ASHEVILLE - Brent Bookwalter was breathing in rarified air Wednesday afternoon.
The Asheville pro cyclist learned he made the cut for BMC Racing Team's Tour de France roster while in the French Alps doing altitude reconnaissance for the team.
“They’ve been pretty tight-lipped and had a hard decision to make with a lot of capable, qualified guys. We’ve all been waiting,” Bookwalter said by phone from France Wednesday.
“It’s a little bit of relief, but also exciting. It’s a nice vote of confidence from the team. Now I can continue on with preparations for the Tour and I can put all my mental and physical efforts into being the best at the start in two weeks.”
This will be the fourth trip to the Tour de France for Bookwalter, 32, who lives in Asheville with his wife, Jamie Bookwalter. He competed with BMC Racing in the Tour in 2010, 2011 and 2013.
The 103rd Tour de France, July 2-24, is considered the most prestigious bike race in the world. Teams can enter by invitation only, and each team can send nine riders.
In addition to Bookwalter, the U.S.-based BMC Racing Team’s Tour roster includes Marcus Burghgardt, Damiano Caruso, Rohan Dennis, Amaël Moinard, Michael Schär, Greg Van Avermaet, and fellow American Tejay van Garderen, who will lead the team with Australian Richie Porte.
Bookwalter is considered a "domestique," or helper, to van Garderen and Porte. In 2011, Bookwalter helped Cadel Evans, an Australian, to a Tour win.
This year’s Tour will begin in La Manche, France, and comprise 21 stages, covering a total distance of 3,519 kilometers, or 2,182 miles, ending in Paris.
About 200 of the world’s greatest cyclists are invited to compete.
Bookwalter said the excitement of hearing he made the Tour roster was just as intense as his first time in 2010. But this time, six years older, he feels more confident in his ability to take on the most strenuous bike race in the world.
“I’ve grown a lot as a rider and a person since my first one in 2010. I feel more capable physically and emotionally, and I have more confidence,” Bookwalter said. “It’s one of the hardest physical and mental things I’ve ever done. It’s the kind of excitement and challenge I still live for.”
Bookwalter joined BMC Racing Team in 2008. The Grand Rapids, Michigan, native attended Lees-McRae College in Banner Elk, where he was a nine-time collegiate national champion and past under-23 national champion.
In 2015, he was part of the overall and team classification victory at the USA Pro Challenge, while winning the second stage and finishing runner-up overall.
In May, he finished third overall in the grueling, eight-stage, 774-mile Amgen Tour of California.
Bookwalter said he will be back in Asheville in August. He said he appreciates all the support he has received from the Asheville community.
Brent and wife Jamie, a former professional cyclist, have thrown themselves into Asheville life since moving here four years ago. They produce the Bookwalter Binge Grand Fondo, which in its third year will be Oct. 29 starting in Black Mountain with courses of 82, 63 and 30 miles. This year the event is a fundraiser for the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy.
Team BMC Sports Director Yvon Ledanois said on the team’s website Wednesday that it was a difficult decision to fill the Tour roster.
“We have a diverse group of riders, from seven different nationalities, all of whom will play their role, whether it’s our strong domestiques like Marcus Burghardt and Michael Schär, or riders like Greg Van Avermaet and Rohan Dennis who can go for stage wins," Ledanois said. "Then of course we have Brent Bookwalter, Damiano Caruso, and Amaël Moinard for support on the climbs and getting Richie and Tejay where they need to be.”