Af­ter five years with Team Sky, Ian Boswell signed for Ka­tusha for 2018, and he' s found him­self learn­ing new tricks an­dre-learn­ing some old ones

Procycling - - CONTENTS - Wri ter: Ed­ward Picker ing Por t ra i ts: Chr is Auld

How mov­ing to Ka­tusha-Alpecin forced the Amer­i­can to learn how to race for him­self

When Ian Boswell was 16, he helped his dad win a bike race. This might not be as sur­pris­ing as it sounds – Grant Boswell was a re­tired triath­lete, who’d been good enough to come third in the 1984 Hawaii Iron­man. He’d got back into bike rac­ing when Ian showed in­ter­est, and they raced to­gether in cat­e­gory three for a while. In this case, Ian had at­tacked on a climb and Grant had fol­lowed with a few other rid­ers. Grant was the fastest sprinter in the group, so Ian led him out. It was a good win for the fa­ther, but the re­sult was as in­ter­est­ing for what it tells us about the son and the first few years of his pro­fes­sional ca­reer. “I was in train­ing to be a do­mes­tique,” Boswell joked to Pro­cy­cling a cou­ple of years ago, when he was with Team Sky.

Two years on, Boswell has been busy un­learn­ing. He left Sky at the end of 2017 to join Ka­tusha. Things are dif­fer­ent there.

“I spent five years never try­ing to go in the break,” Boswell says. “I be­came an ex­pert rider in the way that Sky rides. By chang­ing teams I’m learn­ing a whole new skill set. I’m learn­ing a whole new way of rac­ing that I hadn’t done for five years.”

It was hard to work out if Boswell ever quite fit­ted in to Team Sky. He shared the An­glo­phone roots of the team, but he was not part of Sky’s Bri­tish back­bone. And since he signed for them as a neo-pro in 2013, nei­ther was he an es­tab­lished in­ter­na­tional star. A bad first year of his ini­tial three-year con­tract could have made things even more chal­leng­ing than they were, but he ral­lied enough to sign for an­other two years un­til the end of last sea­son, so the team must have seen enough in him to jus­tify his pres­ence. Yet he could never break into the Tour de France squad. Plac­ing fifth over­all in a race like the Tour of Cal­i­for­nia would usu­ally be enough to get into most teams’ Tour line­ups, but this was Team Sky, where grand tour top-10 rid­ers are used as third or fourth-string climb­ing do­mes­tiques.

“I re­ally en­joyed my time at Sky and I could have stayed there and raced in that en­vi­ron­ment but I felt it was time to try some­thing dif­fer­ent and see what I was ca­pa­ble of in­di­vid­u­ally. I re­ally wanted to do the Tour and the longer I was at Sky the more I thought it was go­ing to be re­ally hard to crack their Tour team,” he says.

The move to Ka­tusha was helped by Boswell’s con­nec­tion with the team’s gen­eral man­ager, José Azevedo, who’d been a di­recteur sportif on the Ra­dioShack team when Boswell rode for the Live­strong U23 squad in 2011 and 2012. They spoke at the 2017 Critérium du Dauphiné and Azevedo felt that Boswell’s po­ten­tial wasn’t be­ing max­imised at Sky. Ka­tusha needed clim­bers; Boswell needed a change.

“Sky was an in­ter­na­tional team, but it had a very Bri­tish core of staff and key rid­ers. The cool guys were the Bri­tish

guys, and every­body is try­ing to fit into that group so they can be part of that team. Prov­ing to G [Geraint Thomas], Chris Froome and to Ian [Stan­nard] and Luke [Rowe] that you are good and cool and can be part of their group,” he says.

And with Ka­tusha, who have a Swiss li­cence, a Rus­sian his­tory, a Por­tugese gen­eral man­ager and 28 rid­ers from 16 dif­fer­ent coun­tries, this itin­er­ant Amer­i­can fits in just fine. But learn­ing to ride for him­self? That’s a work in progress.

Pro­cy­cling caught up with Boswell on the se­cond rest day of the Tour de France, in Car­cas­sonne. The day be­fore, the sur­vivors of a large break had con­tested the fin­ish. There were a few im­por­tant things about that. First, the break had been smashed to pieces by the first-cat­e­gory Pic de Nore climb, 40km from the fin­ish. It was the kind of climb which would suit a rider like Boswell. Se­cond, there had been an ab­so­lute sh*t-fight to get into the break in the early part of the stage, added to climbs and cross­winds which had split the bunch into two groups. It took 40 kilo­me­tres and the best part of an hour for the group to get away. Third, and most per­ti­nently, Boswell had missed the break.

