The men’s peloton has more promising Americans than any time in the past decade, one of the country’s longest-serving current riders has said.
Brent Bookwalter has been a pro since 2005 and the BikeExchange rider has been one of the few constants as US cycling peaked in his first season before nose-diving into disgrace in 2011 when Lance Armstrong admitted to doping throughout his seven Tour de France titles.
Ten years on, however, and the future of American cycling looks in rude health once more, free of suspicion and full of admiration.
There are two genuine GC contenders in Jumbo-Visma’s Sepp Kuss and Brandon McNulty of UAE-Team Emirates, while climber Neilson Powless (EF Education – Nippo) and teenage prodigy Quinn Simmons (Trek-Segafredo) also carry high expectations.
Bookwalter has been an impressed admirer from within the peloton. “I can’t list them all, but McNulty, Sepp, Quinn, and even the juniors and U23s, these guys are stepping up and now maybe more than ever in the last 10 years it’s probably deeper,” he told Cycling Weekly.
“The younger generation are stepping into the pro races and they’re really competitive.
“It’s another changing of the guard, a generational shift right now
“Guys like myself, Tejay (van Garderen), Alex Howes, we’re getting to be the old dogs. There’s a super-stacked squad coming up beneath us.”
Bookwalter, in his 37th year, is on hand to offer advice to the young prodigies, but he has realised that their maturity belies their ages.
“More than anything, the enthusiasm of them all is inspiring,” he continued.
“They’re not intimidated, they come in all swinging and grizzling and they’re like seasoned professionals straight away.
“Sometimes I look at them and I’m like ‘man, you’ve already got it figured out, you should be mining us all for advice while we’re still around’, but they’re all stars in their own right and in their own teams.
“They have this massive support work around them and time will tell which of them will make the biggest flash.
“Unfortunately we’re missing the American races which I know inspired me a lot.
“But it may work well for these guys that they are fully immersed in Europe and they’re not able to go back there for inspiration and they have to get stuck in here and make it happen.”
America isn’t, however, reliant on Kuss to win a Grand Tour of Simmons to triumph at Paris-Roubaix. Times have changed, Bookwalter believes.
“I think it’s time the American public had a new hero but also the time I’ve spent in the US in the past two years, everyone is becoming inspired in different ways,” he said.
“It used to be that the American cycling public needed a pro rider to rally around and get inspired by, but now you are seeing all these gravel events and the Gran Fondo movement and it’s great to see people having fun without having to be defined by their sporting heroes at the highest level. I think it’s healthy.
“It’s not fair for any of these young guys to put the fate of American cycling on their shoulders.”