Sunday, July 25, 2021
HomeInterviewsJoe Dombrowski - Moving from Sky to Cannondale; "Don't write me off...

Joe Dombrowski – Moving from Sky to Cannondale; “Don’t write me off yet!”


Joe Dombrowski
Joe Dombrowski.

At the end of 2012 young American Joe Dombrowski had the world at his feet; he’d won the Baby Giro – ahead of a certain Fabio Aru – and placed fourth and tenth respectively in the Tours of Utah and Colorado – and there was a nice crisp Sky contract to be signed.

But his two seasons with Sky didn’t pan out as most had expected – with the reason finally tracked down to an iliac artery problem which he’s now had surgery on.

And he’s moving on from the British team to a new US amalgamation, Jonathan Vaughter’s Cannondale/Garmin team.

Joe gave VeloVeritas of his time to talk about his health issue, time at Sky and the future.

How does an iliac artery problem happen, Joe?

“It’s thought that repetitive hip flexion basically causes mechanical damage to the artery. The problem is not limited to cyclists. It also affects rowers, runners, and triathletes. In some cases, individuals have excessively long iliac arteries which are prone to kinking.

“Otherwise, the cause tends to be a hypertrophied psoas (The psoas (so-az) muscle runs through your hips to connect the lower portion of your back to the top of your thigh. ed.) that pushes the artery forward in the cycling position.

“The inguinal ligament crosses the artery in the groin and puts pressure on the artery due to the enlarged psoas. Over time, this pressure causes the artery to develop a fibrotic tissue inside the vessel and blood flow is restricted. It is being diagnosed more and more in the cycling community.

“Other than a lack of power and numbness in the affected limb, the symptoms are somewhat vague, so unless an athlete is working with someone familiar with the issue it can be a problem that is misdiagnosed for a long time.”

How long were you off the bike?

“I had six weeks doing no real physical activity. After that I did a couple weeks with a heart rate restriction.

“I just rode very easy for up to one hour each day.

“It’s about two months before you can ride normally out on the road, and about three months before you can get back into a more normal training routine.”

How do feel now, after surgery?

“Everything feels really good so far. Prior to the surgery I would see about a 40% drop in blood pressure in my left leg during cycling.

“After going through the testing protocol again post surgery everything is back to normal.

“On the bike, it feels good. I’m not exactly on flying form after so long away, but that will come back.”

Joe Dombrowski
Joe chats with his boss at the Tour of Oman in 2013. Photo©Team Sky

How’s training going?

“Training is going well. I just did my first five hour ride.

“I’ve taken a conservative approach in my return. I knew I would not return to racing in 2014, and I didn’t want to take any risks by trying to rush back.

“They basically stitch a patch into the artery, so it’s not something you want to mess with prematurely.

“I’ve been back on the bike about six weeks now, and I am starting to feel good again in training. That top end is not there, but I’ve got plenty of time.”

Were there offers other than Garmin/Cannondale – why them?

“Yes, I had a number of other options.

“I wrote down what I viewed as the pros and cons of each option. I thought that writing it down, seeing it in front of me, was a methodical approach to making a reasoned decision.

“The overriding factor though, was my gut feeling. Luckily both bits seemed to fall the way of Cannondale. I think the appeal of Cannondale was a combination of environment, and what seems to be the potential for opportunities.

“Those were the most important points in the decision.”

Was the focus at Sky perhaps so much on le Tour that the neo-pros didn’t get the attention they require?

“It does seem to be a place where it can be difficult for young riders to break through. It’s not that it’s meant to be that way, but it is perhaps an unintended consequence of a heavy focus on the Tour de France.

“The team has a wealth of GC talent, so for developing GC riders there is a lot of crowding.

“With a heavy emphasis on stage racing, and especially grand tours I don’t think there is necessarily a lot of opportunities for the young guys.

“I believe riding your first grand tour is a big step in your development.

“I noticed this year that only one of Sky’s riders in their first two years professional rode a grand tour.

“It’s the team’s prerogative to have a heavy focus on grand tours, and that’s perfectly fine, but I can see where it leaves out the young riders.

“The flip side of that is that you get an opportunity to ride with the best stage racers in the world.

“In that sense, you could think of your time there as an investment in your future. I do not, in any way, regret my time at Sky. I certainly have learned a lot.”

Joe Dombrowski
Joe and his Sky teammates enjoyed early season training in Mallorca. Photo©JoeDombrowski

What are your best memories of Sky – it always seems so serious around their bus?

“The team does give off a somewhat serious demeanour, but we have plenty of laughs inside the bus. It really is a good crew of guys.

