As we start our second year as the clothing partner to Team Sky, we had the chance to sit down with Ian Boswell, who is also beginning his second year with the team. In this exclusive interview, the young American rider shares the secrets of what it takes to ride for the team that everyone is watching.
The first products in the new 2014 Rapha Team Sky range will become available mid-January. Until then, learn more about the updates and additions to Team Sky at teamsky.com
Year two for Team Sky. What would you say was the best part of your first year?
Exciting to come to a team like this and get the prestige of being on the team. Throughout the spring, the reality of how big a step-up it was began to hit me and it was clear it was going to be a challenging year. Some knee issues also set me back for a couple months.
I’d have to say highlight of the year was Tour of Austria, where I was able to prove to myself that I could perform at this level. From there, it was a case of gradually learning by mistakes, which was also a positive. I did make a lot of mistakes in training and racing but I can learn from them and use that knowledge this year.
You came in hot from Bontrager-Livestrong. Knowing what you know now, what advice would you have given yourself a year ago?
The year went amazingly fast, in a blink of an eye. I did a lot of reflecting this off-season, looking at where I went wrong or what I can do to improve. I’d tell my ‘year-ago self’ to look at the big picture. I got too focused last year on the small details, instead of taking a broader view. What can I do today to help me recover and improve? So, if my knee injury forced me to miss two days of training, I’d go out on day three and push it too much to try and catch up. Then I’d end up back where I was two days before instead of being patient, taking the time and letting it heal.
My knee injury wasn’t really an overuse issue, it was more of a muscular imbalance. The overtraining brought it on but there was an underlying problem. The physios were giving me workouts, but as a cyclist it is so easy to say, “I’m a cyclist, I don’t need to be doing these.” They seem so simple, like one-legged squats without any weights, so it almost feels unproductive because you’re not lifting heavy weights and you’re not out riding hours on end. But looking back, it is the simple things that make the biggest difference.
Sounds like marginal gains?
Yeah, it is. Everything we do, there’s a reason for it. Coming from an American team and a mentality where everyone is looking for something they can buy to improve their performance, what Team Sky has done is slimmed it right down to the basics. It’s true we have the best equipment – bikes, kit, wheels, tyres – but there’s a lot more to it than that. For example, you can spend loads of money on a wind tunnel to get 2% faster, or you can train three times a week on your time-trial bike and get 10% faster. We’re constantly looking for little things that allow me to get more out of myself. Often times it’s the training, the core work, the weights, things you tend to overlook. Especially stuff like core work, it seems so irrelevant to cycling, but then looking at the gains I’ve made in the off-season and bringing into this year, it’s massive.
So you’ve bought into the whole routine?
Yeah, at camp I’ve been in the gym every morning. Simple stuff. It’s not like you walk out of there exhausted, it’s just activating the muscles and get them firing, making sure both sides of your body are balanced and working at an equal level. Super simple stuff, so simple you almost don’t want to do it because you don’t feel like you’re getting a workout. You become so used to wanting to get a workout, and it’s not a workout, it’s just activation. It makes such a big difference.
Is there any one thing the team has told you to do that you haven’t quite got your head around?
A lot of things are still at our discretion. It’s funny, a lot of Americans ask me, “What is Team Sky’s secret?” but there isn’t one really. It’s not one thing, you can’t pin our success on the fact that we drink beet juice or do one-legged squats, it’s a combination of many things that come together to make you better. The secret is there is no secret.
When I came here a year ago, I sort of expected there was something magic. We have all this technology and research, a reputation for well thought out nutrition, but when I came here I was almost surprised because I had those expectations. The reality is they’ve just simplified everything. What Team Sky have done is stripped it down to being a complete athlete, a healthy athlete and made it about maximising your training.
Because Team Sky is seen by some as privileged, did you feel that as a neo-pro on this team you found yourself marked?
Our team has a lot of respect in the peloton because we ride at the front so frequently. When you ride like we do you’re allowed to go to the front because people know you’re not just going up there to throw in some attack and piss everyone off. You’re going up there to do a job to benefit your riders, but everyone benefits from the work you’re providing. But, I would say that our team is heavily marked. Trying to go into breaks is difficult. Nobody wants a Team Sky rider to go into a break because we are typically the team that rides at the front so if we have a guy in the break it means that one of the strongest teams isn’t contributing to the race on the front. Also, because we ride in the front so frequently it is almost expected of us, it is almost something we have to do because we are so deep. If we’re not riding at the front it almost feels like a waste of talent.
