Brent Bookwalter has been with the BMC Racing Team ever since he turned professional in 2008. He has seen the team go from underdogs to Tour de France champions. Now heading into his eighth professional season, the 30-year-old hopes that he can play a bigger role in the American squad.
"I'm a little bit older now but I'm still getting better every year and I'm excited to show that to the team and give it all I've got," said Bookwalter. "I'd like to think I have ambitions to grow into a more prominent role within the team. I've done six Grand Tours, I've been through a lot with this team and I think they know that they can count on me."
In recent years Bookwalter has formed an integral part of Cadel Evans' support team. He rode with the Australian during his Tour de France victory and helped him through his last tilt at a Grand Tour at the 2014 Giro d'Italia. With Evans retiring after his Great Ocean Road Race, which ends on February 1, Bookwalter may have to look for a new niche. However, he says that the team is changing shape and their new style of racing has opened the door for more riders to find success.
"In the past year this team has broken out of the mould to how we were racing in the past years. Starting to race in this new more aggressive style bodes well for us moving on from Cadel's departure," said Bookwalter.
"Guys like myself and Mickey Schär we got the first wins of our pro careers in the last two years due to this broadening of our mentality… When you've got a guy like him you can have full confidence that he can deliver so you can ride intensely and you know he will do it at the end. With him it opens it up but now we are racing this way and I think it will open up some new opportunities."
Evans joined the team two years after Bookwalter, in 2010, along with a host of other big names as the team looked to step up from Pro Continental level. "That was the first year where we jumped into the next level of the sport and I was really lucky to be a part of that," Bookwalter said. "He gave the team a few incredible years and gave me amazing years, races and memories. I'll never forget those and I'll always be thankful to him for those. It was a huge honour to ride alongside him."
Bookwalter will have to wait a little longer than he had hoped to show the team what he can do. He was meant to begin the season at the Tour Down Under as part of Evans' "farewell team" but a toe injury has delayed his start a few weeks until the Dubai Tour.
Bookwalter fractured his toe in an off the bike incident but chose not to elaborate further. The injury could have had a bigger impact on Bookwalter's season if it hadn't been for some ingenuity. "At first it was really swollen so I got a shoe and cut out a toe box so the toe could stick up and breathe. I put a different insole in it and I stuck my cleat all the way to take some of the pressure off it as possible and I was only riding inside," he explained.
"That derailed me for a couple of weeks. I've just tried to be patient and the team'’s been great and haven't put any pressure on me… They didn't want me to go to that and then have lingering issues after that for most of the year. I'm really happy with the recovery from that and I'm back in my normal riding shoe."
After the Dubai Tour, Bookwalter's goals are not yet set in concrete. He's likely to ride the Tour Méditerranéen and stay in France for the subsequent races. While he hasn't got any primary target for 2015, he would like to return to France later in the year.
"I'd really like to go back to the Tour again," said Bookwalter. "Last year I rode the Giro with Cadel but Tejay and I have a good relationship and I've shown before that I can be a good teammate in the Tour. I'd like to go back there but that said, the roster in this team is really stacked. I think they know that part of my value in this team is that I'm a guy that can be put into a lot of different places."