“I tried to make the break the last two days,” he says. “I sold my soul to the devil yes­ter­day to make the break. There was only Zakarin and me in the front group when it split on the climbs and cross­winds. I jumped in quite a few good moves and I was al­ways fol­low­ing the key break­away spe­cial­ists. I was there, in a move. And then the move I was in came back, and the next move went. You just sit there, bit­ing your tongue.

“You only have so many bul­lets to make the move. If you go in a move, it may be a good move, but if it is brought back you’re tired so you can’t make the next move. Then it’s gone. Kony­shev [Ka­tusha DS] told me, ‘Good ef­fort, but I can teach you some things about how to get into the break.’” Boswell adds: “That’s the Tour. A daily strug­gle. But also, a daily op­por­tu­nity.”

"I re­ally wanted to do the Tour and the longer I was at Sky the more I thought it was go­ing to be re­ally hard to crack their Tour team"


Boswell’s first Tour was un­spec­tac­u­lar, but that’s not to say that it was un­suc­cess­ful. He floated through the first nine days and avoided the crashes and bad luck which af­fected many other rid­ers. Ka­tusha re­lieved him of too much do­mes­tique work, pre­fer­ring to save him for the moun­tains, which made Boswell feel bad, but also val­ued – that he had a job to do to sup­port Il­nur Zakarin in the moun­tain stages and that he had the op­por­tu­nity to max­imise his own chances on ter­rain which suited him bet­ter.

In the moun­tains he sup­ported Zakarin, feel­ing good on the first two Alpine stages and less good at Alpe d’Huez. His best stage plac­ing was 39th, at La Rosière, and he was 79th on gen­eral clas­si­fi­ca­tion but his re­sults weren’t the point.

“The first 11 days I re­ally en­joyed just be­ing at the Tour,” he says. “I had good en­ergy. I was like a kid, em­brac­ing my dream of be­ing on the race. I no­ticed the amount of fans in the first cou­ple of days in Brit­tany. You get to a ran­dom town and you see how many peo­ple there are.

“An­other mem­ory is the crashes and see­ing the mas­sive pile-ups and the scrum and stress of gen­eral clas­si­fi­ca­tion guys who have to get back on their bikes and chase.

“The cob­ble­stones – I was re­ally fear­ing that day. It was al­most like a blur – there were so many fans that you can’t look around and see what is hap­pen­ing. Your head is bob­bing and your hands hurt. I en­joyed get­ting through the cob­bles - I never want to do Roubaix, but that stage was the per­fect amount of cob­ble­stones. I know what it’s like now, but I wouldn’t want to do any more and I wouldn’t want to do that with spe­cial­ists.”

In the Alps, Boswell worked for Zakarin, though it was hard for the Amer­i­can to shake off the style of his Sky days. “I had a good day on stage 11 over the Cormet de Rose­lend and to La Rosière. Bahrain were rid­ing over the top of the Rose­lend and the group was down to

15. Be­ing there in the group, of the best 15 clim­bers in the Tour, was pretty cool.

“But I try to help Zakarin some­times and he ques­tions what I’m do­ing be­cause I do it in a Team Sky way. Com­ing into La Rosière, be­fore the steep sec­tion with 10 kilo­me­tres to go, I was try­ing to move him up. He was like, ‘What are you do­ing, man, wast­ing your en­ergy?’ That’s what I’ve been taught: I will waste my en­ergy for you; I will move you up at this very in­op­por­tune time, but you will be in a bet­ter po­si­tion and I blow. But his men­tal­ity is, hey, sit back and you can be with me longer on the climb. It’s a men­tal shift from Sky.

“Zakarin is a very easy leader to ride for and he doesn’t ex­pect much. I think he’s a very un­stereo­typ­i­cal Rus­sian. He loves cy­cling and is a nor­mal guy who en­joys hunt­ing and fish­ing like I do. He doesn’t re­ally talk much about cy­cling. We don’t sit around gos­sip­ing about the pelo­ton.” Things un­rav­elled a bit for Boswell, when the Tour got to its halfway point.

“The 12th stage, Alpe d’Huez, I’d been look­ing for­ward to, be­cause it’s such an iconic day,” he says. “It was ac­tu­ally a hard day. It was chal­leng­ing and hot. Be­ing a kid, watch­ing the guys race up the Alpe… I grew up watch­ing the Lance era, and then saw Te­jay [van Garderen] come se­cond there in 2015. I had no ex­pec­ta­tions but I wanted a good ride and to be there at the pointy end of the race, and I was not. It was al­most an­ti­cli­mac­tic. When some­thing is hap­pen­ing and it’s ex­cit­ing, you can thrive and ab­sorb the en­ergy and that car­ries you through the day. It’s al­most a eu­phoric feel­ing and for me, mak­ing it safely through those first nine days was like that. Then it hits you like a sack of bricks on stage 12.”

