07/03/2018, Tour de France Preview

An American in Paris: Ian Boswell Preps for his Tour de France Debut

A bit of introspection and isolation led to his selection to the Katusha-Alpecin Tour squad.

On the last day of the Tour of California, Katusha-Alpecin all-arounder Ian Boswell sat with his teammates at the Canyon booth at the foot of the state capitol, enjoying a well-earned slice of pizza after seven days of racing in the late spring U.S. staple. Finishing 20th in GC—the top result in the team—it wasn’t a remarkable week, just good. Yet behind that genial smile, you could see the gears turning. For him, good wasn’t going to be good enough.

Good wasn’t going to see him on the start line at the Tour de France.

“Yeah, I’m gonna go up to some altitude,” Boswell said flatly. “I need to get better.”

A month later, following lots of introspection, a spate of isolation and some ensuing brow-raising racing, Boswell is finally seeing his potential; he made Katusha-Alpecin’s Le Tour’s six-man squad.

"It's been my dream since I was a boy to ride the Tour de France," Boswell says from his hotel room in this year's Grand Depart village of Nantes. "I'm not nervous, but it hit me today when i was on my flight with Froomey, Peter Sagan and Michael Kwiatkowski. Flying in for the Tour de France, it became a bit real. A result here can change your life."

The 27-year-old Boswell came onto the ProTour circuit as a neo-pro in 2013. He’d showed promise, riding the 2015 Vuelta a Espana and the 2016 Giro d’Italia… but a start in the still Grand Boucle evaded him. Despite cutting his teeth, his only fault was being part of a team loaded with tour title-defending depth. Boswell soon realized he’d find better chances of seeing his potential through on a new team.

In 2018, The Peacham, Vermont resident joined Katusha-Alpecin. A squad with sprint ambitions around Marcel Kittel, it also has a rising general classification talent in Ilnur Zakarin. Many are tipping the Russian for a top-five finish in this year's Tour de France—and with a bit of luck, perhaps more. To achieve any of those results, he’d need help in the mountains.

Boswell intended to be that help. So he doubled down. After the result at the Tour of California left him nonplussed, he returned to Europe, sequestering himself to the mountains at Isola 2000 in the southern French Alps. "I wrote the team after California and said I want to do the Tour, but I'm not riding at the level I'm capable of. I wanted to go to altitude and change my training a bit; do some thinking on some solo rides."

At Isola 2000, his day was simple: rise, put on coffee and some country music, get out, and put down power at altitude. For a week and a half, he sharpened the blade, waiting for his next opportunity.

The Criterium Dauphine, another seven-day test, Boswell would come out of the safety of the peloton. He’d initiate, take a chance, choose his fate. There, a reborn Boswell initiated attacks and create opportunity. His GC result wasn’t as high as it was in California, but his animated racing made team directors sit up and take note. 

In late June, the team was announced, and Boswell was in. "I think that block of time turned things around," he says. "Riding in the mountains, and the Dauphine really turned things around and built my confidence going into the Tour."

Boswell's role this July is clear; support GC team leader Ilnur Zakarin. But he has other cards to play as well.

"There are a lot of interesting tactics we can play," he says. "My objective is going to be safe, healthy and ready for the first three mountain days.  nine days are gonna be nuts, really a great nine days to watch on TV he says. "I'm definitely here to help out Ilnur Zakarin. But whether it's me going up the road to have a teammate available to set tempo or drop back. Or if you get in the right situation, you could win a stage."

Now, as he relaxes in his hotel room just days from beginning the biggest month in his cycling career, he is already envisioning the race with anticipation. "Every Tour is special and unique, but this year, having the cobbles, an ascent up Alpe d'Huez and a team time trial in Stage 3—that's a lot of monumental elements in one Tour. It's gonna be memorable."