Ian Boswell's transfer from Team Sky to Katusha-Alpecin caught many off-guard but the American's move came about thanks to some slick behind the scenes work from his agents, a passionate pursuit from Katusha's Jose Azevedo, and hesitation on the part of Team Sky. Cyclingnews takes a look at the mechanics of how Boswell swapped Team Sky black for Katusha red.
Boswell's path from Team Sky to Katusha started in May. In the final year of his current deal with Dave Brailsford's team, the 26-year-old put together a list of potential teams he was interested in riding for and sent them to his agent, Michael Rutherford. The US-based lawyer has represented Boswell since 2010, when he helped the then young rider onto the Trek-Livestrong team for the 2011 season. He later secured the rider a three-year deal with Team Sky from 2012 – a rarity for a first-year professional, as they tend to sign two-year deals for their maiden professional contracts.
Rutherford has represented a number of home grown talents over the years, including Tejay van Garderen and Chris Horner. In recent years he has teamed up with former professional Robbie Hunter, who acts as a partner in Europe. When Boswell finished putting together his list of potential teams, he passed them to Rutherford and Hunter who immediately began approaching bosses within the WorldTour.
At this point Boswell was not determined to leave Team Sky, but he was unclear as to whether they would extend his contract for a third time. He still had hopes of making the Tour de France team and thought that a strong ride in the Tour of California might bump him up their long list.
"I just think it's always good to see what's out there and see what options there are," Boswell tells Cyclingnews when discussing his motives during the spring. "Robbie was at the Giro and he was talking to teams and getting a sense of what they were looking for."
Boswell's list wasn't overly long but it was certainly eclectic. If he were to leave Team Sky then he would consider Dimension Data, Katusha-Alpecin, Trek-Segafredo, Cannondale, FDJ, and LottoNL-Jumbo. Talks with the South African team didn't get off the ground and when Boswell himself approached Trek they politely informed him that they were close-to full. Cannondale were focused on securing their long-term future, but Katusha, FDJ and LottoNL-Jumbo came back with positive responses.
May is the first month in the transfer market when deals start to really come together. The spring Classics are complete and the Grand Tour riders have shown their first hands at the Giro, so there is generally enough scope and racing for team bosses to decide what they need for the following year. The reality, for riders of Boswell's stature, and many other mountain domestiques, is that teams tend to start at the very top of the market and work down. They look for team leaders first and then tend to fill in the gaps.
When Boswell went back to Team Sky after finishing fifth in California the response was friendly but lacked commitment. A conversation with Fran Millar made clear that no offer would be made available at the present time. There wasn't a firm 'no' but the team was in the process of re-signing Chris Froome, Geraint Thomas and Michal Kwiatkowski, while the future of Mikel Landa – now leaving for Movistar – was still uncertain.
Being left out of the Tour de France squad didn't come as a huge shock for Boswell, but that, coupled with the delay in contract negotiations with Team Sky, hardened his search for a new team.
"I was hoping that going to California would help me get on the long list for the Tour but that didn't help my chances. It's clear that if I wanted to do the Tour I had to change. I felt that it was going to be really hard for me to break into that Tour team," Boswell says.
"For a rider like myself it can be complicated. I'm obviously not at the top of the board when it comes to transfers and moves. There are some big pieces on every team that need to move first and then after that other riders can be traded."
Katusha, meanwhile, had continued to show interest in Boswell's services. The team have made a significant push this year to change the dynamic of their roster with Marcel Kittel and Nathan Haas already signed and an influx of international riders set to bolster their ranks.
After completing the Critérium du Dauphiné, Boswell returned home to the US and watched the Tour from afar. The Tour is always a hive of activity and his agents stepped up their talks with Katusha, so that when Boswell returned to Europe for the Tour de Pologne an offer was already on its way.
"Katusha were potentially interested and I spoke to Sky and my agent to see if they were still interested in me. I spoke to Jose Azevedo a bit in order to see what the dynamic was about and where they saw me fitting in," Boswell says.
For Boswell, the conversation with Azevedo tipped him towards Katusha. He had talked with Marc Madiot about FDJ and LottoNL-Jumbo would have seen him link up with his friend, George Bennett, but Azevedo's assurances and faith made the difference. He would leave Team Sky after five successful years and move to the Russian team.
"José saw my potential. He wasn't about trying to pick up riders at the end of the season and when he talked to me it was clear that he was trying to build a team," Boswell says.
The pair spoke during the race and by the time the race finished on August 4, a contract had been approved by Rutherford and signed by Boswell.
"The biggest selling point for me was the confidence that José had in me. He was a director at RadioShack when I was on Axel Merckx's Trek Livestrong team and in the first few years of that team a rider went to RadioShack every year," Boswell says. "Some of the simple things that José said were important. Like 'you're more talented that what you're showing at Team Sky.' He sees the races and could see that I was riding on the flats in the first 10 kilometres of a stage race in order to chase a break when maybe my strengths were elsewhere. He wanted to maximise my potential, rather than use me as link in a machine.
"I think that as a human, people want to feel desired and I got that sense. That made it easy to commit to go there. It was refreshing to hear that he thought I could win or be one of the last guys helping in the mountains rather riding the flats before the climbs because there are five other guys either better than you or better paid than you."
That said, Boswell is grateful for his time at Team Sky. He stresses that the five years riding with the likes of Chris Froome, Bradley Wiggins and Geraint Thomas have marked an important phase of his career and that the knowledge he has picked up will help him as he transitions onto a new team for 2018.
"I've been at Sky for five years, learnt a lot and now I'm going to go to Katusha to have fresh start," he says.
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