again to ride as part of a six-man team that includes his BMC teammate Taylor Phinney, veteran sprinter Tyler Farrar (MTN-Qhubeka) and younger but experienced riders Alex Howes and Ben King (Cannondale-Garmin), and Lawson Craddock (Giant-Alpecin).

In a sit-down interview with Cyclingnews at the Grand Prix Cycliste de Montreal, Bookwalter spoke about his nation’s chances of securing a medal in the elite men’s road race on Sunday, his thoughts on the urban circuits through Richmond and his development into a go-to rider for BMC Racing, where he has ridden since 2008 and has just earned a contract extension through to the end of 2016.

Cyclingnews: You’ve had a strong second half of the season, especially with second overall at the USA Pro Challenge and third overall at the Tour of Utah. Was it your plan to be in good form for the World Championships?

Brent Bookwalter: Yes, a little bit. It stems back to January when BMC was planning my schedule. Initially, going back further to last fall, they said I could return to the Tour of California and US Nationals this year, with an eye on making the Tour de France team, so I had that in mind when I set up my season.

As things changed throughout the season, as they always do, BMC needed guys at the Giro d’Italia, so that changed the first part of my season. I felt like last year I was strong at Worlds after having raced the Giro, so I felt like doing the Giro again was good for Worlds. I think doing the Tour de France and then Worlds, from my experience, it’s hard to find your rhythm again because it is such a big hit in the middle of the season. Last year, doing the Giro in May, coming back down and then building up through the later races in the season and into Worlds was really good for me. I wanted to do the same this year.

CN: Did you always know that you were going to be on the World Championships team for the US?

BB: No, the big thing that we were waiting on was the points, to see how many guys we were going to be able to take. As I understand, it was an untraditional year in terms of qualifying spots. I had been talking with the national team last fall when a few of us did a little test event, PR thing, in Richmond. There had been dialogue between myself and Mike Sayers, the director, and I’ve kept him up to speed with my program and how I was feeling. I definitely had my eye on Richmond and I wanted to get to the end of the year and not be totally cooked, and give myself a shot at being on the team, show good form in order to deserve a spot, and to go there and do a good ride.

CN: Do you think the riders who have been selected to the US national team make up the best possible team to potentially win a medal on US soil at the World Championships?

BB: Yes, I think we have a great team this year. In the end there were some tough calls and there are a few guys not on the team that I felt were deserving of a spot. At the same time, we don’t have a guy that is proven in one-day races to enter the top five or the top 10, we don’t have a guy who wins Spring Classics or races of this length. With that in mind, we haven’t discussed our exact game plan and I don’t know what sort of expectations we are going to place on ourselves but I think we have a good team of guys who have all raced together before and the feeling is really good. There won’t be any weirdness in who is going to ride for who or what the team objective will be. I can confidently say that we are going to show up on the day and execute as best we can for the guys who are going the best.

There are guys not on the team who are deserving of a spot and if we had nine spots it wouldn’t be hard to fill those last three spots but I think they [USA Cycling] did a good job with a tough selection and we have a good mixture of youth, experience and leadership.

CN: You’ve competed in the World Championships on many occasions for the US, do you see yourself as the veteran on the team now?

BB: It’s been nice to see myself come along in that time. The first one I did was in Varese in 2008, and USA Cycling just needed guys to do it. I couldn’t even believe that they called me because it was my first year doing a couple of European races and one or two WorldTour races, and when I found out there was a spot available I jumped at it. I went and got my butt totally kicked and couldn’t believe it. I stopped to pee at one point in the race and I could not believe how much energy and time it took just to get back into the field. It was an eye-opening experience and it took me a few times of racing Worlds before I could even imagine finishing one. Having more experience with the one-day races like the Ardennes Classics has helped a lot for a race like Worlds.

CN: What are your thoughts on the urban-style course with three successive climbs at the end of each lap?

BB: When I rode it the first time, I thought it was a unique and interesting course but I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t a little bit more varied terrain or that we weren’t going out into the countryside. It is a lot of laps, a lot of turns and there is never any area where you are rolling through the countryside, it’s all concrete, concrete, concrete and buildings. Personally, I would prefer it had more countryside and longer climbs but we can’t change that.

I think it will be really important to have good positioning going into the climbs, setting up the corners before those climbs and into the corners over the top. Libby has the cobbles and when we rode that in training, the corners were sharp enough and the roads narrow enough that we almost had to break for the corners. Trying to funnel 150 or 200 guys into that will result in a big difference in speed from the first guy to the last guy and the peloton will really stretch out there. That may not be a huge hurdle in itself but when you do 16 laps, sprinting over that 16 times followed by the other two climbs, it will really add up and set the stage for a more selective finish.

CN: What sort of rider does this World Championship course suit the best?

BB: First, the distance will be key. We don’t race very many races in the season that are 260km or more, so it has to be a rider that has experience and knows how to manage themselves during the race and be fresh and powerful at the end. Second, it has to be someone explosive. I don’t think anyone will go away solo. I think the course isn’t really selective enough to isolate guys. The best guys and the best teams will still have some numbers in the closing of the race, so to make any difference or selection it will have to be an explosive effort.

CN: You’ve really started to come into your own as a go-to rider. Will we see more of you leading races, whether it’s at Worlds or in the coming years?

BB: Yes, I definitely do. I’ve been working hard at that. For a while it was a fight to just get into the races or to get on a team for the big races, and then it was a fight to finish them or be able to contribute to them. I’m 31 years old now and I’ve been doing this for eight years, so there comes a point when I realized I was losing that passion and drive to succeed and excel for myself too, and be in the closing moments of a race and feel that fire again and what it’s like to race for the win or for a result. I had to reignite that, re-find it and re-captivate it. I think in the past couple of years I’ve done a good job of that and there are a lot of people that support me and help me find that. It’s so easy to get caught up in this role of being a worker, sitting up with 20km to go and happily ride in and watch your teammates win, that’s a good feeling too, but when I retire or get to the end of my career I want to know that I gave myself a chance to be my best as a teammate and as a performer myself.

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