Has it become a self-fulfilling prophecy now for Team Sky to have to ride at the front?
It has. At Tour of Austria this year, stage one was a mountain top finish. We were riding for Dombrowski who ended up getting third on the stage so it paid off. But right from the gun we were at the front and I was thinking “why are we here, nobody else is in the race knows Joe so they didn’t expect anything from us- it wasn’t like we had Wiggins or Froome or Porte there- we could be saving energy.” But because that’s such a part of the team we just fell into it.
You had a something of homecoming at Tour of Colorado. How did that feel?
It was odd. It was the first time I had been to the US in almost nine months. There was a bit of culture shock. But going to a race like that on a team like this was great. When I was last there I was with Bontrager-Livestrong and we didn’t have a bus or anything. Looking around at Schleck, Levi, I remember thinking what big stars they were. All of a sudden, I am on this team where people are waiting outside our bus to see Chris Froome or Richie Porte. The tables had turned, yet it was the exact same sport, you go out there and do the same thing. But, it was cool seeing the transformation from looking on from the outside to now being on the inside and realising nothing was really that different. These people are stars, but they are still just good guys, they’re still having a laugh and enjoying the race.
You moved to Nice. What’s the riding like there?
From the start, the city, the riding and the culture, I loved it. But it did take a bit longer to settle in and get comfortable with everything. When you come home from riding and you’re tired, the last thing you want to do is figure out how to get your bank account set up. Getting familiar with how things work there, like going to the grocers on the right days, because they close on weekends, or are only open from noon-to-three, or on random Mondays. But once you get the lifestyle down it is such a great place.
As far as riding, I still haven’t ridden most of the climbs. It is endless, the climbing is unbelievable. But for efforts I’d say Col de Vence is my favorite.
Has living in Nice changed your views or are you still a country boy?
I still listen to country, a little bit of folk. Although once in a while I find myself listening to Euro dance music. I don’t go out that often, but a lot of the clubs and pubs in Nice play that generic English music, which I find kind of fun because I’m usually the only guy who knows all the lyrics to the songs.
Last year was the first on the team for you, as well as Joe Dombrowski and Josh Edmondson. You guys had something to prove I’d imagine. What would you think Team Sky would say about your year one and what are your expectations for year two?
I had a team meeting the other day. In my first year the team really didn’t have any expectations for my performances. They knew I came into the team with some issues and injuries. That played a role in my results in the year. But, I didn’t meet my expectations as a rider. It’s never fun to go to a race and suffer as much as I did last year. You do this sport because you love it, you don’t do it for the money or the glory, you do it because you want to do well as an athlete. Still, the team wasn’t disappointed. In fact they noted my positive attitude as I was getting through the year. There’s a lot to be said for the small things that go along with this sport- getting to team meetings on time, responding to emails, the simplest things that people appreciate. When you’re doing well, people are going to be attracted to you regardless and cater to your needs, but if you’re not performing at the top, it is that much more important to make sure you’re a professional. If you can develop those skills now then as you go through your career and become more successful you definitely are helping yourself.
Is there anyone on the team that was a mentor of sorts to you?
Last year we had Matthew Hayman. He always went the extra step to help Joe, Josh, myself. He’s been racing for 13 years. If we made a mistake in the peloton he was always the first one to criticize us, but in a positive way. He’d give us suggestions and was always trying to help us. We could go to him if we had questions, struggles, anything. He was the one who would keep us from overdoing it a lot of the times. The other guy is Bernie Eisel. He’s a seasoned pro who is full of wisdom.
Liege is potentially on my schedule. I had success there as a U23, so I’m excited to go back if that ends up on my plan. Last year the team gave Joe and I a pretty ambitious schedule with a lot of Pro Tour races. It almost set us up for failure. The team realised that we probably were a bit in over our heads. We were able to almost do our intended jobs in those races, but it probably caught up with us later on. So this year we are all taking a bit more gradual approach to help build up our year and our confidence. When you go to your second race of the year to Paris-Nice and you’re fighting to just finish it can hurt your confidence. We’ll do smaller races and then build into World Tour one day races- Amstel, Fleche, Liege. Then some stage races, Coppi Bartali. Then a return to Tour of California, first time since 2011. I grew up not too far from the start in Sacramento and my family can come down watch it. Plus, we’ll have a pretty star studded team with ambitions of winning it. We didn’t show the American fans how dominant we can be when we raced Colorado last year. It will be fantastic to come back and hopefully riding at the front with the yellow jersey on one of our riders.