Team Sky’s Ian Boswell has just completed his first-ever Grand Tour, the Vuelta a España. The 24-year-old American rode to distinction in Spain, beyond the call of his team duties as ever, with a highlight third place on the so-called ‘hardest ever Grand Tour stage’ in Andorra.
Just a month before the Vuelta began, however, Boswell was undertaking a very different kind of tour, one that involved a rack fitted to his bike and the powermeter turned off. Rapha spoke to him about his ‘Boswell Bike Tour’ on the second rest day in Spain, when those summer days of touring must have seemed a long, long time ago.
A bike tour seems an unusual thing for a pro cyclist to do mid-season. What made you want to do it?
When my Dad was in his twenties he did a bike tour from London all the way to Dubrovnik and said it was one of the best things he had ever done. My brother Austin was coming over in July, and while it wasn’t exactly a mid-season break, it was at a time when I didn’t necessarily have to train too hard before my Vuelta preparation properly began. My brother is a cyclist too, and so we thought, “What could we do together that’s both fun, but also that would keep me riding and somewhat fit?”
How did you set about organising it?
We kept the trip simple. Having grown up on the West Coast [of the US], my brother and I are quite adventurous. When we were younger we always did those Man vs Wild backpack trips, that sort of thing. So I found some little bike racks that fitted on to the back of our race bikes – as a pro athlete you still prefer to go quicker rather than go slowly on a tourer or hybrid – and we only brought one pair of kit, swimsuit, flip flops and some cash and a credit card with us.
I had to plan the route out because of my tie to the whereabouts anti-doping system, but other than that it was very open. It was us two, my Team Sky team-mate Nathan Earle and our friend Pete. We had no specific places to stop and see, we would just leave at breakfast and arrive at the end when we got there.
I imagine that the route wasn’t just a gentle amble through the countryside?
We did five days in the mountains north of Nice, and the longest day was the first – it was much longer than we expected at 210km, with 4,500m of climbing. We had probably underestimated [the effect of] riding with the racks and not looking at the powermeter, or our speed. After 75km we stopped and had a long lunch, and by the time we got to the Gorges du Cions we could have taken a short route to the end, but Nathan was like, “Come on, guys, let’s do it’.
It was 35 degrees, absolutely scorching, but we made it up and over to the Valberg ski resort. We still had one more climb to go though, and didn’t start that until maybe five o’clock in the evening. We were sunburnt, dehydrated and had been in our chammies a long time, and at the top it was getting darker and colder. Then on the descent my brother had a problem with his hub, and that was also the one time during the whole trip that we had a little fight… it was less us not getting along, more just wanting to get to the hotel. The shower that evening was the best I’ve ever had.
Where did you go onto after day one?
We did a few more climbs in France, then over the Col d’Agnel, one of the most beautiful climbs I’ve ever done, into Italy. We had a great Italian feast, and ate some cheap gelato during the next two days there before heading back into France and home.
What was the best part?
Just the whole experience of finishing a ride in a little town and before you’d even checked into a hotel or bed & breakfast you went and got a pint of beer and enjoyed it. I’m not used to having an experience like that, where it is only about the riding and the bonding of friends.
The food was great too: double portions of the typical French breakfast of croissants, Nutella, baguettes and coffee. All the good stuff that you wouldn’t necessarily eat at races.
Sounds like a pro racer’s dream. Did the trip revitalise you for the rest of the season?
Yes, definitely. Beforehand I had told my coach about it, and he didn’t believe how adventurous it was and how many kilometres we were going to be doing, but he said that the most important thing was to refresh my mind, to prevent mental rather than physical burnout. I came back really motivated to get back to training.
One of the coolest things I find about cycling is that there is all this science behind it and at Team Sky we are focused on that, but at the end of the day a bike tour, which anyone can do, is still one way of preparing for a race.
Any further trips in the pipeline?
My brother is coming back to Europe to see me at the end of the Vuelta in Madrid and then we’ll go back to Nice. He’s bringing his bike, so we’ll do some more riding, for sure. We hope to do a trip into Provence with maybe a few other riders like Larry Warbasse and Joe Dombrowski, who are interested. My brother and I are talking about going to New Zealand in the off-season too.
At this stage of the season, with only a few races left, your fitness is there, you only need to keep riding. Doing a trip is the perfect balance of continuing to ride but also enjoying life. So many times we are out training, doing long hours, and we don’t really stop and enjoy it. This trip has really made me realise how much I love riding my bike.
You can see the full route of the Boswell Bike Tour here.