Dombrowski’s excellent performances were no flash in the pan; this spring he took third in the tough, high altitude Tour of the Gila in New Mexico and was fourth on the ‘queen’ Mount Baldy stage of the Tour of California –fifth was Tom Danielson and sixth Chris Horner.
Dombrowski celebrating a great stage win at Aosta last year.
But the ride which has really made the emails and phone calls from the big teams start to appear came last week when the 21 year-old from Marshall, Virginia won the GiroBio – or ‘Baby Giro.’
PEZ was on the phone to the man who we think is headed for the very top, as soon as he’d had a good night’s sleep in his own bed.
PEZ: Great ride, Joe – did Mount Baldy give you confidence going in to Italy?
Joe Dombrowski: Going in to the Tour of California the guys in the Bontrager Livestrong team saw it as a big opportunity.
It was exciting but we didn’t really know what would happen – so we didn’t have big goals.
But going in to the Baby Giro I’d set the goal that I wanted to win the GC.
Joe after the U23 World Championships Road Race in Copenhagen last year.
PEZ: And is it true that there’s no such thing as a flat race in Italy?
JD: Pretty much – even on the sprinter’s stages there were hills.
But what’s cool about the Baby Giro is that it is like the Giro –there’s a mountain top finish a stage where the finish comes off a big descent, a time trial, Strada Bianche and sprinter’s stages.
To win the GC you have to be a complete rider.
PEZ: The race didn’t start well for USA; you lost Joshua Berry on stage one.
JD: It was like that, a race of ups and downs.
I attacked on the final climb on stage four, took some more time on the descent, won the stage and took the jersey.
But the next day I punctured with 10 K to go on the Strada Bianche and lost the jersey.
Then the next two days the plan was just to stay out of trouble –I knew that the Gavia was such a hard climb that there would be big gaps.
PEZ: Stage two was split, how did you find that?
JD: I’d never done one before – it was kinda fun!
There was a short 70 K stage in the morning which finished right outside the hotel; we had lunch; took a nap and then there was a short time trial in the evening along the beach cycle path.
It was a cool experience – I sometimes train in the morning and then again in the evening, but that was my first experience of it in competition.
Arms aloft after winning on the Terminillo in the Baby Giro.
PEZ: After your good TT in Gila, did you hope for better in the TT stage?
JD: I wasn’t that disappointed, whilst I lost 50 seconds to the winner, I only lost 15/20 seconds to the guys who were riding for the GC.
It was short – about a 14 minute effort, but pretty technical because you had to alternate between the road and the cycle path.
And I was held up – an old guy on an upright bike pedalled onto the percorso with three K to go and I had to stop to avoid a crash.
PEZ: Stage three was 193 K – 5:26 in the saddle.
JD: We had long days in California, but that was a tough day, very hot, very draining.
PEZ: You won stage four with your escape but lost the jersey on the stage five Strada Bianche – do you think that type of course belongs in a U23 race?
JD: You know, I really, really enjoyed racing over those roads.
I was going well and with 15 K to go there was a split which caught out some of the Italian GC guys.
But in races which involve cobbles or dirt roads, a lot of it is down to luck – my team car was way behind and I lost time with the flat tyre at 10 K to go.
But the stage added fun and an interesting dynamic to the race –as well as time trial and mountain days you had another type of decisive day which meant you had to prove that you were a real all-rounder.
Rampant on the Gavia.
PEZ: On stages six and seven were you plotting your Gavia move?
JD: There was a rest day after stage five and on stages six and seven I felt pretty good.
The plan was to stay near the front, avoid the crashes and generally keep out of trouble.
PEZ: The Gavia?
JD: We did five climbs that day, we totalled 5,000 metres of climbing – it’s one of the biggest days I’ve ever done on the bike.
The first couple of climbs weren’t too bad but on the second last climb the Russians were riding tempo for their race leader, Zakarin – to try and keep the attacks under control.
By the time we got to the bottom of the Gavia there were only 25/30 riders left in the front group.
I already had a stage win, so winning on the day didn’t really concern me – I was after the overall, but had three minutes to make up.
My team mate Larry Warbasse took it up from the bottom until about 12 or 13 K to go – then comes that moment where you think; ‘well, I guess I have to go now!’
I attacked and right away got a gap on Fabio Aru who was my main rival for the GC – I rode the last 11 K on my own.
But it was a tough day, I gained 40 seconds pretty quickly but the gap stayed at that until the last K.
I could look down and see Aru two switch backs below me – it was mano a mano stuff.
It was a long climb of suffering – I could hear the race radio on the motor bikes behind me and knew that the gap was around 30/40 seconds but Aru had 25 seconds on me on GC; so it was close.
Our team car punctured, so my team manager Marcello Albasini got a ride in the Dutch team car – I’d look round and see him in the back seat, going nuts!
On his way to stage and overall glory in the Baby Giro. Dombrowski has confirmed, without question, that he’s one of the top climbing prospects.
PEZ: That final stage, nine must have been nervous?
JD: After the Gavia stage the Italian reporters were asking me how it felt to have won the Baby Giro.
I said that there was a 120 K stage on a hilly circuit still to ride and I’d prefer to wait until that was over before I talked about how it felt to win.
I’d lost two team mates early in the race, so I only had three left – and they were pretty tired, they’d been doing a lot of work for me.
I had to be really attentive, there were splits which I had to react to and it was a really nervous stage until the break went.
It was definitely not a ‘parade’ stage!
PEZ: It must have been nice to beat Aru – he was the man who beat you to win Aosta in 2011?
JD: Yeah, we spoke most days in the peloton and at dinner in the hotel.
We had a good battle in Aosta, and another one last week, it was fun.
He turns pro for Astana and will be riding the Vuelta – so I wished him luck with that.
PEZ: Will you be going to Aosta, this year?
JD: I just got home on Tuesday and I’m going to have a few days off the bike, then I’ll talk to my DS Axel Merckx about the programme.
The Tour de l’Avenir is a race which suits me, so I may skip Aosta; but ride the Tour of Utah and the Cascades stage race here in the US before going to the l’Avenir.
PEZ: I believe that the Baby Giro was catching a lot of media attention in Italy, this year?
JD: The Italian TV channel RAI was showing the race every night.
It was kinda cool to ride the stage and then to be able to see yourself on TV, that night!
The race is a big deal in Italy; what made it so special for me was that I’m the first US winner in a race which is traditionally dominated by Italians – and I’m adding my name to a list that includes the likes of Francesco Moser and Giovanni Battaglin.
PEZ: And have the offers started?
JD: For sure!
After California I had a lot of folk showing interest – but it’s really taken off after Italy.
I’ve had all kinds of emails and phone calls – it’s quite stressful, actually.
I’ve talked to a lot of people and what they say is that it’s not just about chasing the money.
You have to find a team that will allow you to develop properly.
There are a lot of riders who were good U23 riders with bright futures but who were put into races which didn’t suit them and after their two year neo-pro contract was up, found it tough to get placed.
I’ll be taking my time with any decisions.