“I had some great times in the team bus on the way to and from races. I also always enjoy training with the boys down in Nice.

“Some of us were based there year-round, but many of the guys came down for a few weeks at a time for camps. I love the roads in the mountains north of Nice, and it was great going out training with the boys.”

Which was your favourite ‘marginal gain?’

“Honestly, I always found the talk of Team Sky’s exploitation of “marginal gains” and “knowledge gaps” to be a little bit overblown.

“Perhaps in comparison to teams that have little control of the riders outside of the races, Sky seems as though they are eeking out every marginal performance benefit out there.

“Really, I think the team just employs a comprehensive support staff to get the most out of the riders. The focus is on the basics.

“Whether it’s training well, eating well, doing your gym work, or being prepared psychologically, there is someone at the team who is a resource at your disposal.

“Additionally, the level of organisation and communication in the team is top notch.”

Will you still base in Nice?

“I am planning to stay in Nice. Cannondale’s base is in Girona.

“I’ve spent time there, but I think I prefer Nice.

“Additionally, I am set up now. I have an apartment, a car, and a visa to live there.

“I don’t want to have to go through the process of setting up a place to live in another foreign country as I feel that would be a distraction in my winter and early season preparation leading into the 2015 season.”

Joe Dombrowski
Joe is made for climbing. Photo©Team Sky

What would your ideal programme be – and how close to it do you think you’ll be able to get to it?

“I would like to ride a grand tour, I would like to ride one of the American stage races, and I would like to ride the one week stage races with the focus on some of those one week races riding to the level I believe I am capable of.

“I think getting a grand tour in would be a big step in my development; I have yet to do one.

“Riding well in the one week stage races, is, in my mind, a nice way to get back to riding how I know that I can. At this point, I think that means climbing with the leaders at the decisive points.

“I will continue to work on my time trial, and my way of going about riding the race efficiently.

“Those will both improve with time and focused work.

“Fitting in one of the American races is always nice as it allows some time back in the US, the opportunity to race in front of American fans, and sometimes a chance to visit friends and family back home in Virginia.”

Will you ride any local cyclocross over the winter?

“I don’t know!

“Before I was racing on the road professionally, I raced a lot of cyclocross.

“Normally, by October or November going full gas on the bike for an hour is not exactly what I’m looking for.

“This year has obviously been different, so we’ll see. I have been getting out on my mountain bike a bit.”

Joe Dombrowski
Many believe Joe moving on from Sky is the best move at this time in his career. Photo©JoeDombrowski

When’s the first Garmin/Cannondale camp?

“We have a camp in the middle of November.

“I understand it is more of a get-together than a traditional training camp.”

Your progress up to Sky was rapid; a two season ‘stall’ must have been hard on the head?

“The last couple years haven’t gone exactly as I would have liked, and that has been a little bit difficult.

“When I was I recovering from the surgery I would watch the Tour and Vuelta with half-hearted interest and ultimately sometimes turn the TV off because I preferred not to watch.

“I’ve taken some hits but I have stayed positive through it, and it’s motivating for the coming season.

“Don’t write me off yet!”

Your old sparring partner, Aru is going well.

“Ha! Yes, I noticed!

“There has been no shortage of people pointing that out to me, either.

“I think Aru has a lot of class. Even in the amateurs he was already capable of climbing with the very best. He’s got a huge engine, and I think he’s a rare talent. It will be interesting to follow his progress over the coming years.

“His ride in the Giro this year was very impressive, backing that up in the Vuelta was equally impressive.”

Joe Dombrowski
Joe (r) with fellow Sky teammate Ian Boswell. Photo©Team Sky

What will happen regarding coaching now you’re going to Garmin/Cannondale?

“That is yet to be determined.

“At Sky, all the coaching was done within the team.

“There’s some talk of that at Cannondale.

“I expect that once I go to our first camp we will have more information in regards to race programme, coaching, and the way the team functions.”

Season 2015 will be a good one if …

“I think first and foremost I need to get a healthy and consistent season under my belt. This year I did not start until Tour of California.

“I went back to Europe after California, crashed out of Bayern Rundfahrt, and then went on to Tour de Suisse. My iliac artery problem was diagnosed after Suisse and we went ahead with the surgery.

“My season was effectively over after having finished two races. I think a good start would be to get back into the groove of climbing with the leaders in the single week stage races. I’ll continue chipping away at my various weak points, but I think that is the first step.

“I would also love to get a grand tour in, and I would love to win something!”

