So far so good for Tour debutants Haga and Boswell
“I guess I’ve noticed that I’m seven days in now, but I think the energy of the event is still exciting, which I think has given me a bit of extra energy,” Boswell told VeloNews at the start of stage 8 in Dreux on Saturday.
Haga echoed some of those same thoughts. Just over one week into the Tour, his legs may be starting to feel the kilometers, but Haga said that now that he’s settled into “the rhythm of the race,” it’s getting easier to unwind after each stage.
Both riders are in France playing a support role. Boswell, 27, is making his Tour debut as a key mountain domestique for Ilnur Zakarin, a podium finisher at last year’s Vuelta a España. Haga, 29, is spending his July keeping a close eye on Sunweb’s GC leader, 2016 Giro d’Italia champion Tom Dumoulin.
The first stretch of stages has offered ample proof of just how important domestiques are for yellow jersey hopefuls. Hardly a day has gone by without a GC hopeful suffering a crash or mechanical and then relying on teammates to help limit losses.
Zakarin and Dumoulin have both had their ups and downs. Both gained time on major rivals like Chris Froome (Sky), Richie Porte (BMC), and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) in stage 1. Both have since lost time as well, Zakarin thanks to a crash and a miscommunication late in stage 5, and Dumoulin thanks to a touch of wheels and ensuing mechanical late in stage 6.
Nonetheless, they remain in overall contention, and that means that Boswell and Haga can both have an impact on the general classification as the race rolls on into its second week. The experience gleaned from the first several stages should only help.
The Tour seems to always kick off with stressful days and a smattering of hard falls but what looks chaotic on the outside has come into even sharper focus for the Tour debutants getting their first taste of riding the sport’s main event.
“I’ve learned just exactly how fiercely you have to fight for every position,” Haga said. “Like a monument, or Amstel … You have to have that level of focus or ferocity every day.”
Things will only get more ferocious on Sunday’s ninth stage, a 156.5-kilometer jaunt from Arras Citadelle to Roubaix that will roll over 15 stretches of cobbles. Stage 9 is essentially a compact version of April’s Paris-Roubaix, and it will likely see some of the GC hopefuls holding on for dear life.
It will also be a chance for both Haga and Boswell to get a taste of the Roubaix pavé. Neither rider has started the French monument.
“We expect 151 kilometers as fast as we can go,” Haga said. “I don’t expect a dull moment in the stage.”
On the other side of the cobbles awaits the Tour’s first rest day. For the first time in over a week, Haga, Boswell, and the rest of the Tour peloton can breathe easy on Monday without spending five or more hours taking pulls and dodging crashes. Plus, terrain that follows will suit their GC leaders far more closely — if they can just make it safely through the pavé.
“I’ve kind of made a point at this grand tour of not looking too far ahead. I know that the cobbled stage is coming but I’ll think about it tomorrow morning,” Boswell said. “It’s going to be hard regardless of whether you’re at the front or the back. It’s going to be stressful. We’ll just try to make it through safe because then we’ll be in the mountains.”
As hard as Sunday might be, stage 9 should at least offer plenty of opportunities to soak up the love from roadside fans. Few flat stages provide spectators with as much excitement, and there are sure to be plenty of fans lining the cobbled roads this weekend. And that’s following an eighth stage that saw big crowds at both the start in Dreux and the finish in Amiens to welcome the Tour on Bastille Day.
The clouds hanging over defending champion Chris Froome (Sky) threatened to dampen the Tour’s reception in France this July, but fans have undoubtedly been turning out so far. Boswell pointed to it as one of his big takeaways from the first week.
“Cycling is popular, man,” he said. “There’s a thought that cycling is dying in the US, or at least road racing. Maybe it is — I look at where I grew up in Oregon, a lot of the races I grew up racing are gone — but the Tour is alive and well. And I don’t think it’s going anywhere.”