It was 2011 when we first spoke to American Joe Dombrowski; we interviewed him at his Copenhagen hotel in the run up to the U23 Worlds.
That year he’d finished second in the Baby Giro, an excellent performance, but he came back in 2012 and went one better, beating Fabio Aru – now one of Vincenzo Nibali’s lieutenants – to take victory.
Sky know a good thing when they see one and snapped the skinny man from Virginia up – here’s what Joe had to say to VeloVeritas about his first season in the World Tour.
Is the World Tour as you expected it to be?
“For the most part, yes.
“It is hard though to wrap your head around the jump from the U23s to the professional ranks. It’s a big one, but certainly doable.”
Which result gave you most satisfaction in 2013?
“I didn’t win anything, or post any big results, but I had some solid rides and certainly learned along the way. Progress was made, and as long as you continue to progress then you’re on your way.
“I was not far off a stage win in Tour de Suisse on the big mountain day – I attacked twenty five kilometres from the finish, and was caught near the top of the final climb.
“In retrospect, it was foolish to launch such a long range attack, but again, that’s learning. I also rode well in individual days in Austria and Japan, and I think I made some good contribution to the team that doesn’t necessarily show itself on the results sheet.”
Did you get to bottom of your troubles in Colorado?
“Yes – it was just nosebleeds; I’ve had them since I was a kid.
“I saw an ear, nose and throat specialist who checked it out and said it was quite apparent that I had a large concentration of blood vessels at the surface of the skin inside my nose.
“The problem is, when exposed to dry, hot air those vessels easily crack and bleed as was the case in Colorado.
“The solution is to cauterize, or burn off the afflicted area eventually leaving a tougher, more nosebleed-resistant scar tissue. I had that done this off season with no nosebleeds since, so hopefully that’s the last of them.”
You were 19th in the Tour of Beijing – what do you think of that race – and ‘Mondialisation’ in general?
“I thought the race was alright. I’d never been to Asia, so that was interesting.
“The race itself was nice, and we spent a couple days as a team exploring Beijing afterwards. I know there are plenty of gripes within the peloton in regards to the Tour of Beijing.
“It is late in the year, it is far away, and a large contingent of the peloton has somewhat “switched off” already. I think the continued growth of the sport worldwide is great, but I don’t know if the market for that race really exists.”
You were seventh in the Japan Cup; it looks as if your form was getting better into the later part of the season – finding your feet?
“I think so.
“As I said earlier, it is a large jump from the U23 races. I think for just about everyone there is some period of adaptation to that; in addition working through moving to a new team and a new country added a lot to my plate.
“As the season progressed, I became a lot more comfortable in all of that; on and off the bike.”
You rode in Austria, that race seems to be growing in status each season?
“Yes; it’s a beautiful race and country and I hope to return.
“It gets pushed out of the headlines a bit because of the Tour, but it is such a nice race I’m sure it will continue it’s growth.”
In 2013 there were 57 race days for you – are you happy with that?
“Yes; it was enough that I could get those hours in the peloton, doing the learning, but also limited enough that I had time to train properly in between.”
Who’s coaching you, now and how different is the work load to your U23 days?
“I’m under Shaun Stephens at Sky. He was new to the team last year and came in from triathlon.
“Tim Kerrison is the head of the performance/coaching team, and the others sort of fall under him. The work load is quite different to what I was doing in the U23s.
“Their main goal this year, for me, was to bring the training volume up to adapt to the demands of World Tour stage racing.
“In retrospect, what they were giving me in terms of training at the beginning of the year was probably a little more than I could handle, and operate at my best and it took me a while to respond to that.
“My 2014 race programme starts off light with potentially not many World Tour races until Suisse. I suppose it seems a bit backwards to have a easier race programme your second year, after a highly ambitious Spring in your first, though I look at it as some good opportunities to capitalize on.”
Marginal gains – are you allowed to give us an example of one which you’ve experienced?
“You know, I’ve only ever really heard of these “marginal gains” in the media. Sure, there may be progressive theory behind what we do, and detailed analysis following, but I think the biggest thing the team focuses on is trying to do the basics well.
“Our training is specific, and focused – rarely do we go out and “just ride”.
“More often the ride is broken down into structured intervals that often make up the majority of the ride.
“The meat of it all though, is what everyone else already knows; train hard, eat good food, get quality sleep, and rest when you need it.”
Are you enjoying living in Nice?
“I think Nice is one of the best places in the world to ride a bike – besides Virginia of course. The weather is good all year; you have endless climbing options and there’s a good collection of professional riders in Nice and Monaco to train with.
“Team Sky has set up the Nice/Monaco area as a training base so you have support from the team there as well. I lived on my own there last season, and I did get a bit lonely and homesick at times.
“It can be easy to start to feel isolated when you move to a foreign country like that. This season, I’ll have Larry Warbasse from BMC as a roommate. I’m really looking forward to that as I think it will make my time off the bike in Nice that much more enjoyable.”
How much of a break did you get after the Japan Cup – what did you do with your down time?
“Not too long. I got back home from Japan at the end of October and on December 1st I had a flight back to Mallorca for team camp.
“With that amount of time, I mostly wanted to go home and see all my friends and family. Really, that was my post-season vacation.
“I like to do things outdoors and I love to mountain bike. Especially as I’m getting back into training I enjoy getting out and doing epic back country mountain bike rides with friends.”
Tell us about the Sky training camps.
“They are good.
“Sometimes you get the feeling that you could be getting more out of yourself at home than at a training camp; but at Sky the camps are very structured – you have a lot resources at your disposal.
“They are good, focused blocks and I think set you up well for the races.”
Do you have an outline of your 2014 programme, yet?
“Yes; it’s tentative at the moment, and only for the first part of the year, but goes as follows: Mallorca Challenge, Tour of Haut Var, GP Camaiore, Coppi Bartali, Fleche Wallone, LBL, Romandie, Tour of California
“Of course, with injuries and sickness, race programmes are always subject to quick and frequent change, but it should look something like that. There may be some tweaking between Fleche and California, as the number of days between the races in that block is short.”
Overall are you happy with how 2013 went?
“Yes, it was a big step up, and I think I can step away from last season with a much greater perspective of it all.
“With that, I think I come into 2014 a bit more at ease as I know what I’m getting myself into. Even some of the things off the bike, like having a base already setup in Europe will go a long way.”
What was the biggest lesson you learned during the year?
“That’s broad, but I say that because I learned a lot and it’s hard to pin down on any one key thing.
“You’re integrating into one of the best teams in the world, racing some of the biggest races in the world, living in a foreign country, and it’s all done in a trial by fire sort of way.
“I think there were a lot of lessons, and perspective gleaned from that.”