Ed Hood
Ed's been involved in cycling for over 45 years. In that time he's been a successful time triallist, team manager, and sponsor of several teams and clubs. He's also a respected and successful coach, and during the winter months can often be found working in the cabins at the Six Days. Ed remains a massive fan of the sport and couples his extensive contacts with an inexhaustable enthusiasm for the minutiae and the history of our sport.

Related Articles

Ian Boswell – “I don’t want any ‘what ifs?’”

It was the end of 2012 when we last spoke to 23 year-old American Ian Boswell on the eve of his first get together with Team Sky. We caught up with him again in January of this year to see how his professional debut year with double Tour winning squad SKY had gone.

Joe Dombrowski – “Biggest lesson I’ve learned in 2013? Perspective”

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.

George Mount – the Original Colourful, ‘Salty’ American Racer

Along with Californian Mike Neel the man who opened the door for US riders performing in Europe was a certain George Mount, a prolific winner in the US. He turned pro for San Giacomo in 1980 after the US announced their boycott of the Moscow Olympics and rode as a cash man for three seasons. Suddenly it wasn't a dream for US riders - Neel and Mount were actually doing it. We caught up with Mr. Mount recently – he’s not bland!

Eric Heiden – American Hero in Two Sports

Lake Placid, USA 1980 and the XIII Winter Olympics. The Man of the Games? With his 32” waist and 27” thighs clad in that famous gold suit, the very epitome of power and grace there could only be one; Eric Heiden.

Doug Shapiro – US Pro and Joop Zoetemelk’s Tour de France Domestique

Doug Shapiro wasn’t the first American to ride the Tour; that was Jonathan Boyer; or the second, that was Greg Lemond. But he was the third to do so; and not just in any old role – as a domestique for Tour, Vuelta and Worlds winner, Joop Zoetemelk as part of the mighty Kwantum Hallen team. Here at VeloVeritas we thought that he must have a good tale to tell...

The Time Capsule: Colby Pearce – An American Team in the Six Days

The experienced American rider Colby Pearce was one of the guys looked after by Kris, Martin and Ed at some of this winters' Six Days, including the recent event at the Ballerup Stadium in Copenhagen. Having raced at elite level on the track at the Olympics, at World Cups and in the World Championships, as well as being a National Champion 14 times and holder of the US Hour Record (50.191), together with a spell working as the US Track Coach, Colby had seen most of what track cycling had to offer. One element was missing though: Six Day Racing...

At Random

Le Tour de France 2009 – Stage 11: Vatan > Saint-Fargeau, 192km

'Cav sez; "Gotcha!" to Baz', as the Sun might say if it were to cover Le Tour de France, and today's stage into Saint-Fargeau. It took Barry Hoban a whole career - two decades - to notch up eight Tour stage wins - but they didn't all come from bunch gallops.

Derek Hunt – Boston Pro in the Early ’80s

Here at VeloVeritas we’ve been doing a bit of research into Six Days from years gone by and a name that cropped up was that of Derek Hunt. Hunt was a very successful schoolboy and junior on the UK scene in the 70’s before moving to The Netherlands where he was a regular participant in the amateur Six Days – notably, winning the Maastricht race.

Le Tour de France 2016 – Stage 2; Saint-Lô – Cherbourg-en-Cotentin. Heartbreak for Stuyven as Sagan Takes Control

Peter Sagan is a breath of fresh air, the accent, the sense of humour, the hair, the bike handling, the speed, the versatility – third behind Cav and Kittel then beating Alaphilippe and Valverde. There’s no one more deserving of the maillot jaune – with all mention of the ‘curse of the rainbow jersey’ forgotten.

Marcin Bialoblocki – “I can win the Worlds”

When Alex Dowsett (Movistar & GB) rode 17:20 to take the British ‘10’ record earlier this year we all thought, ‘wow!’ and that it would take some beating. Enter one Marcin Bialoblocki, Polish professional with the One Pro Cycling team – with a 16:35, hacking 45 seconds off the Dowsett mark. That’s head shakingly quick – but not content with that, the next day Bialoblocki put Dowsett’s ‘25’ record of 44:29 to the sword with 44:04. We just had to ‘have a word.’

Brian Smith – Marathon Man!

Former British pro champion and team-mate of Lance - that's Brian Smith? Apparently he's a dad now, and has been spotted running marathons in the states? - we needed to find out more!

David Hewett Blog – A Challenging Start to the Season

The beginning of April finally marked the start of my 2017 race season in Belgium, after a long winter’s preparation. An unfortunate issue with the team’s accommodation arrangements for the year meant I had to head home unexpectedly immediately after arriving in Belgium, and this knocked me a bit sideways mentally for a while.