Former Lees-McRae cyclists in Tour
by Kellen Short
Two cyclists with ties to Lees-McRae
College are competing in one of the sport's most famous events, the Tour de France.
Brent Bookwalter, a 2006 graduate of Lees-McRae, and Andrew Talansky, who attended Lees-McRae for a year before transferring, are members of the two American teams competing this year.
Competition began June 29 in the 100th Tour de France and will cover approximately 2,115 miles in 21 stages before the conclusion July 21.
Bookwalter, 29, an Asheville resident who rides for the BMC Racing Team, is making his third appearance in the Tour. He graduated with honors and a biology degree from Lees-McRae in 2006 after winning nine collegiate national titles for the Banner Elk college.
He was inducted into the Lees-McRae Hall of Fame in 2010.
Bookwalter finished both the Tour de France and the Giro d'Italia in 2010 and was part of the winning Tour de France team in 2011, helping Cadel Evans to his first title.
During part of the race season, Bookwalter and his wife, fellow professional cyclist Jamie Bookwalter, reside in Girona, Spain.
Bookwalter was involved in a crash during the fifth stage Wednesday in Marseille, France, but wasn't seriously injured. He said via the BMC website that he was taking a drink when the rider in front of him swerved.
"I only had one hand on the handlebars at the time, so I couldn't react like normal," he said. "I have a little bit of soreness and lost a little bit of skin, but I'm OK."
Talansky, 24, is making his first appearance in the Tour this year for team Garmin-Sharp after going pro in 2008.
As of Wednesday evening, Talansky was in a stunning 16th place in the Tour de France.
Lees-McRae Cycling Coach P.J. Noto said the atmosphere at Lees-McRae is electrified as their former cyclists compete.
"The whole campus is talking about it pretty much," Noto said. "They're all really excited. They all think it's really crazy that folks that went to this college are competing at such a high level."
Noto said he was a freshman when Bookwalter was a standout senior. He described the older cyclist as a nice guy who showed him the ropes of the college.
"When Brent was here, he was kind of on a different level than anybody else," Noto said.
Noto said he remembered that Bookwalter had suffered a bad crash and leg injury in the past but was able to recover quickly.
"He kind of strived forward and was able to push on and regain his abilities and fitness despite his massive injury, and that says a lot about him, too," he said.
Noto said he didn't know Talansky as well but could tell he was a dedicated cyclist, although he was still in a development phase while at Lees-McRae from 2007-08.
"He would miss class, I know that, because he would be out on a six-hour ride," Noto said.
Lees-McRae College started its cycling team as a club sport in 2001 with a focus on mountain biking and eventually grew into a varsity sport that included road, track and cyclocross.
2006, the team became the smallest school to ever compete at the Division I level. They finished
the year ranked No. 1 in Division I collegiate cycling.
The team now has 10 team National Championships under its belt.
Lees-McRae also announced in 2011 that it would offer a minor in bicycling studies, intended to help students enter careers in the cycling sphere.
For the cyclists who know Lees-McRae, seeing fellow riders in some of the world's most elite arenas is a natural extension of their development time in Banner Elk.
"The training grounds are great," Noto said. "The team atmosphere is really good. It's like a big family."