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How to win at bike racing, with Ian Boswell

August 29, 2012

Ian Boswell (Bontrager-Livestrong) before Stage 4, Tour of Utah

Ian Boswell rested on cool grass before a stage start at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah, and thought about the complex answer to probably the most important question in bike racing.

The day before his Bontrager-Livestrong teammates had finished sixth, ninth, and eleventh on the stage. Although only between 19 and 21 years-old, the team’s riders in Utah clearly possessed the strength to compete with the best pro-cyclists anywhere. So what, Boswell wondered, did they have to do to win?*

Boswell’s in good company. He and the rest of the professional peloton know which elements must come together for a win. It’s the execution that’s challenging, even for the World Tour teams that just completed the USA Pro Challenge in Colorado alongside Bontrager-Livestrong.

Knowing the competition

Stage 1 of the USA Pro Challenge ended well for the Bontrager-Livestrong team. The day’s primary goal was for Gavin Mannion or Lawson Craddock to contend in a bunch sprint finish if the stage ended that way.

Gavin Mannion (Bontrager-Livestrong) in the Best Young Rider’s jersey in Montrose, Colorado

Mannion entered Telluride in the leading group and negotiated three turns with 250 meters remaining to the finish line after the last corner. He positioned himself to fight for the win by following certain riders. “I knew Tyler Farrar was obviously going to be a guy to watch…as well as Rory Sutherland who won the first stage in the Tour of Utah,” he said.

That day Mannion used to his advantage his familiarity with the strengths and history of other riders in the event, demonstrating just one of the “small things” in the realm of tactics and communication that Boswell named in Utah as crucial to winning races.

Gavin Mannion (Bontrager-Livestrong) after finish at Mt. Crested Butte

Mannion, who said he’s not as fast as the bigger sprinters but a better climber than most, finished sixth in Telluride on the wheels of the strongest sprinters in the race and earned the first Best Young Rider jersey.

Who to chase

The Tour of Utah provided an arena in which to practice two additional small but important things.

On the stage that ended in an uphill finish at Snowbird, Boswell and Joe Dombrowski rode in a select group with Levi Leipheimer (Omega Pharma – Quick-Step) behind race leader Johann Tschopp (BMC Racing Team).

When Leipheimer attacked near the finish, Boswell said, “I kind of jumped. His attacking speed is really high, the momentum is really high so it’s easy to follow.” Dosing out energy in a bike race is critical. Assuming he and Dombrowski rode that day to protect or improve their GC positions, Boswell didn’t need to mark Leipheimer’s move that close to the finish line because Leipheimer sat nearly one minute behind them on GC.

Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing Team) appeared to have displayed similar youthful enthusiasm recently on Stage 6 in Colorado on the Flagstaff climb. When Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) attacked van Garderen chased him even though the Italian was five and one half minutes back on GC. That effort left van Garderen vulnerable to attacks by his GC rivals; when Leipheimer subsequently attacked van Garderen couldn’t follow and lost the yellow jersey to him that day.

Connor O’Leary, Ryan Eastman, and James Oram (l to r) of Bontrager-Livestrong in Montrose, Colorado

Sharing information

Back on that day at Snowbird in Utah, Tschopp rode in for a solo win and Boswell and Dombrowski claimed third and fourth places. At one point Boswell launched from the group and rode ahead of Dombrowski and behind Tschopp.

Joe Dombrowski (Bontrager-Livestrong)

Later in Utah Boswell shared an example of how better communication could have changed the results on Snowbird. “It sounds kind of stupid, but Joe didn’t even know that the BMC guy was up the road…I knew he was there. Joe didn’t. I didn’t tell him, he didn’t ask me, so Joe thought he would be racing for the win, which makes a difference, and even if Joe didn’t we would have ridden harder.” They might have decided, for example, to try to prevent Tschopp from gaining as much time as he did over them in GC at the end of the day.

Putting it together

“Every time we get in a situation where we are close to winning the stage, we do get closer to figuring out how to win,” Boswell said in Utah. “It’s just a matter of making the small little details [work] to win…and that’s why it’s great because we have the opportunity to learn, and the pressure’s not there to necessarily have to win. We’re getting closer every time we race, which is important.”

This week Boswell and five U.S. teammates race the Tour de l’Avenir in France. It’s his third start in one of the most important races for young riders. It’s a sure bet he’ll be employing everything he’s learned this season on Bontrager-Livestrong in his bid to win.

[*Boswell’s comments are taken in the context of the Tour of Utah. Bontrager-Livestrong riders have enjoy several wins this season, including: Stage 5, Tour of the Gila; Overall at the Baby Giro; Stage 1, Tour of Walla Walla; and Belgian Provincial Road and TT Championships.]

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