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After years as a Sky workhorse, Boswell adjusting to featured role with Katusha-Alpecin

After leaving a workhorse role with Team Sky, Ian Boswell made a change over the offseason and is now looking to assert himself as a climbing force.

LONG BEACH, California (VN) — After five years as a workhorse with Team Sky, Ian Boswell made the jump to Katusha-Alpecin over the offseason. No longer just another option in an impressive stable of mountain specialists, the 27-year-old Oregon native is now a much bigger fish in a smaller pool of climbing talents.

Following a quiet first few races with Katusha, Boswell made the start on Sunday at the Amgen Tour of California. Racing on US soil has given Boswell a welcome chance to hit the reset button.

“The first couple months of the season, they haven’t gone as well as I would have hoped or liked, but at the same time I think a lot of endurance athletes have it similar,” he told VeloNews. “You always set high goals and you want to achieve a lot, and anything less than reaching those goals is a bit of a letdown.”

Boswell said he couldn’t put a finger on what was holding him back this spring other than a few small bouts with illness and perhaps some overtraining. One part of the challenge he has identified, however, is adjusting to a leadership position and all that comes with it.

“Once you get into the role of being a worker, it’s very comfortable to find your place,” he said. “You do your job, and maybe one day you’re not good and someone else fills your role that day. But when you’re riding for GC, every day matters. There’s a bit more internal pressure to perform and to be there all the time. It’s been a mental change for me to get back into that role.

“When you’re a young rider you show up on every start line trying to win. For the last five years, there’s been very little pressure to try to win, but to perform as a team player [instead.]”

Ilnur Zakarin is Katusha-Alpecin’s main general classification rider for the grand tours, but behind the Russian Vuelta a España podium finisher, Boswell is among the strongest climbers on his new team. While sprinter Marcel Kittel will likely get much of the team support at the Tour de France, Boswell is hoping to earn a spot on the roster to help Zakarin in his pursuit of a GC result.

“We’ve actually become really good friends and we get on really well, which is, I don’t want to say a surprise but we’ve built a really good relationship,” Boswell said. “To be his wingman in the Tour would be something special.”

The Tour of California, where Boswell finished fifth last year, is as good an opportunity as Boswell is likely to get between now and July to prove himself worthy of selection. It helps that there are a number of notable GC types in attendance for Boswell to measure himself against.

“This is probably the best GC field California has seen in a while. There’s always good riders here but you know Tejay [van Garderen] is here, Egan Bernal is here, Rafal Majka is back, it’s a pretty deep field for GC,” he said.

Kittel is in California as well, with several teammates likely to focus on leading him out this week, but Boswell says he has the freedom to do his thing in the GC battle. It’s an opportunity Boswell knows he needs to take advantage of. The weeklong trek from southern California to Sacremento may not have the historic prestige of a grand tour, but it is a WorldTour event with plenty of big names in attendance.

In other words, it’d be a fine place for Boswell to claim his first win as a pro. He’s been a known commodity as an up-and-coming American talent for a few years now. Early in his career, there was talk of grand tour aspirations somewhere down the road. Now 27, Boswell has managed to snag a GC role with a top-division team, but before he can think too much about hunting results of his own in a three-week race, he could use a result to hang his hat on a one-week test.

“To be honest, when I turned professional with Sky in 2013, in my head I was like, alright, one day I’ll compete for a podium place in a grand tour,” he said. “The older I get, the more, I don’t want to say unrealistic that becomes, but the realization that you have to be really good, it’s not just in time trialing and climbing, but every day you’re up there battling.

“The guys who are competing in grand tours, I don’t think people always give them credit for how good they are across the board. I’m not saying I’m not that good, but first, I don’t know, I’ve never won a professional race. You have to start small.”

Boswell will get his chances soon. After Sunday’s sprinter-friendly opening stage, the Amgen Tour of California heads for the hills on Monday, with a brutal stage 2 finish on Gibraltar Road — as fine a setting as any for Boswell to prove himself worthy of a coveted spot on the Tour de France start list.