Last week, Ian Boswell was, by his own admission, "dying."
At 6 feet tall and 155 pounds, the lanky 22-year-old Bend native is one of America's best road cyclists. Last month, Boswell wrapped up his first professional race season with Team Sky, a British cycling squad widely regarded as the best in the world (the last two Tour de France winners have ridden for Sky).
To better acclimate to the increased demands of his new job, Boswell spent most of the 2013 season living in a modest house in Nice, France with his girlfriend and training with his high-profile teammates Tour winner Chris Froome, Paris-Nice champion Richie Porte and fellow up-and-comer Joe Dombrowski. In between cups of espresso and nibbles of baguette, Boswell also competed in some of the world's biggest bike races—Paris-Nice, Tour of Austria, and, most recently, Tour of Beijing—alongside some of the pro peloton's best riders. Now he's back in Bend recovering and prepping for the 2014 season.
He's also been doing yoga, which is why he was hurting so.
"Middle-aged women were in there doing way more push-ups than me," Boswell lamented of a recent one and one half hour yoga session in Bend following a six-hour training ride. He showed me his skinny arms. "I have no upper body strength," he emphasized.
He's not kidding. Boswell has the lean spindly look of a top climber, a physique he's been honing for years but one that was further transformed this season under the disciplined training regime of the Team Sky coaches. Boswell explained that riding for Sky—which he will do for at least two more seasons, as per his three-year contract—is much more business-like than other teams he's ridden for. More professional, organized and scientific. The Team Sky coaches train the whole team—unlike other squads who often allow individual riders to choose their own coach—to ensure that all the riders are more or less on the same level. Boswell said the riders do a big portion of their training at or near threshold pace to train their bodies for the pain and suffering of racing.
"It's very predictable and calculable," Boswell said of the coaching plan that, at times, has seemed unorthodox—one of the coaches comes from a triathlon background, the other from swimming—but one that's clearly reaping results. Team Sky won the Tour de France in 2011 and 2012 as well as a number of other big races, from one-day classics to multi-day suffer-fests.
One of the team's great victories came this spring following the eight-day Paris-Nice stage race, a win Boswell contributed to by protecting the team's Australian leader, Richie Porte (whom Boswell described as "a fiery Tasmanian, a really talented rider"). Boswell's job was to help control the pacing of the race, keep Porte out of the wind and chase down searing attacks from other squads.
"I was kind of being thrown into the deep end," Boswell said of the French race. "It was unbelievably stressful." The race and physical exertion took its toll on Boswell's body. He said his upper back and neck were tight for weeks after.
Since, however, Boswell had been living on France's southeastern border, the race was on somewhat familiar ground. His first few months in France, the Summit High grad and his girlfriend, Annika, lived in a fourth-floor apartment with no elevator or garage. They later moved a few kilometers away into a house closer to the beach and at the base of Col D'Eze, a famous French climb. Soon they had cracked the nearly impenetrable closed-loop French system and were able to get mobile phones, bank accounts, a car and car insurance, but not without the expected struggles. They also started making regular visits to their neighborhood café, Le Pain Quotidien (translates as "daily bread"), which was run by a boisterous French cycling fan.
"Whenever we showed up he'd bring us way too much food," Boswell said with a chuckle. "He told us he'd give us more free stuff if we brought in Richie Porte."
Once settled, Boswell said he could better concentrate on his job.
"It was the first time I could 100 percent focus on training and racing," he explained.
The results were soon obvious.
In July, Boswell raced the eight-stage, climbing-intensive Tour of Austria and twice finished inside the top 10. Though racing for a teammate, friend and fellow neo-pro, Joe Dombrowski, Boswell had the opportunity to race for himself during a few of the stages. After finishing near the leaders after the first three days, Boswell, on the fourth stage and while crossing the Grossglockner—Austria's tallest peak and at 12,460 feet one of the biggest in the Alps—made it into an elite breakaway with 15 other riders. He ended up eighth but the experience was like none other.
"It was the first time I was racing for a win at the pro level," Boswell said with a big grin.
It certainly won't be the last and, if past results are any indication (third at the Tour of Utah in 2010, first at the Nevada City Classic in 2010 and 2011, second at Belgium's under-23 Liege-Bastogne-Liege), Boswell, a stage-race-leader-in-training, is due for many more such opportunities.
And if you see him in yoga this winter, compliment him on his downward dog.