Having enjoyed a week’s worth of rest and planning since finishing the Tour of Picardie, the BMC Racing Team started Wednesday’s first stage of the Tour of Belgium with an eye to finishing well in the stages and in the overall GC.
Since the first few stages will cater to the strengths of the sprinters, BMC will likely have a dual goal of entering the breaks while still working to protect their strong sprinters. With both Martin Kohler and Brent Bookwalter getting into promising breaks today, the team is proving that they still have a knack for driving the race from the pointy end of the pack. Katusha’s Serguei Ivanov foiled the sprinters’ hope for a bunch finish, and looks to be a big threat for the overall victory on Sunday.
"The plan for the early stages is to get into the breaks to have a shot at gaining some bonification points," Directeur Sportif John Lelangue explained. "We did that really well today first with Martin Kohler in a good break and then Brent Bookwalter in the day’s main break." Kohler slipped away early in the stage with eight other riders. Though the group contained a lot of fire power, it did not contain a rider from Katusha which meant that the Russian team was not going to let it gain too much time. "Kohler’s break looked very strong and was an excellent mix of riders," Lelangue said. "Unfortunately Katusha missed it so they chased hard to bring them back." The first hour was raced with an average speed of 49 km/h, ensuring a challenging start to the five day race. The second break with three riders was allowed to get away with a little more rope. "The main break of three riders contained Brent Bookwalter for us and they stayed away for 95 kilometers," Lelangue said.
"I didn’t have too much luck getting even to the front of the peloton early on," Bookwalter revealed. "The start was very fast and a lot of good sized groups with heavy hitters were taking off; I finally got up front just as Martin’s group was getting away." Once Katusha drilled Kohler’s group back, Bookwalter was in a perfect position to make the next split. "The course changed direction at around the halfway point which meant that we got away just as we were fighting into a headwind," Bookwalter explained. "It was tough with only three of us, but after such a fast start, the pack sort of collectively cracked and decided to let something fairly non-threatening slip away." Though the break gained upwards of seven minutes at one point, an aggressive chase formed behind, limiting the chances of the break’s overall success. "Brent was very savvy in the break and managed to conserve his energies well; that made it possible for him to hang on for 14th place in the stage," Lelangue said.
Seeing the writing on the wall, Bookwalter realized that the bigger teams were not going to let this break stay away. "I could hear from the race radio that the teams were riding very aggressively, so even though I still worked to keep the break going, I managed to save a little energy for when we were caught," Bookwalter explained. "I had to grit my teeth because once we were caught, it really was a take-no-prisoners pace, but I did my best to keep up front with the leaders."
After a couple more days geared for sprinters, the weekend stages will offer up two very difficult courses for the riders. "The two main stages certainly will be Saturday and Sunday’s," Lelangue said. "With Saturday’s race over much of the Li?ge-Bastogne-Li?ge course, and then the individual time trial on Sunday, we are looking to Brent Bookwalter and Thomas Frei, who finished only 20 seconds down today, to get high overall positions." Bookwalter has previewed the courses and feels confident in the team. "We previewed the course for Saturday with John a couple of weeks ago, and it is really brutal," Bookwalter said. "It will be very selective with big gaps potentially forming; I don’t have a ton of experience racing at this level over these roads, but from the U23 races I did with the US squad, I found these climbs to be pretty okay for me. Anything is possible."
Well aware that a lot can still happen in the GC between now and Saturday, BMC is prepared to be adaptable with their well rounded riders. "Unfortunately Louder and Frank lost over a minute today which takes them out of our GC calculations, but puts them in a position to find the good breaks," Lelangue explained. "Brent and Thomas are still in good overall positions which we will try to conserve and then of course we will be working for Markus Zberg in the sprints, so we have many options to play." Bookwalter is looking to recover well to keep his chances alive. "I’ve already had a good rub down and think my recovery will be good," Bookwalter said. "Graeme McCallum has worked his magic again and I think the legs should still be feeling well even after today’s effort."
Website: BMC Racing Team