Brent Bookwalter, a cyclist for the BMC Racing Team, is competing in his sixth Tour of Utah this year. He missed the 2013 race, but had previously raced every year since 2008.
That 2008 Tour still holds a special place in his heart. After suffering a major injury in 2007, the 2008 Tour of Utah was the first race that he felt normal again.
"I was racing in Belgium in the Spring of 2007," Bookwalter said. "I just hit a light pole while fighting for position with some guys. We just got tangled up, I smacked the light pole with my leg and had a compound fracture."
The recovery process was a long and arduous one for the cyclist from Michigan.
"I was pretty much out for six months," he said, adding that he needed multiple surgeries. "It was a pretty long comeback."
But, when it was time to ride in the 2008 Tour of Utah, Bookwalter was ready.
"Coming back from a pretty bad leg fracture at that point, it was kind of like the beginning of my cycling career, so I have great memories of that," he said. "For me, personally, I think I was fifth overall (his BMC teammate Jeff Louder won), which was by far my best result coming back from the leg injury. It was also the first time I sort of felt like I was getting back to my old level. At that point, I though of myself as having completed my comeback from injury there was definitely a lot of meaning in that."
He also fondly remembers his BMC teammates from that year, when BMC was still more of an American outfit, instead of the international powerhouse it is now.
"2008 was a really great memory for us," he said. "Most of us came to Utah and the team rented a cabin up in Cottonwood Canyon and we stayed there for 10 days before the race and really jelled.
"We enjoyed the time training around the Salt Lake area and up in the mountains and went on to have an awesome race."
Bookwalter said he is looking forward to stages 6 and 7 on Saturday and Sunday. Though, he added, he'd enjoy them more if he didn't have to push himself to his physical limits.
"It depends on if I'm racing it or just riding it," he laughed when asked what his favorite stage of the race was. "Stage 6 being able to start in a metropolitan area like Salt Lake and get right out of town and get into the amazing countryside, climb up to Park City and over Guardsman Pass into Snowbird you're hitting so many premier sections of road in the area. It's really beautiful and severely challenging. When it comes to race day, it won't be my favorite stage because we'll all be suffering a lot."
When Bookwalter and the BMC team roll into Park City on Sunday for the final stage of this year's Tour, they'll be trying to finish off what has been a great start to the event.
Through three stages, the BMC team was in second place, behind only the Belkin-Pro Cycling Team. In the GC (general classification) BMC rider Michael Schär was in second place overall after three stages. Schär won Stage 2. Cadel Evans, another BMC rider, was in sixth place after Wednesday's ride. Bookwalter was in 14th place overall.
In 2011, Evans won the Tour de France. Bookwalter was a member of that BMC team and said it was one of the highlights of his career so far.
"As an American, just being a part of the Tour de France, just getting to race it was a realization of a dream as far as my cycling career goes," he said. "Being a part of a winning team was something I could never have fathomed. It was kind of miraculous how it all came together."
This year, whether it's Evans or Schär who is gunning for the top spot in the GC, Bookwalter said he believes his teammates have what it takes to get the job done. He had high praise for Evans after the Tour de France experience they shared.
"He's probably one of the most accomplished GC riders on the roster of the whole race," he said. "Cadel's always a competitor and always fighting hard."
Saturday's Stage 6 begins in Salt Lake City before heading through Summit County. The stage will go through Coalville, Peoa and Park City before finishing at Snowbird. Sunday's Stage 7, the final stage of the race, starts in Park City and travels through Summit and Wasatch counties before ending on Park City's Main Street. Saturday's race starts at 10:50 a.m. and Sunday's stage starts at 12:20 p.m.