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PEZ Talk: Joe Dombrowski

Joe Dombrowski was one of the brightest stars in 2012, he was snapped-up by the all-powerful Sky team, but things didn’t work out. Three years on and iliac artery surgery and the man from Virginia is back on track for success. Ed Hood caught up with Dombrowski in his French home in Nice, days after his win in the Tour of Utah.

The Baby Giro 2012 and it’s all down to a pursuit match between two young men on the last major climb of the race – The Gavia. Joe Dombrowski (USA) leads whilst Fabio Aru (Italy – and now Astana) chases – but in vain, Dombrowski holds out to take the stage and the GC.

When the slim man from Virginia signed for Team Sky at the end of that season we expected great things; but health problems – which required an operation to the iliac artery – and the fact that whilst Sky may know how to win the Tour de France it’s perhaps not the best team to nurture young talent meant that we never saw the Dombrowski of the 2012 Baby Giro.

Until now that is; a successful operation to resolve the artery problem and a move to the Cannondale-Garmin team where the vibe is a tad less robotic than the British behemoth means we’ve finally seen what Mr. Dombrowski is really capable of.

Attacking on Stage Six of the Tour of Utah to take the win on the day and the overall lead, he successfully defended his jersey on Stage Seven to run out overall winner. PEZ gave him a day or two to recover at his home in Nice before we made the call. . .

stage 7 of The Larry H.Miller Tour of Utah 2015
Joe Dombrowski on his way to the win in Utah

PEZ: Congratulations, Joe – a corner turned?
Yeah – you know, this has been a little bit of a rebuild year for me and Utah has provided the evidence that I’m getting back to my best.

PEZ: Remind us about your season so far, please.
I started early at San Luis in Argentina, I finished seventh and fitness-wise was pretty much where I wanted to be at that time of the season. Then I rode Catalunya and Trentino in support of our GC guys Ryder Hesjedal and Andrew Talansky. The Tour of California was my first goal and I rode for GC there – it went fairly well and I finished fourth.

I’d gone into the race believing I could win it but fourth wasn’t a bad result. I rode the US Nationals where I finished second to Matt Busche then it was the Tour de Suisse. I didn’t go as well there as I’d hoped; I think I was tired and needed a break so I had a week off the bike then began training again before I went to train at altitude in Utah to acclimatise.

stage 5 of the 2012 USA Pro Challenge
A young Dombrowski in the 2012 USA Pro Challenge

PEZ: Was Stage Six the one you’d marked down as where the move was to be made?
There were some hard stages in that race before the sixth one but there was nowhere where GC guys could really put a dent in things. Stages Three and Five were on tough circuits with climbs and I felt I was a little lacking in high end power and in fact, I lost a little time on Stage Five. But Stages Six and Seven were the significant ones; if Stage Six hadn’t worked out then I was going to attack on Stage Seven but in the event I gained enough time on Stage Six to take the lead which meant we could ride defensively, conservatively on the last day.

PEZ: I heard folks say that you’d be under a lot of pressure on Stage Seven but it seemed to go smoothly for you?
The team did a super job; we let the right move go and that took the pressure off – the closest guy on GC was at 10 minutes. Our plan was to save our bullets for the last climb. We wanted the break to get a good gap quickly because there was a big climb mid-stage and we didn’t want any of the GC guys to have the opportunity to bridge across to the break going up there. On the final climb of the Empire Pass I felt good and covered the moves relatively easily. I actually thought about going on the attack but opted to be conservative – I’d have looked silly, attacking, blowing and losing the overall, which was obviously the number one priority.

stage- 7 of The Larry H.Miller Tour of Utah - 2015
Cannondale-Garmin controlled the final stage

PEZ: A feature of the race was the aggressive racing by the Continental and Pro Continental squads.
For sure; you expect guys like Schleck to be in the top five but a guy who impressed me was Mike Woods (Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies) who finished second on GC – I saw him race at the Volta Algarve earlier in the year where he did a good ride. He came late to the sport from a running background and whilst he may be lacking a bit of tactical sense, he’s super strong.

PEZ: Perhaps an unnecessary question given you just won the bike race but has the operation on the iliac artery been a complete success?
I think so; I had surgery almost a year ago then three months off the bike before I could train properly. It’s a lengthy process – you have stitches in an artery and you don’t want to take risks or subject it to stress. I put in a good winter but being out of the peloton for so long it takes a while to get back into the rhythm – Utah is confirmation that it’s going well.

stage 7 of The Larry H.Miller Tour of Utah 2015
Stage 7 in Utah and the overall lead

PEZ: What’s next?
I’m riding the Vuelta, my first Grand Tour so I’m excited about that. I don’t know what my role will be – it’s my first three week race so I can’t have set expectations other than getting through it. And I’ll finish my season with Lombardia.

PEZ: And how’s Nice for you?
It’s good – I’m back here after Utah, I really like the roads here and the weather is good most of the time so it’s a great place to live. And it’s a nice place for folks to visit, so between races I have friends coming across to see me – which is always nice. There are quite a few US guys living here, all within a kilometre of each other – Ian Boswell, Larry Warbasse, Tejay van Garderen and Taylor Phinney who moved here from Tuscany last year. I stay in touch with my former team mates at Sky and train with them, too.

PEZ: On the subject of Team Sky, how does Cannondale-Garmin compare?
I would say that Sky has a super nice group of people and I made lots of friends there. But the atmosphere at Cannondale is much more laid back and that suits me; I’m not someone who needs people breathing down my neck. I’m pretty self sufficient and self motivated so I don’t need people checking on what I’m doing all the time – I found that maybe a little much at times. . .

Tour de Suisse 2013 stage-7
In the Tour de Suisse for Sky

PEZ: Aru, do you ever look at his recent performances and think; “I used to beat that guy?”
Maybe a little bit but I don’t think it’s productive to make comparisons like that – I had health problems in 2013 but it was 2014 before we got to the bottom of them and only this year that I’ve come back from them and at this level you can’t simply jump right back to the top, you have to build back up. But I do still aspire to be a contender in big races. I’ll focus on myself; I want to ride a good Vuelta keep the rebuilding process going and then in 2016 target some big races where I can ride for GC.

We wish Joe well for his first Grand Tour and will be keeping an eye on his performances in the world’s third biggest stage race.

Dombrowski consolidated his overall lead in the final stage

It was November 2005 when Ed Hood first penned a piece for PEZ, on US legend Mike Neel. Since then he’s covered all of the Grand Tours and Monuments for PEZ and has an article count in excess of 1,100 in the archive. He was a Scottish champion cyclist himself – many years and kilograms ago – and still owns a Klein Attitude, Dura Ace carbon Giant and a Fixie. He and fellow Scot and PEZ contributor Martin Williamson run the Scottish site www.veloveritas.co.uk where more of his musings on our sport can be found.

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