Following a podium performance at the Tour of Utah that was built on determination and consistency, Brent Bookwalter will head into next week’s USA Pro Challenge in Colorado and find a wide-open race suited to an all-around rider like himself.
"I’m heading to Colorado as long as our team at the Eneco Tour doesn’t all crash each other out, which happened in the team time trial a couple of years ago, then we’ll be short guys for the Vuelta. But the plan is to go to Colorado after hanging out here in Park City for a few days," a jovial Bookwalter said after finishing third overall in Utah.
Bookwalter won the points jersey in Utah by never finishing outside of the top 10 throughout the seven-day 2.HC race. He finished third from a reduced group in a bunch sprint won by Jure Kocjan (Team SmartStop) on the second day, and he was second to Logan Owen (Axeon) after two laps of a puncheurs’ finishing circuit in Bountiful the next day.
Bookwalter was fifth in the chaotic uphill sprint won by Optum Pro Cycling fastman Eric Young in Soldier Hollow during stage 4, and he was seventh on the short-but-brutal circuit in Salt Lake City that launched Optum’s Michael Woods onto the top step of the stage podium and into the yellow jersey.
Bookwalter climbed with the best during the Queen stage on the penultimate day, losing 1:54 to stage winner Joe Dombrowski (Cannondale-Garmin), but finishing just 37 seconds behind the rest of the general classification contenders.
Bookwalter climbed with the best again on the final day, losing the stage win in a photo finish with Lachlan Norris after he and the Drapac rider descended away from the GC group off the climb over Empire Pass.
During the post-race press conference in Utah, Bookwalter said he’s looking forward to the upcoming race in Colorado, although the team BMC rosters will be slightly different.
"We have a little bit different team in Colorado," he said. "We have Rohan Dennis and Damiano Caruso coming in. I think they’ll bolster our squad. We’re going to lose Joey Rosskopf to the Vuelta, unfortunately, because he’s clearly riding really good.
"I think we’ll be looking to play a similar role in Colorado as we did here. We don’t have a clear favourite for the GC, but we’ll be present in all the stages and be looking for a high overall result."
BMC had a seven-rider team in Utah, including Bookwalter, Rosskopf, Taylor Phinney, Michael Schar, Manuel Senni, Peter Stetina and stagiaire Kilian Frankiny.
Both Phinney and Stetina are returning from injury; Phinney was back in Utah after 14 months, while Stetina returned from a similar injury he suffered just four months ago. Both riders finished the race, and Phinney showed glimpses of his past form with a third-place effort on stage 1 and a day in the breakaway during the final stage.
Frankiny showed his enthusiasm with several active days in the breakaway, while Schar was coming off the Tour de France and Senni from the Tour of Austria.
Assuming all riders on the roster remain the same except for the loss of Rosskopf and the addition of Dennis and Caruso, the team’s Colorado roster appears to be well-balanced and deep enough to handle the workload that would be required.
Although there is no shortage of climbs in this year’s Colorado route, Bookwalter said the parcours provide a much different challenge than the steep roads they encountered in Utah.
"In Colorado the climbs aren’t as steep, but the elevation is higher overall," he said. "The key component there is the time trial. Traditionally in Colorado it’s a little bit more tactical and more pack racing, if you will, on the climbs, and then it really comes down to the time trial."
BMC’s Tejay van Garderen, champion in Colorado for the past two years, will be at the Vuelta this year after having had to abandon the Tour de France, leaving the team’s leadership open. But that role seems likely to be filled by either Dennis, who won the Tour’s opening time trial in July, or Caruso, who also won a stage at this year’s Tour and finished eighth overall at the Giro.
Dennis is obviously the best time triallist on the known roster, and he’s proven in the past he can climb with the top riders if it doesn’t get too steep. He would seem to be in the BMC driver’s seat, but the race is so wide open it’s hard to tell who will be leading each team, much less pick a likely winner. The same consistency and opportunism that led Bookwalter onto the podium in Utah could give BMC another card to play next week.
"In the past we’ve had Tejay, and he’s shown that he’s the pro in that Vail TT, but we won’t have Tejay this year and we also don’t have the Vail TT," Bookwalter said. "I haven’t seen a specific start list, but I think it’s going to be a really open race. Any team that’s going to succeed there is going to need to be a deep team because it’s a little more tactical racing."
The USA Pro Challenge starts Monday, August 17, in Steamboat Springs with a 155.5km circuit race. It concludes Sunday, August 23, in Denver.