Joe Dombrowski (Bontrager Livestrong & USA) first came to our attention in 2011 when he won a stage and was second on GC in the Valle d’Aosta U23 stage race in Italy.
Aosta, along with the Tour de l’Avenir and Baby Giro are the equivalent of eBay for the professional talent scouts – where quality goods can be picked up at good prices.
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. We interviewed him recently about his ride on Mount Baldy.
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.’
VeloVeritas 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.
Great ride, Joe – did Mount Baldy give you confidence going in to Italy?
“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.”
And is it true that there’s no such thing as a flat race in Italy?
“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.”
The race didn’t start well for USA; you lost Joshua Berry on stage one.
“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.”
Stage two was split, how did you find that?
“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.”
After your good TT in Gila, did you hope for better in the TT stage?
“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.”
Stage three was 193 K – 5:26 in the saddle.
“We had long days in California, but that was a tough day, very hot, very draining.”
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?
“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.”
On stages six and seven were you plotting your Gavia move?
“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.”
“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 switchbacks 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!”
That final stage, nine must have been nervous?
“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!”
It must have been nice to beat Aru – he was the man who beat you to win Aosta in 2011?
“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.”
Will you be going to Aosta, this year?
“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.”
I believe that the Baby Giro was catching a lot of media attention in Italy, this year?