Perhaps it’s down to the relatively light training load he and his team have enjoyed, with an hour-long spin along the coast and a coffee stop along the way. Or maybe, and perhaps more accurately, it’s down to the freshly-focused mentality the 31-year-old exudes as he describes what has been a breakthrough season for him.
On the face of it, one win this calendar year is nothing exceptional but if the stage win in the USA Pro Challenge was the top of the Bookwalter’s pyramid then it was built on solid foundations. A strong Giro d’Italia was followed by a surprising but deserved fourth at the Tour of Austria - a race that’s often overlooked as it clashes with the Tour de France but boasts a respectably hard parcours. A string of impressive results including third overall in Utah preceded his stage win and second place overall in Colorado. For a rider who had begun to blend into the furniture at BMC Racing as a dependable domestique, this was a year of self-reward for Bookwalter, and not just self-sacrifice.
“I quickly fell into the worker role in my career in around 2010, 2011,” he told the gathered media.
“That was great, I got to ride and help Cadel Evans win the Tour de France and got to help Tejay van Garderen win in California and USA Pro Challenge. That was amazing and fulfilling but realising I was getting older, more mature, and having a bit more experience, I started to transition myself out of it and I realised that I could be just as good of a teammate but also look for my own success.”
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Not making the Tour team in 2015 provided Bookwalter with the chance to take Austria by storm. He used his form and consistently finished in the top ten on nearly every stage. It proved the catalyst for his even stronger performances in the second half of the season.
“Feeling the intensity in the final moment of a race, it was important to get back to that and the victories come as a result for that," he said.
“That feeling started on the mountain stage at the Tour of Austria. I could see the long picture in that Austria could lead into Utah, Colorado and then the Worlds.”
Those rides in the US have given Bookwalter more confidence, and in a team stacked with leaders he’ll need that when it comes to putting his hand up and requesting his teammates’ help.
His schedule for 2016 has not yet been finalised but Bookwalter knows that he will chaperone van Garderen for at least the opening months of the campaign. That does not necessarily mean that Bookwalter will revert to type. He will play the dutiful teammate when it is required of him, but the steely determination that he has forged this season will carry through with him into the next.
“I think I’ve learned that you’ve got to make your own opportunities. A couple of years ago I would get really hung up about the schedule the team would propose. I would get irritated and say ‘that’s not a race I want to do' but the big epiphany for me was when I won a stage in Qatar. It made me realise that I don’t need the perfect set of races, I don’t have to go to the race that I think is perfect for me. As long as I stay committed to the process and the rider I know I can be, it’s going to come.
“I understand that if I go to Ruta del Sol with Tejay for instance I’m probably not going to win the overall but I could win a stage there.”
And the North American races, California, Utah and USA Pro Challenge are where Bookwalter will have his best chances to shine. California is the only one of the trio of events in which Bookwalter is missing a stage win or a podium place.
“As far as overalls go, I might get a bit of freedom at the Tour of California. That’s inspiring after having places at Utah and Colorado. I don’t know what our roster will be but the American races, my heart is in them and I’m passionate about them.
“Potentially it’s leadership but if they move stuff around with Richie [Porte] or Rohan [Dennis] then there’s lots of different scenarios but I’ve proven that at a race like that I can carry the team’s leadership. I’m ready for it and it’s an opportunity I’m looking to embrace.”
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Daniel Benson is the Editor in Chief at both Cyclingnews.com and BikePerfect.com. Based in the UK, he has worked within cycling for almost 15 years, and he joined the Cyclingnews team in 2008 as the site's first UK-based Managing Editor. In that time, he has reported on over a dozen editions of the Tour de France, several World Championships, the Tour Down Under, Spring Classics, and the London 2012 Olympic Games. With the help of the excellent editorial team, he runs the coverage on Cyclingnews and has interviewed leading figures in the sport including UCI Presidents and Tour de France winners.
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