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A year older, a year wiser, and a whole lot stronger.
That’s how Ian Boswell sums up his rookie season in Europe with the British Sky team.
“Both on and off the bike, it’s been a huge year for me,” Boswell told VeloNews. “This is the ProTour [sic]. The racing is more intense, the level is so much higher, so adapting to the racing has been huge.”
Neo-pro graduates of the Bontrager development program, Boswell and Joe Dombrowski were high-profile American signings for Sky in 2013. And with that move came expectations both from the team and from the media.
The pair line up next week to race on American roads for the first time this season at the USA Pro Challenge as part of what should be a stronger North American presence for Sky going forward.
Both have settled into France’s Cote d’Azur, and both survived the school of hard knocks in the first, crucial season nearly every European rookie faces.
Boswell, who returned to the United States last week for the first time since December 2012, said his first pro season in Europe has been nothing short of eye-opening.
“It’s been a big learning curve,” he said. “In Europe, there is so much more tactical skill in racing when compared to the U.S. Positioning is so important. Even small things are important, like knowing when to get water bottles or taking a piss. Everything is faster, harder.”
Boswell decided to make roots in Europe because he knew that’s where his professional future lies. Rather than settling into Girona, Spain, where so many of his compatriots live, Boswell chose Nice, France, home to former Sky coach Bobby Julich. Several Sky riders already reside in the area, including Tour de France winner Chris Froome and Richie Porte, who live down the coast in Monaco. Because so many riders live and train near Nice, Sky is also setting up a satellite service course in the area, making it an ideal base for Boswell and Dombrowski.
Sky has given the pair enough breathing room in their freshman season to find apartments and organize the small things, including Internet service, utilities, and visas.
“[Nice] is home now. I’ve been in Europe since December, so it’s going to be more of a culture shock going home,” Boswell joked. “I know I cannot double park the car anymore, or walk down the street to buy a fresh baguette.”
Like any first-year pro, Boswell’s season has been full of ups and downs. Flare-ups of knee pain early in the season as his body adjusted to new equipment and new training knocked him back.
He started Paris-Nice and Critérium International, but his best results came mid-season with a strong ride through the mountainous Tour of Austria for 15th overall in July.
“I was eighth in a mountain stage, so that was good for the confidence that I can perform at this level,” he said. “The low point was the knee injury. I felt like I was not fulfilling my role. I couldn’t train, but the team has been super supportive.”
Both Boswell and Dombrowski crashed out of the first stage of the Vuelta a Burgos earlier this month in northern Spain, but neither was seriously injured.
After racing in Colorado, Boswell will be heading back to Europe to finish off the season, with likely starts in the Italian fall classics and then to Asia for the Tour of Beijing and the Japan Cup.
He also has an outside shot for the U.S. worlds team. That will be a hard one to make, considering it looks like the Americans will only take six starters. For now, Boswell is focused on finishing off the season on a high note, and carrying momentum into 2014.
“We had great support from the team this year, but they will be expecting more from me next year, and so will I,” Boswell said. “Guys like [Mathew] Hayman and [Bernhard] Eisel have been huge benefits. They were helping us out so much, being positive about correcting us when we made mistakes, but helping us learn as fast as possible.”
As breezy as life may be along France’s glittering Cote d’Azur, Boswell said he realized just how much harder he would have to work if he hopes to someday excel at the international level.
“I had a friend of mine over here in Europe for awhile who I used to race with in the U.S., and he said, ‘man, you’re living the dream!’ But after watching me train and how we lived, he said, ‘whoa, this is hard,'” Boswell said. “Yes, I am living the dream, but it’s also a lot of hard work, sacrifice, dedication, and focus. For a 20-year-old, it’s a big step to come to Europe all alone. This is the dream, this is what I aspire to, but it’s a job. A lot is expected.”
Boswell is hoping to apply those hard-earned lessons in Colorado next week.