Ian Boswell moved to Katusha-Alpecin this season after five years with Team Sky in part to have more opportunities, especially a shot at making his Tour de France debut after having ridden the Vuelta a España twice and the Giro d'Italia once.
Boswell's first shot at team leadership last month at the Tour of California did not go as well as he wanted, however, and now the 27-year-old American is hoping to make up some ground at the Critérium du Dauphiné, which starts Sunday with a 6.6km prologue time trial in Valence.
"It's kind of the ironic thing. I've had full opportunity here to race for GC, and I'm not in the top 15," Boswell told Cyclingnews at the California race.
Boswell finished the seven-day WorldTour race in 20th place, 8:24 off the winning time of Team Sky's 21-year-old Colombian sensation Egan Bernal. Boswell was 22nd on the first mountain day to Gibraltar Road, losing 2:55 to stage winner Bernal, and he was 21st on the Queen stage to Lake Tahoe, where he ceded another 3:50 to the Colombian.
"Last year when I did it I had kind of joint leadership and finished fifth overall," he said. "A couple of years ago I was riding for Sergio [Henao] and finished seventh. Funny how that works out. Sometimes you have opportunities and you don't quite stack up to them, but I think there are a lot of factors this year. The peloton is super deep, and I'm probably not riding at my best for some reason, which I'm not quite sure yet."
Boswell's hope that another top 10 result in California would cement his place on Katusha's Tour team obviously suffered a blow, but the now-veteran rider is taking it all in stride, hoping that altitude camps before and after Dauphiné will help put the finishing touches on his fitness, adding the high-end form he was lacking in California.
"It's bike racing," Boswell said. "There are ups and downs for everyone within a week, within a month, within a season, so I'll just keep working, keep plugging away.
"It changes quick. You just have to keep that perspective, and I think with age that's one thing that has changed with me: trying not to get caught up on what you're doing now," he said. "I mean, obviously I'm disappointed. There's no denying that I'm disappointed with how I've ridden [in California]. It's not for lack of trying, but at the same time, sitting here and lingering on it is not going to change anything."
One of the changes Boswell wants to make this year is riding in his first Tour de France. He made his Grand Tour debut in 2015 at the Vuelta, where he finished third behind Mikel Landa and Fabio Aru on the mountainous stage 11 to Cortals d'Encamp. The following year he competed in both the Giro and the Vuelta, but there were no Grand Tours for Boswell in 2017.
While his peers were notching their first, second and even third Tours de France, with Team Sky's talented roster built around four-time winner Chris Froome, Boswell struggled to make the cut to compete on cycling's biggest stage. The desire to race in the Tour de France had to have played a part of Boswell's decision to sign with Katusha, but he said he only wants to go to the race if he's ready and able to ride for his team leader in the mountains.
"Ideally I'd like to go to the Tour, but at the same time I also believe that you shouldn't take spot from someone else just to go and do the Tour," he said. "I'm not physically able to help Kittel too much in the sprints, so I need to be there to help [Ilnur] Zakarin in the mountains. I want to go there to help him and be in shape to actually perform and be able to help him. I don't just want to go there and ride around and be the best rider in the last group every day."
Boswell should get a good taste of the mountains this week at Dauphiné, where he'll race alongside Zakarin. The stage 6 route on June 9 is an almost exact replica of the stage riders will face on stage 11 of the Tour. As an added bonus, Dauphiné's stage 3 team time trial is the same length as the Tour's stage 3 team time trial.
The overall route for Dauphiné itself is a brute. After two opening stages on rolling terrain and then the team time trial, from stage 4 onward Dauphiné is all about the mountains. The second half of the race comprises four back-to back mountain stages, all with summit finishes. They're mostly short and potentially explosive days, borrowing one of the themes of this year's Tour.
The Katusha formation will get a chance to test itself against the teams of Tour contenders like Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) and Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale), while Boswell will have an opportunity to show himself as well, earning is first Tour de France start and redeeming himself after an admittedlty lacklustre showing in California.
"If you go to the Tour and have a good Tour, then no one remembers the Tour of California," he said.