An Interview With BMC Bikes Pro Rider – Brent Bookwalter
During the Tour de California we caught up with BMC Bikes Pro Rider Brent Bookwalter. From diving in to where and how Brent got his start in cycling to learning more about hosting the annual Bookwalter Binge Gran Fondo in Asheville, North Carolina, and learning about his favorite rides, Brent lets us in on his life as a Pro Rider for BMC Bikes.
Full interview transcript:
Hi Brent, we’re Element Cycles, a growing bike shop in Redmond, Washington and a premier BMC Bikes online dealer. We’re big fans over here and have loved following your career. Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions for our website and good luck this season!
You’ve been riding with BMC since 2008, representing the team in eight Grand Tours—and even helping Cadel Evans win his first title at the 2011 Tour de France. After going pro in 2005 and with nearly ten years at BMC under your belt…
What advice would you give yourself ten years ago?
I think if I could tell myself anything it would be to keep it fun, find some way of enjoying it, to not – even though there is a high level of accountability and professionalism – to not forget why I really do it. I really challenge myself to keep reminding myself why I do it and that can change every year or every week. Really at the end of the day remembering what those reasons are for why you’re racing or out on your bike, holding yourself accountable as to why you ride and are out on your bike.
What are you looking forward to in the upcoming season?
Well, I’m here in California and I am looking forward to this race. It’s kind of a homecoming race as an american. I’ve had some good success here in the past and I’m always looking forward to coming back to the U.S. If you spend too much time in Europe, you know, foreign places so I am always looking forward to the U.S. races.
How has your role as a domestique evolved through the years?
Yeah so when I came to this team, the team was at a lower level and I had the chance for some results, you know, could even be a team leader in the early years, 2008 and 2009. Then the team really grew and we got a big injection of talent and experience with Cadel, George, Gersof, Blange, Gobert, the worlds cycling best names. Then I really had to shift focus and become a worker and learn how to do that and fortunately I had the chance to learn from some of the best. I think guys like Cadel and George were the best teachers I could imagine for teaching me to do the job and be a teammate. It’s a role that I’ve relished and enjoyed and have been proud to fulfill. Then I think even past that, the past few years, it’s been nice to remind myself I’m capable of more. I can be a team worker and then at other times step up and lead myself.
Your path to professional cycling was pretty unique. Starting later than most and coming up through the Michigan mountain biking scene, you chipped away, stayed humble, and worked hard to make the switch from dirt to the road.
Why did you make the switch initially and what drove you to the road?
Yeah growing up I started mountain biking – I love mountain biking and yeah I still do. It’s a huge passion and it’s something that I don’t get to do enough of but I try to do as much as I can in the offseason and every year. As I was going through college I was still trying to be a pro mountain biker and I was trying to make it but the reality of it was that the support was so sparse and it was so hard to make it. I was hustling and fighting and getting better every year but it was still hard to get my way paid to races, like my travel paid for. So I knew I wanted to challenge myself to compete at the highest level of the sport and yeah I saw that there was more opportunity on the road, more teams, a higher level of operation and was fortunate enough to have some connections with Advantage Benefits Endeavor, this road team back in Michigan. They said that they had a spot for me so I reluctantly went forward with it and definitely was dragging my heels at first. I wasn’t into the “roadies” – didn’t think they were cool, didn’t think they were friendly, didn’t see the appeal – I just knew that i liked the idea of having fully supported races and mechanics and being able to race my bike without going into debt. Then in that I found a love for the team work and the camaraderie and the dynamic nature of road racing and that hooked me.
What was the most difficult aspect of moving from mountain to road?
I think the most difficult aspect of moving from the mountain to the road is the team work and the tactics. Learning how to work with the team, how to save my energy, and how to not chase my teammates down when they were attacking. As a mountain biker I just wanted to go full gas and ride as hard as I could all of the time. I had to learn really quick that in a road race you need to save a huge part of your energy for the closing moments of the race because that is when the big differences happen. So yeah I had a lot of stern lectures from my more experienced teammates and some good laughs too but finally got the hang of it.
During your 10-month race calendar, you split time between Asheville, N.C. and Girona, Spain. This past offseason, it looks like you were recently training in the Alps with BMC teammate Joey Rosskop…
What does a typical day of training in the Alps look like for you?
