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As the air thinned and the clouds built on the high slopes of Mount Nebo Thursday, Ian Boswell (Bissell) clung to the wheel of Francisco Mancebo (Canyon Bicycles) as the three-time Tour de France top-10 finisher pursued eventual winner Levi Leipheimer (Mellow Johnny’s). Boswell’s third-place ride, which bumped him up to fourth overall – and a tie with third overall Darren Lill (Fly V Australia) – confirmed what Trek-Livestrong director Axel Merckx had known for more than a year.
“I was in contact with Ian already last year,” said Merckx after the stage. “He was supposed to go to the development team for Cervelo and that team didn’t happen and I couldn’t pick him up because I was really full last year.” While the timing didn’t work out for Boswell at the RadioShack feeder program this year, the Bend, Oregon-based rider penned a deal to join Trek-Livestrong for 2011.
Boswell, 19, continued his strong ride through the rest of the Utah tour, winding up third overall behind Leipheimer and Mancebo and best young rider.
“We stayed in touch for a while and Bissell did a good job with him and developed him already very well, but I was always interested in him and hoping to scoop him up for next year,” said Merckx.
Boswell has flourished in his first year in the Continental ranks with Bissell. The former Hot Tubes riders won the Nevada City Classic in June and had a strong showing at his hometown race, the Cascade Classic in July, finishing 14th overall and second in the best young rider competition behind Trek-Livestrong’s Ben King.
“I won Nevada City earlier on this year,” said Boswell. “That was a huge confidence booster, winning that and then having a good ride at the Cascade Cycling Classic in Bend kind of opened my eyes and made me realize that the level that I’ve been at and the level these guys are at isn’t that different. To be able to ride with these guys today, I’m just reassured in my head that I can ride with these guys.”
That confidence carried over to Utah. Teammates Paul Mach and Jeremy Vennell pointed to Boswell before stage 1 as the man to watch for the team in the mountains. The team showed that backing when they protected their new climbing threat in the crosswinds around Utah Lake Thursday.
“The team had a lot of faith in me all day and kept me out of the wind, so I came into the bottom of the climb really fresh,” said Boswell after Thursday’s stage. When Mancebo, Jai Crawford and Darren Lill (Fly V Australia) forced the final selection, Boswell was there. And when Leipheimer attacked, and Lill faded after he tried to match the acceleration, Boswell was the only rider able to follow Mancebo’s chase.
“I expected it to separate like that and I had the good legs and was able to follow,” said Boswell. “I’ve always kind of known I can do this. I’ve been under the radar.” In the end, Boswell couldn’t come around Mancebo in the downhill finish and settled for third.
Inking the Contract
Boswell signed a one-year contract to join Trek-Livestrong earlier this month. Merckx said that negotiations went smoothly and they made a verbal commitment before Cascade and finalized the one-year contract after the race. “We had been talking on and off all year and kept in contact,” said Merckx. “We got the contract all figured out then.”
Boswell’s future director was impressed by his ride on the front of the race Thursday. “Today is again proof that he is a great talent,” said Merckx. “He is obviously a really strong climber. He is good in the long, steady climbs and the thing that he needs to improve in himself is his time trialing.” (Boswell was 44th, at 1:15 behind stage winner Taylor Phinney in Friday’s time trial.)
If there were any situation in which Boswell, who finished second overall at Liège-La Gleize, could improve, it is with Trek-Livestrong. In just three years, the team has developed a knack for identifying and building solid TT riders. Merckx hoped to use an improved time trial to build Boswell into a real stage race threat at the ProTour level.
“We’ll try give him the best possible equipment and the tools to develop him into a real stage race rider in the future and hopefully in the big team later on,” said Merckx.