At a glance there was little different about Ian Boswell at the recent Tour of Oman. Yes, the red and white jersey of Katusha-Alpecin was new, but his place on the front of the peloton, working for a team leader was not.
Boswell though, is hoping the new kit and deep red Canyon Ultimate, with which he replaced Team Sky’s Pinarello, will be far more than a superficial change in his career. After five seasons with the British team, 27-year-old American is hoping for bigger things in the colours of Katusha-Alpecin, starting at Paris-Nice on Sunday.
“Sky was very comfortable,” Boswell tells Cycling Weekly. “I knew the guys and I knew the staff, everything was very routine. Things always change on a team, but as far as training camps and location, and my race programme was relatively fixed.
“So at this point in my career it was something I needed to spice it up and go somewhere I wasn’t really comfortable. Kind of reinvent myself.”
When he joined Team Sky in 2013 from Axel Merckx’s development team, then known as Bontrager-Livestrong, Boswell was seen as one of the sport’s most promising young riders. However, the results he promised as an under 23 did not materialise, and he was apparently sucked into the Sky machine, working for the team’s big name stars.
“I think I wasn’t given all that much freedom, but then again maybe I didn’t earn it,” he says with deadpan, ruthless honesty. “You are never going to a race and have Geraint Thomas or Chris Froome riding for me. No team would do that.
“But I look at this team [Katusha] and we had Steff Cras in his second race as a pro and he had a free role to go off the front. He is lucky because I did five years and very seldom had personal objectives and opportunities.
“I joined Sky at the right time and I think I took everything I needed to. I have no regrets or sadness for having left when I did, I definitely enjoyed my time there and some of the relationships I built will always be close friends.”
He is, however, relieved to have escaped the media scrutiny Sky are now under.
“I think it has definitely been a tough time for them and it seems like the blows just keep coming. The journalists keep writing things and people are turning every stone to try to find a smoking gun. I probably left at a positive time for myself so I can really focus on the racing.”
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Boswell has found Katusha-Alpecin open and welcoming, a far cry from historical perceptions of the team. Having moved its registration from Russia to Switzerland, the team is undergoing somewhat of a revolution, recruiting a wide spectrum of nationalities.
Those include eight native German speakers from Austria, Switzerland and German – most notably Marcel Kittel – and fellow anglophones in Australian Nathan Haas and former British time trial champion Alex Dowsett.
“It has changed from the Katusha of the past, they’re re-defining who they are,” Boswell explains. “I don’t feel like there’s an influence from any one part of the world, it’s a very international team. We still have four Russian riders in the team and maybe two directors but they have kept in the team who they want in order to go forward in a more international sense.”
Having already got to know him at team training camps, Ilnur Zakarin is the Russian that Boswell is most looking forward to working with. The pair will ride together at Paris-Nice, where the Russian will be hoping to build on his third place at last September’s Vuelta a España.
“I have always been very curious of him, but I roomed with him in Mallorca in January and we were together two weeks and he speaks better English than he lets on to the media. He is very shy but in the room I was impressed with how much he opened up and how close our friendship has become.”
Having known him at Trek-Livestrong, Katusha-Alpecin’s team manager José Azevedo was key in Boswell’s move, telling the American he was more talented than he had shown at Sky. While Boswell believes he has the talent, such faith brings a certain amount of pressure.
“It is about balancing that and using it as a motivation. It is hard. You don’t want to get ahead of yourself but you don’t want to be behind yourself either.”
Though he will ride for Zakarin in France this week, Boswell hopes his performance there will prove him worthy of future personal opportunities. Though coy about precise ambitions, Boswell hopes his move to Katusha-Alpecian will see him working less on the front as he did in Oman, and more chasing his own opportunities.