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Stage 1: The 105th tour begins with a 124.9-mile flat stage from ­Noirmoutier-en-l’lle to Fontenay-le-Comte.

When: 2 a.m. Saturday (NBCSN), replay at 5 p.m.

Last week, Ian Boswell got the phone call he had been waiting for his entire life: He would be racing in the Tour de France as part of the eight-man Katusha-Alpecin team.

But just a few moments after learning that he would be competing in the most iconic event in cycling for the first time, the 27-year-old Bend native realized he was in for three of the toughest weeks of his life.

“You worked so hard to get there, for the years and months leading up to it, and then you’re preparing yourself for three weeks of — I don’t want to say hell, but it’s three weeks of very stressful, dangerous, intense racing,” Boswell said of the Tour de France. “It’s this funny thing. You dream about doing it, and then it becomes a reality. It’s going to be tough.”

That is not the only funny part. Resting and final preparations have never been more important to his career, but in the week leading up to the 21-stage Tour, which starts in Noirmoutier-en-l’Île, France, on Saturday and concludes in Paris on July 29, Boswell suddenly has less time than ever to focus on cycling.

“It’s funny, it’s the biggest event I’ll have ever taken part in and probably the most focused I need to be, but also, all of a sudden, I’m bombarded with a lot of excitement,” Boswell said, referring to numerous press conferences and interviews (including this one, which he conducted by phone from France). “It’s something that I’ve enjoyed sharing. There’s a lot of people who have been along for the ride with me and I’m thankful I’ve had them in my life. To a degree, this is paying them back for all the time and investment and support they’ve given me.”

Boswell left the British Team Sky and joined Katusha-Alpecin last August hoping to earn a spot in the Tour de France, but he was disappointed with a 20th-place finish in the Tour of California in May. Swiss-based Katusha-Alpecin placed seventh as a team.

“It didn’t go as well as I had hoped, but in hindsight, it was kind of the kick in the rear that I needed to kind of get everything in line and get ready for the Tour (de France),” Boswell said. “It’s been a part of my race program all year, to do the Tour, but there were 12 other riders on the team who were also (on the short list to represent Katusha-Alpecin). It really does come down to the final week to see where everyone is at, how their training’s been, if they’re healthy.”

Boswell said he was training in Italy when he got the call confirming that he would be on the Katusha-Alpecin team for the Tour de France, which at the time was less than two weeks away. Because of a rule change by the International Cycling Union (UCI) the 22 teams participating in the Tour de France were allowed just eight riders each, instead of the nine allowed in past years. Of the 218 riders in this year’s field, only five, including Boswell, are American.

“They’re trying out a peloton with less riders this year, so it’s only eight (riders) for the grand tours,” Boswell said, referring to cycling’s three biggest races, the Giro d’Italia, Tour de France and Vuelta a España. “That’s a bit of a test to see if it makes the racing safer, just as a bit of an experiment.”

Boswell, who is stronger in the mountains than in sprint stages, is expected to support his team’s top climber, Russian cyclist Ilnur Zakarin. Another teammate, German rider Marcel Kittel, won five stages of the 2017 Tour de France and is expected to be a threat in sprint stages again this year.

Dina Boswell would love to travel from Bend to France to see her son race. But because of the short notice and the difficulty of following a stage race like the Tour de France — many of the stops are in out-of-the-way parts of France, and roads are often closed for the race itself — she said she might have to just watch on TV instead.

“On Saginaw Street (in Bend), when he was just a little guy, they would go and get my yellow T-shirts and put them on and pretend that they were in the Tour de France, that they were Lance Armstrong,” Dina Boswell said of Ian and his brother Austin. “And that’s why it’s hard with the Tour de France — this is his childhood dream! But I also don’t want to stress him out, and he’s got such a caring personality, he’d want to make sure I was safe and happy and all of that.”

But whether she watches in person or on TV, Dina Boswell said following a loved one during a three-week cycling race is different from cheering them on in a football or baseball game.

“It’s definitely exciting, but I’m always on pins and needles,” said Dina Boswell, herself a former road racer. “It’s quite fast, quite dangerous and quite taxing on your body and on your emotions. It’s not the big football game, where in three hours it’s over. This is day in, day out.”

And while he is focused on preparing for the race and supporting his teammates, Ian Boswell said he also does not want to lose sight of the fact that he is living out the fantasy of every young cyclist.

“In Europe, bike racing is a big sport; in the U.S., it’s a big sport for a certain demographic,” Boswell said. “But I think (the Tour de France) is the one bike race that kind of transcends bike racing. The attention on the race, the media coverage, the exposure, is just something that I’ve never experienced before. And it’s going to be a fine balance between keeping focused on the race, but also kind of embracing the experience of doing a Tour de France.”

—Reporter: 541-383-0305, vjacobsen@bendbulletin.com

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