Boz blog: Ian Boswell’s Tour de France debut, 20 years in the making

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American Ian Boswell (Katusha-Alpecin) is making his Tour de France debut on July 7. He’ll be providing us with updates throughout the race, sharing his perspective while riding in support of team leaders Ilnur Zakarin and Marcel Kittel.

My first Tour does not begin on July 7. It started years ago in Bend, Oregon, with the Tour de Saginaw and a yellow Winning Club jersey that my dad had received from his magazine subscription.

My first “tour” happened a long time ago with neighborhood kids with BMX bikes and a Timex stopwatch. We had all the essentials of a Grand Tour: a time trial, a mountain stage, flat sprint stages, a yellow jersey, a timekeeper, and passion for the sport. I rode a GT mini BMX bike, chrome color. My dad, a weight weenie of the 1980s, had hand built the wheels with titanium spoke nipple – a symbol of my parents’ support, understanding that equipment was a worthy investment for supplying me with great joy.

Growing up on the west coast, the Tour was always televised early in the morning. Our stages always began after watching Armstrong and the American riders of the early 2000s inspire us to be legends in our own mind.

From a young age, I always believed I was going to do the Tour de France. I always knew I could get there… (or here, now). As I got older, though, and the dream seemed closer, it oftentimes seemed further away and more difficult to achieve.

Events occurred throughout the course of my life that both inspired me and also reassured me that I would do the Tour. I met Lance Armstrong at the 1998 Cascade Cycling Classic in Bend. Lance and my dad had briefly raced triathlon together in the late-1980s, and through this connection, Lance gave me one of his cycling caps. I kept his cap as a valued possession, one which I’ve worn only once under my time trial helmet as a good luck charm when I won the 13-14 National Time Trial Championships in Salt Lake City, Utah.

In 2004, my dad’s good friend and one my life mentors, Mark, went over to France to watch the Tour. He returned with photos of the Alpe d’Huez time trial, and I sat in the kitchen flipping through his scrapbook, enamored with the spectacle of riders conquering this mystical challenge. Looking back, this seemingly small moment was integral. After the Dauphiné this year, I rode the iconic Alpe d’Huez climb for the first time, during Tour recon with Ilnur Zakarin.

Growing up with a triathlete father and marathon-running mother in the community of Bend, where endurance sports are commonplace, carried me closer to my dream. Some days, I’d pick up my brother, Austin, from school in the Burly bike trailer. Other days, I’d be so excited to get off the bus, hop on my bike, and allow the Cascade Mountains on the way up to Mount Bachelor transform into the French Alps. I’d even practice replicating the look that Lance gave to Jan Ullrich when he dropped him on l’Alpe d’Huez at the 2001 Tour.

Weekends consisted of packing up my mom’s Westfalia for races in Portland. As I won races, I fell deeper in love with the sport. Having the support and belief of the masters riders in Bend, in turn, gave me even more confidence to believe in my own physical abilities.

There are other Grand Tours — I’ve done two Vueltas and one Giro — but there has always been something special in my perception of cycling about the Tour de France. Maybe it was because the Tour came in the month of July, and overlapped with the timing of the Cascade Cycling Classic. Excitement around cycling was at its peak in the month of July. During my formative years, the Americans were also well represented and the Tour was so covered in the U.S. During this time, the Tour was much more accessible and relatable as I watched and formulated new ideas for our own Tour de Saginaw.

I still have to pinch myself when I think about getting the call that I am riding my first Tour de France. I am still a fan of the sport, in the sense that legendary stages, climbs, and riders remain iconic in my mind. There still seems to be a disconnect between what I’m doing and what I’ve dreamed of as a child. They are the same now.

I can’t wait to hear the dramatic voices of Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen — those voices that rang through my ears and heart as a child brimming with excitement — as they narrate my debut at the Tour de France.

It’s been my life’s work to get to this point, and I know it’s going to be three weeks of suffering every day, but mentally I want to enjoy the process and keep perspective. The fact that I’ve made it to this point is a testament to my own hard work, but it’s just as much a testament and a gift to those people along the way who have helped to support me and believe in me.

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