Ka­tusha had a poor Tour. Four rid­ers dropped out in the first half of the race, in­clud­ing sprint leader Mar­cel Kit­tel, leav­ing just four to fin­ish the Tour. They didn’t win a stage, and it never got as good again as Kit­tel’s third place on stage 1. Zakarin had been an out­side favourite for a podium or at least a top-five fin­ish, but was com­par­a­tively medi­ocre, com­ing ninth but not look­ing at his best, though he in­dus­tri­ously in­fil­trated some dan­ger­ous-look­ing moun­tain breaks.

“We came to the race with higher ex­pec­ta­tions,” says Boswell. “If Mar­cel had won a stage, it would have set the

tone for the whole race. Zakarin has rid­den con­sis­tently but maybe not as well as we would have ex­pected.”

Yet Boswell was one of the most vis­i­ble rid­ers on the en­tire Tour, thanks to his will­ing­ness to en­gage with the me­dia. He recorded an au­dio di­ary for the Cy­cling Pod­cast. He wrote blogs for Cy­clingtips. He was one of two cen­tral char­ac­ters in the Break­fast with Bos pod­cast (which ap­peared un­der the brand­ing of Lance Arm­strong’s The Move pod­cast but which wasn’t funded by it) along with his old rac­ing buddy and broad­caster Mar­shall Opel. He was in­ter­viewed reg­u­larly by An­glo­phone me­dia through the race. “I also did some stuff for NBC,” he adds. “It’s all short, easy stuff. I guess it’s a way of shar­ing my ex­pe­ri­ence of the Tour. This is some­thing that is cool and unique – I’m here to race my bike but it’s a chance to share what

I am do­ing.”

The Break­fast with Bos se­ries took lis­ten­ers through Boswell’s Tour through a daily un­scripted con­ver­sa­tion with Opel. The ran­dom na­ture of the con­ver­sa­tions, the lo-fi record­ing, the ad-hoc lo­ca­tions, the feel­ing of fa­mil­iar­ity be­tween the pair and the sense that both were liv­ing each other’s Tours vi­car­i­ously made it stand out from a lot of the Tour cov­er­age, adding con­text to what we saw on tele­vi­sion and picked up from other me­dia.

“Speak­ing with him it’s much more com­fort­able,” says Boswell. “Rid­ers tend to change their tone of voice when they are speak­ing with a jour­nal­ist, but we grew up rac­ing to­gether in the same re­gion of the US and did our na­tional team train­ing camps and first trip to Europe to­gether. I’m at the Tour but it’s nice to have some­one here who, re­gard­less of how

I do, can say, ‘Dude, this is pretty cool,’ to re­mind me of that daily. You can get sucked into be­ing fa­mous with the fans and au­to­graphs. And in re­turn, he does stuff that I love but can’t do at this point in my life, like have a big plate of pasta then a beer and a tiramisu. We feed off each other’s en­ergy.” Boswell was con­scious of the greater nar­ra­tive of his jour­ney around France. Un­like many rid­ers, who find it men­tally re­lax­ing to sink into the rou­tine of hotel­bus-race-bus-ho­tel, the Amer­i­can trav­elled around the coun­try with his eyes wide open.

“I love maps,” he says. “I al­ways look at where we are and what’s near us, be­cause France is such a beau­ti­ful coun­try. On stage 14 in the Ardèche gorges, I was next to Sam Bew­ley, who is a Kiwi and ap­pre­ci­ates this kind of thing, and I said to him, ‘Man, I wish we were down on those kayaks.’ The An­necy area was beau­ti­ful, in Brit­tany I no­ticed all these cute lit­tle vil­lages with beau­ti­ful flow­ers out front… I keep lit­tle notes on my phone of places I would like to go back to.”

It took Ian Boswell six years as a pro­fes­sional cy­clist to fi­nally make it to the Tour de France, but you get the im­pres­sion that the race is one he will also go back to.

"France is such a beau­ti­ful coun­try. In the Ardèche gorges I was next to Sam Bew­ley and said, ' Man I wish we were down on those kayaks'"

Boswell was busy with mul­ti­ple me­dia en­gage­ments through the Tour de France

Boswell signs au­to­graphs for fans at the Tour, but keeps fame in per­spec­tive

Boswell joined the grup­petto on the Bal­cón de Bizkaia in the Vuelta a Es­paña

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