Words: Chris DiStefano | Photography: Ken Simms | Date:
Grant Boswell is the father of Team Sky rider Ian Boswell and a former professional triathlete. While many of Ian’s teammates and peers may call home this Father’s Day to wish Dad the best, very few can tap into a well of endurance racing knowledge as deep as his father’s. In conversation with the two, though, it’s easy to see that there are absolutely no overbearing Little-League-Dad conversations about “what I would’ve done.” There is an easy-going respect shared between the two, an affinity for competition, and an enthusiasm for the future on and off the bike. Rapha met with father and son in their hometown of Bend, Oregon in the days preceding the 2014 Amgen Tour of California.
Grant Boswell burst onto the nascent triathlon scene in 1981, winning the very first event in which he entered. The following year he won four of his first five triathlons and went on to turn professional in 1984. His enthusiasm and talent for cycling, paired with a background in competitive swimming, propelled him to a third place at that year’s Ironman Championship in Hawaii.
In 1985 he won the inaugural Australia Ironman Championship and the prestigious Wildflower Triathlon in California. These were the days of the triathlon’s Greek Gods – Dave Scott, Mark Allen and Scott Tinley – and Boswell stood atop Olympus with them for a number of years, before choosing the mortal life of a healthcare career and family. Grant is currently a flight nurse for Life Flight Network, a community-based helicopter ambulance service in Oregon.
This is a Father’s Day post so I’ll give you the lead out here: be a proud dad for a moment.
I’m so very proud of Ian. He has worked so hard to get were he is and I think sometimes he forgets all the efforts he made to get there, though I haven’t. One of my proudest moments was watching him win the Nevada City classic at age 19 on Father’s Day. It is a race I had done several times and have watched many times more. I’ve seen LeMond win that race, and Armstrong too. Also watching him win the Junior National Criterium and Time Trial Championships at age 14 was very cool. I knew then that he had a gift – he always wanted to go fast. It didn’t hurt that his younger brother, Austin (also a national level cyclist), always wanted to race him. It is cool that after providing bikes and equipment for so many years that it has all come back to me. Most of the gear I ride in and on now was given to me by Ian.
By your own admission, cycling was the strength of your triathlon skills and you did well road racing in college, did you ever consider making the switch to professional cycling?
I do wish that I had tried to turn professional in cycling. A lot of the guys I started out with in Northern California were pros and I think I would have been competitive, though the hard running in triathlon training really changes your legs over time. I started racing triathlon because bike racing had very little prize money. I’d win a bike race in NorCal and receive a Campagnolo derailleur, but for the Aussie Ironman I took home $12,000. This was 1985 and that was a big purse. For triathlon it helped that I had a swimming background so I came into it with the strengths in the two technical disciplines.
Let’s say you go back in time and become a pro cyclist, what races suit your style?
As a pro cyclist I think I would have been a good GC rider. I was a good climber in my day and had really good endurance for longer races. I could time trial pretty well, especially in hilly time trials. Even back in the day with Ironman distances, I did more speed workouts because I think I always had pretty good endurance. We were doing Olympic, Half-Ironman and Full-Ironman races so it helped to try to be fast. I always liked the Half-Ironman distance best. You had to go pretty fast for a pretty long time.
Is there a race result or exploit of Ian’s in which you saw yourself?
The Nevada City Classic, 2009. Ian was only 18 and won the Junior race in a solo breakaway in the morning then raced the first category race later that day. He and the rest of the field got lapped by Lance, Levi and Ben Jacques-Maynes. Ian latched on to them for about ten laps soon after; they were flying by everybody and Ian looked like he belonged right there. Everybody took notice of him that day!
I’ve watched Ian win the Nevada City Classic two consecutive years on Father’s Day. That’s very cool.
When you and Ian ride together is it a relaxed, conversational pace or a little more taxing?
When Ian is in town we ride at a pace that’s hard for me and easy for him. He will often go out for two to four hours and then meet up with me somewhere. I ride a lot with my brother Craig, who also lives in town, so we coordinate a lot of father/son/uncle rides. We do speak a lot about coaching though he has always had better advice from his team coaches than I could give him. His coaches have included Steve Larsen, Bart Bowen, Butch Martin, and Hunter Allen. That’s a boatload of experience there.
You raced the Nice Triathlon during your professional career and Ian now resides in Nice, along with many of today’s top professionals. What is it like returning to Nice?
I went to Nice last year and we rode to the finish line for Milan-San Remo. I then traveled down to Corsica and watched him race Criterium International. Ian raves about the riding in Nice and I plan to get back there this year for a longer period of time with my climbing legs on, to do some real climbing.
You were one of the first elite athletes to call Bend, Oregon home. At a time when Southern California and Boulder, Colorado were the ‘it’ places to live, why did you pick Bend?
I grew up on the West Coast [of the United States] and wanted to be close to my family and the ocean. I went to Boulder with the potential to move there but it was too big for me even at that time. As many of you from the Rapha office in nearby Portland know, Bend is a great place and I never regret moving here.
Bend has weekly ‘World Championship’ rides where you can test yourself against national- and world-class athletes on almost every ride. The women’s field is equally as deep, too. There are just some damn strong riders who call Bend home and the cyclocross scene here is also huge. I don’t ride as much as I used to; I stopped Masters racing when I hit 50. 35 years of competition was enough for me. I still swim, run a bit, ride road and mountain bikes and I love to ski in the winter. Bend has it all.
That sounds like a lot of training but even at age 26 you mentioned the importance of ‘play days’ to avoid overtraining in your main sport.
Rest days and mental breaks were always important and I’ll say they still are. I’d also say that training programs for me back then were not as organized as they are now. Triathletes tend to overtrain in my eyes anyway, then and now.
What do you and Ian enjoy off the bike and away from fitness training?
We enjoy duck hunting when Ian gets a chance to come home in the fall and winter months. Now that he is based in Europe it is not as frequent as we would like.
Do you follow Ian’s race days in real time?
I usually watch the races online, sites like Steephill.tv or Cycling Fans. United States TV coverage is not so hot.
Do you and Ian catch up straight after a race?
No, not right away. I try not to bug Ian too much after races. He is tired. Internet connections are often not good where he is racing so I’ll try to get a quick recap from him and that’s it. If he wins a big race, that will be another story.
Other than Ian, who are some of your favorite professional cyclists?
I really like Peter Sagan. He is a classy rider. Bernard Hinault was one of my favorites, though that’s a different era. Ian speaks highly of Chris Froome and I like his drive also.
How much of Ian’s team kit have you “borrowed”?
The team stuff I see Ian wearing looks awesome; the jackets are really sweet. If I lose 25 pounds I may try and steal some of Ian’s kit. Not much of his stuff would fit me though, he is taller and really lean. I do have a pair of his team gloves and a cool Rapha hat with “Boswell” on the back.
I asked Ian what it felt like to his name on the jersey of the best team in the world. He answered, “Having my name on my jersey is special. I am a proud member of Team Sky and to have a kit that is distinctly my own is an honor. Carrying your family name and national flag on your jersey gives a rider a personal identity and something to be proud of.” What are your feelings when you see “Boswell” on a Team Sky jersey at a major race?
It gives me goose bumps to see Ian in a WorldTour race and see our family name out there. Sometimes I have to pinch myself to remind me where Ian is at this point in his career, it’s almost unbelievable.
Ian would go on to place 72nd in the General Classification of the Amgen Tour of California, working diligently for his team leader and race winner, Sir Bradley Wiggins. Between shifts on his bike, Ian served espresso from Rapha’s Mobile Cycle Club. Thank you very much to both Ian and Grant for their time.