Day 1 of the 2016 Rio Olympics is upon us! One of the earliest events today is a cycling event, taking place at 8:30 am EST. It’ll be streamed live at that time while airing on NBC at 10:30 am. It’s an always exciting Olympic cycling event, the road race. The best cyclists from all over the world are coming together, not long after the Tour de France, to see who will take home the gold.
For the US, one of these cyclists is Brent Bookwalter. A pro cyclist for 8 years now, Bookwalter is an athlete on the rise, appearing in his first ever Olympics ceremony and looking to shock the world and take home a medal for America.
It’s an incredible honor for Bookwalter, one of just two Americans to make the Olympics cut for cycling (the other being Taylor Phinney, a teammate of Bookwalter’s on the BMC Racing team). Bookwalter has referred to his selection for Rio as “a once in a lifetime opportunity as well to represent my country. I want to perform and be confident I can do well.” Winning a medal could turn Bookwalter, the 32-year-old Albuquerque native, from a successful cyclist to a household name in America.
Here’s what you need to know.
1. He is the Only American Cyclist This Year Competing in Both the Rio Olympics and the Tour de France
The Olympics are just one of Bookwalter’s impressive opportunities this year. He is the only American selected to perform in both the Tour de France and the Rio Olympics. Though an honor, this also presents Bookwalter with quite a challenge – today’s road race comes just two weeks after Bookwalter competed in the Tour de France, a 22 day event. Not only that, but he was one of 174 cyclists to actually finish the entire Tour. Is fatigue something that could occur for Bookwalter at the Olympics?
Bookwalter posted some thoughts on his blog before the start of the Olympics. With regards to competing in the Olympics so soon after the Tour de France, Bookwalter said that while he “would have liked to have kicked back this week,” he has instead focused on keeping momentum going. He enjoys the challenge, however:
In the past when I have done the Tour de France, I have normally had some upcoming event – be it the Tour of Utah, or, one year I was scheduled to compete at San Sebastian but ended up being sick. This is the first time I have come out of and had a goal for myself so soon after the Tour de France. The good thing about that is that it has inspired me to keep the wheels rolling and stay motivated and keep riding and take care of myself. That is a tricky balance because there is a huge lead up to the Tour – training camps and sacrifices and hard work and all the training equates to months on the road in France.
2. He Joined the BMC Racing Team in 2008, and His First Top 10 Finish was in 2010 as Runner-Up at an Opening Event at Giro d’Italia
Bookwalter competed in amateur leagues starting in 2005, and before that had been cycling for Lees-McRae College. but it wasn’t until 2008 that he went pro and joined BMC Racing Team, a team he is still a part of to this day.
Arguably his first big break came in 2010, at the Giro d’Italia. At the time, Bookwalter had never had a top 10 finish in any European time trial event. He started the opening time trial of the Giro d’Italia 144th out of a total of 198 cyclists. Yet Bookwalter put together such an impressive performance that the only other cyclist ahead of him by the end was Olympic gold medalist Bradley Wiggins. Bookwalter came in second by a two second margin. That means a better time than established cycling stars like his teammate Cadel Evans, who would go on to win the 2011 Tour de France.
Bookwalter said of his achievement, “I had no pressure; this is my first grand tour, which also helped. It’s really exciting to do a good ride.” He also noted Evans’ support of him, saying “It’s a very special situation to have a guy like Cadel come in to say, ‘Impressive ride,’ it really means a lot.”
3. He Has Won Two Stages in His Career and Placed Second Overall in Several Championships
According to Pro Cycling Stats, Bookwalter has two stages in his career with BMC in which he has won as an individual. This includes the first stage at the 2013 Tour of Qatar and the second stage at the 2015 USA Pro Challenge. Cycling Weekly described his win at the Tour of Qatar stage as “what fans thought was impossible.” Bookwalter also helped the BMC team as a whole win the second round of that tour.
2013 was the first year for Bookwalter that he started establishing himself as a majorly competitive force. Ultimately he placed second overall at the Tour of Qatar that year. He also placed second overall that year at the Tour of Alberta, as well as the national time trial and road race championships in the USA.
2015, meanwhile, saw him place second overall at the same USA Pro Challenge, where he was victorious at the second stage. He also placed 3rd overall at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah that year, as well as 4th at the Tour of Austria.
4. He Is On the Board of the Association of North American Professional Road Cyclists, and is Vocal About Better Salary & Benefits For Pro Cyclists
In addition to being a successful cyclist, Bookwalter is becoming an outspoken voice in support of them as well. He is on the board of a major union for cyclists, the Association of North American Professional Road Cyclists. The creation of the ANAPRC, according to Bookwalter, was based on their feeling that pro cyclists “need a voice.” This was largely due to the fact that North American riders were not actually represented in the CPA, the international union. He also noted that other European countries don’t have a seat in the CPA either, when they should.
Ideally, it would be nice to help or be a voice for some of these unrepresented countries as well. There’s big countries in this sport, I don’t think Germany has a seat in the CPA, Australia doesn’t, Great Britain doesn’t. A large percentage of the [WorldTour], the professional peloton really has no official voice to get themselves heard.
Bookwalter also went on record saying that pro cyclists should have better salary and benefits. This includes giving them retirement funds and insurance.
5. His Wife, Jamie Bookwalter, is Also a Pro Cyclist
Brent Bookwalter’s wife, Jamie, is also a professional cyclist. In talking about how they met with ESPN, Jamie says that they were acquainted through the athletic scene but didn’t become closer until she sent him a Facebook message consoling him on his broken leg. A similar interview in Velonews has her elaborate, noting that a fellow racer – Ally Stacher – played matchmaker, encouraging Jamie to message Brent.