Ian Boswell: How Lance Armstrong shattered my boyhood dreams
Riding as a child, Team Sky's American recruit would always say, 'I'm Lance'. Now he just wants to show the US that you can win clean, he tells Robin Scott-Elliot
Wednesday 13 February 2013
When the snow settled deep around the family home in Bend, Oregon, Ian Boswell would occupy the hours before he could get back on his bike watching recordings of his favourite cycling moments. One tape in particular was played over and over, one unforgettable climb up Alpe d'Huez in 2001. "It was when," says Boswell, "he gave Ullrich the look."
When the snow cleared Boswell and his brother would climb the roads again, wearing yellow tops and pretending to be him.
"As an American," says Boswell. "Lance Armstrong is the reason I started cycling. As a kid you wear a stupid yellow jersey and go out on your bikes with your brother and go 'I'm Lance'. He was a sporting icon at the time."
That Tour de France a dozen years ago was Armstrong at his brutal peak and nowhere was that made more apparent than that day on the crushing ascent of Alpe d'Huez. Armstrong toyed with the peloton before easing away and, as he did so, he looked over his shoulder at Jan Ullrich, his great rival, delivering a withering glance that said it all: you cannot catch me.
It was nearly a decade later, when Armstrong had still not been caught once and for all by the authorities, that Boswell met the man he grew up idolising, and began riding alongside the American great. A year ago Boswell turned 21 and celebrated the landmark in Armstrong's home in Texas.
Earlier this month Boswell marked his 22nd birthday by returning to his new home in Nice, at the end of his first month's training with Team Sky. This morning he will climb into the saddle in Faro, in Portugal's far south, for day one of the Tour of Algarve, his first Tour in the dark-and-light blue colours of Sky.
Boswell is one of two young American neo-pros – first-year professionals – signed from Bontrager-Livestrong, the junior US team Armstrong helped create. The other is Joe Dombrowski, a raw but highly-rated climber. The pair, along with Boswell's girlfriend, Annika, crossed the Atlantic to begin their new lives in December, as the reputation of cycling and their hero was being shredded.
"When he last won the Tour I was 12," says Boswell. "It was a long time ago. Obviously I didn't know then what I know now. I was oblivious to it in cycling. Purely watching him ride in the Tour de France was inspiring, and then on Livestrong for the last two years he was definitely part of our team, as far as coming to team camps. I had my birthday at his house. I got to know him on a personal level.
"What had happened with the investigation rarely came up in our team camps. It is an interesting aspect – you meet him as a person and a training partner and then this investigation comes out and you see Oprah. Is this the same guy?
"It's like a double-faced figure. You see this guy on the media and it's terrible. How can you lie to all these people when you had this foundation and this and that? But then you meet him and…"
Boswell pauses and shrugs. "He's just a guy I'm riding for, so he's like a friend regardless of whether it's Lance or Levi [Leipheimer, another American rider found to have doped] – I've ridden with him quite a bit. It is our relationship. It is unfortunate that now it is a tarnished name. You see him on TV – it's two different characters really but they are the same person and you can't get deceived."
For the best part of a decade, Armstrong, and his story, played a part in driving the popularity of the sport in the US, inspiring youngsters like Boswell on to bikes. But today, mud sticks. "If I'm in the US and I say I'm a cyclist people say, 'oh Lance Armstrong'," says Boswell. "That's how cycling is recognised in the States. It's what has defined American cycling for the last 10 years. There is a big draw away from it now – it's definitely damaging for the sport in the US. But there are still a huge number of people who love cycling, I don't think it changes if a doctor's a cyclist – he is not going to stop riding because of Armstrong, my mum's not going to stop.
"I think the perspective I have is different to a lot of older riders who have maybe known this for a long time and are now, 'he deserves this'. For me I am like 'woah, what's going on here?' It is still shocking. Now that I'm in the sport talking to other riders I see that was the way it was, it was terrible and I am thankful I am coming into the sport in a time when this has built to this fall-off and we are going forward clean, on a team like this – a clean team, getting back to the roots of the sport.
"The next generation of riders has a responsibility to say that was the past, that's over and it is not relevant to what we are doing. We are responsible for the sport's credibility, making it clean, doing it the right way, bringing the sport back to the United States especially.
"It may take time. People in the cycling community know that it has changed – they know I ride clean – I guess it's now a matter of bringing that to the general public, that it is a beautiful sport. It's romantic, it's dramatic and it is a clean sport. It's fair."
Boswell, sitting neatly in a leather armchair in the hotel bar of Sky's Mallorcan base, is a bright and intelligent talker, thoughtfully answering question after question on Armstrong when you suspect all he wants to talk about is his bike and riding into a new life. "It's hard to answer questions like this," he says at one stage. But he answers them all and then holds up his new team-mate, Bradley Wiggins, as someone to look up to in the here and now.
"He is a real human being," says Boswell. "He has got flaws. He is an amazing rider and he has shown you can win the Tour clean. For us young riders seeing that it is inspiring. We are past the past stage of cycling."
But the past is not as easy to leave behind as if you were Armstrong shaking lose the peloton on one of those climbs – not when it has turned out to be something it wasn't.
"When you went out there pretending you're climbing Alpes d'Huez," says Boswell, "as an American you are going to say, 'I'm Lance'. If you are playing basketball you're going to say you're Michael Jordan. It is hard for me looking back now, that it was all fake."
Froome falls off the pace set by Sagan
Peter Sagan consolidated his lead in the Tour of Oman with his second successive stage win on day three as Chris Froome of Team Sky slipped out of the top 10.
Sagan, riding for Cannondale, finished the 190km (118 mile) route from Nakhal Fort to Wadi Dayqah Dam ahead of BMC's Greg van Avermaet and RadioShack's Tony Gallopin, while Alberto Contador was fourth.
Froome was guided into a good position by his team-mates before a short, sharp ascent in the closing stages saw him drop back to finish 13th both for the day and overall. Sir Bradley Wiggins was dropped by Sagan in the race to the line.
Despite Froome falling seven places in the standings, Team Sky sports director, Nicolas Portal, predicts Thursday's summit finish will be decisive for him. "It's never nice to drop out of the top 10 but Friday's pivotal and Froomey is in a great position," he said.
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