These days we do a lot of altitude camps, we do a lot of big mountain training camps, the climbing is important, the altitude is important for our preparation. Whether it’s the Alps, the Pyrenees, or on some island like Sicily or Tenerife, yeah training camp is a lot of training. It’s big hours, 4-6 hours of riding a day and then it’s really just focusing on nutrition, recovery, rest, diet, getting our weight right, working on some mental visualization and staying relaxed and focused. I would say the hard hours and a lot of accumulated climbing are a big part of it but it’s really a holistic approach of focusing down and having no distractions.
What do you enjoy about training with Joey?
Uh yeah I love Joey. Joey and I come from the same stock a little bit. He’s a little younger than me but he’s a Georgia guy and although I didn’t grow up in Georgia, I grew up in Michigan, I lived in Athens Georgia where Joey still lives for a few years while my wife was in grad school. I got to know Joey then and he’s just a quiet, down to earth, honest, humble, hardworking, real funny in his own way. I think for me and him we balance each other out well. He’s so relaxed, almost to me overly relaxed at times. Sometimes I want to shake him and like tell him to get excited and me, my heads spinning around and he’s telling me to “chill out bro” and “relax” – we’re a good balance.
Do you still split time each year between Spain and the States?
Yeah I am fortunate to have two beautiful places to call home, Girona, Spain and Asheville, North Carolina. I get excited to go to both of them and I get really sad to leave both. This time of year when I have been on Girona a lot, I really miss Asheville and when it comes time to go back to Girona after the winter, yeah, I am really excited to go back.
Your wife, Jamie, is also a professional cyclist. We read that you two met in collegiate cycling and have been together since you signed with BMC. We imagine your days of riding together aren’t as frequent as they used to be—both now with your own training regimens.
Do the two of you still make time to ride together?
Definitely. Jamie doesn’t race professionally anymore but she definitely still rides a lot. She loves the bike and that’s a passion that we’ve shared since we met. It’s one of the things I feel really blessed and fortunate to share with her – those rides on the bike. Sometimes it’s an easy ride, just recovery ride to the coffee shop, and sometimes it’s a ride where I should be going easy and she has a another plan and we’re out there for 5 or 6 hours getting lost, exploring some mountain that I have never done but she’s done 5 times. So yeah, I am thankful for those moments.
What are some of the best routes you two have ridden together?
We’ve been fortunate to ride all over the world together. I think for me still my favorites are rides back in Asheville where we live. It’s riding up on the Blue Ridge Parkway, it’s riding our mountain bikes in Pisgah National Forest, yeah the mountain bike rides are probably the best. That’s kind of how we started. We got our start, I was rehabbing a broken leg and she was basically sticking it to me, trying to drop me and I thought it felt like she was trying to break my leg again. But yeah we’ve been through a lot of fun moments but tough moments out there in the forrest and it’s always fun to go back.
Each year in October, you co-host the Bookwalter Binge Gran Fondo in your hometown of Asheville, North Carolina. It seems to be a pretty good blend of relaxed and competitive riding through the Blue Ridge Mountains, with different tiers of climbing and distance for cyclists of varying skill levels.
Can you talk about how this ride got started and what brings people out each year?
So this year will be the fourth year of the Bookwalter Binge. We started it just out of a desire to connect, um really connect with our community and give back. We spend, you know were fortunate to spend part of the year in Asheville but you know were transient, we are in and out. So we wanted to find a way to give back, do a charity or connect with the community and we thought why not – a lot of pro riders these days have Gran Fondos – and that is how the Binge was born. We love it, we love putting it out, a lot of hard work, a labor of love for sure but it feels great to get to know some more of the people and to really share those roads in this area we love with hopefully people from out-of-town too. If you haven’t been there I would say, I hope you can join us.
Not that we’re anywhere close to your level, but…
What advice do you have for us weekend warriors who want to step up to the next level? Any tips to get us naively closer to that yellow jersey?
Tips. I’d say like I said originally, keep it fun, remember why you are doing it, and listen to those riders that are more experienced than you. I think a big reason I have been able to continue doing what I have been doing is because I have had the ability to sort of filter advice and look at who it’s coming from, where they’ve been and what I am going to do with it. So thats really helped me. One thing that comes to the top of my mind is nutrition, on the bike nutrition is really important. I think a lot of people think that if they are only riding two hours you don’t need to eat but if you are doing a hard two hour ride you need to put some calories in and especially if you are training for a race you need to train your body to eat as much as you need to train your body to ride.
Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions. Good luck this coming year. Now, we’ll let you go, but first—as we head into summer…
What’s next on the agenda for you? Any goals for the coming race season?
Yeah I would say Tour de California where I am at right now is a goal. Past that our schedules are still kind of firming up so I try to keep it open minded and just be prepared and be my best where ever I go.