After a decade in the WorldTour peloton, American Joe Dombrowski is making his Tour de France debut. Dombrowski, was one of the most highly touted riders to come from his class of the U23 ranks and spent his first two years in the WorldTour with Team Sky.
However, he struggled to meet expectations and later learned about a blood flow issue that was severely limiting power in his left leg. After a series of tests 31-year-old underwent Iliac artery surgery. Post surgery, he switched team’s to Cannondale Drepac in 2015 where he went on to win the general classification at the Tour of Utah.
After several seasons with the American outfit, Dombrowski switched again spending two years with UAE Emirates where he scored a stage victory at the 2021 Giro d’Italia before crashing out of the race the next day. Now on his fourth WorldTour team, Dombrowski feels as though he’s riding with the best form of his life and plans to race as long as he can.
Cycling Weekly caught up with Dombrowski over the phone from his European home in Nice, France, after his last big five and a half hour training ride leading up to this year’s Tour. Dombrowski reflected on the unique life of a bike racer before sharing his thoughts on the upcoming Le Grande Boucle.
“Bike racing is a combination of Nordic skiing, Formula 1, and boxing. You suffer aerobically like Nordic skiing. You have to drive the bike in a race like Formula 1, and you have to get up and dust yourself off like a boxer. And in a Grand Tour, you do it for 21 days,” said Dombrowski.
Cycling Weekly: When did you find out you were going to race the Tour?
Dombrowski: We first started speaking about me racing the Tour during the last week of the Giro. I didn’t really have much in the way of personal results there, I was in a couple of good breakaways but they never really materialized into stage winning opportunities. We had Nibali up there in GC so I was always kind of with him and was able to be with the best guys in the mountains. The team saw that. We decided that if I didn’t finish the Giro too tired, I could also do the Tour. It wasn’t in the plan from the beginning of the year, but it started with me asking what the plan was for the next part of the season. I asked if it was possible to do another Grand Tour, whether it was the Tour or the Vuelta and straight away they were like ‘Great, Tour.’
CW: It seems like a lot to race two Grand Tour’s within three months.
JD: I’ve done the Giro every year for the past seven seasons. I know how to prepare well for the Giro with the racing I want to do before, altitude camps, all that. But this is the first time I’ve done a Grand Tour and then four weeks off and then into another Grand Tour. That was something I just referred to the coaches and the team, obviously they have experience. I would say it’s a little bit of a step into the unknown but I feel pretty good so I think I’m ready.
CW: What have you been doing the last few weeks?
JD: I asked my coach and he thought there wasn’t enough time to do a good altitude block. I ended up doing La Route d’Occitanie last week. If I hadn’t done any racing at all I could have maybe gone to altitude for two or three weeks but with that race there just wasn’t the time to be there [at altitude] for an extended period.
CW: What’s Astana looking to get out of the Tour? What will your role be?
JD: To be honest, I don’t know exactly what the plan is. I know [Alexey] Ludsenko is going to be our captain. Last year he was seventh in GC, the year before he won a stage at the Tour. So I don’t know if the team is looking to go all-in and target GC or more for stage hunting. I think my role will be similar to the Giro. It will be fluid in the sense that in the Giro I had opportunities to look at particular stages but then at the same time, we went there with Lopez and Nibali. We lost Lopez after a few days but then Nibali was looking pretty good on GC so sometimes I’d stay with him on the mountain days. So maybe I’ll have opportunities to target stages but I can also be there as a support rider for Ludsenko if he’s there for GC.
CW: What’s your preference, support role or stage hunger?
JD: I’m happy with either role. It’s also something you need to see how the race unfolds and feel how it’s going. If you look at the first week of this Tour, you have days where there’s a good chance it will be cross winds, you have cobbles, there’s a lot of shit that can go wrong in the first week. Ok there’s a time trial, but there’s no mountain finishes until La Planche des Belles Filles. In terms of the GC race, you can lose everything very quickly in the first week.
CW: You’ve been in the WorldTour for a decade but this is your first Tour, how do you expect it to be different?
JD: From a racing perspective, I don’t think it’s going to be a lot different. There’s going to be a lot of tension the first week, given the nature of the stages, and just the nature of the race. I mean it’s the biggest race on the calendar. With what is at stake you have even more stress in the bunch. Everyone can clearly see from TV that the first week can be really dangerous, particularly for guys looking to ride GC or for guys piloting GC riders. But after that I don’t think it will be a whole lot different but we’ll see. Ok there’s a time trial, but there’s no mountain finishes until La Planche des Belles Filles. In terms of the GC race, you can lose everything very quickly in the first week.
CW: How do you expect the Tour to compare to the Giro or the Vuelta?
JD: All the races have their own kind of flavor. For me, I really like the Giro, it’s a race that suits me more than the Vuelta where you tend to have more short explosive finishes which doesn’t suit me as much. The Tour is probably kind of in the middle of those two.
CW: What does racing the Tour de France mean to you?
JD: I’m looking forward to it as another experience. When you’re young and you want to be a pro cyclist, everyone wants to win the Tour but then you turn pro and you realize, well, the chances of actually winning the Tour are kind of slim, but I still wanted to do the Tour. Maybe I can win a stage. When you start breaking down what’s possible and what you want to achieve in your career, I’ve spent most of my adult life looking to be where I am now and dreaming of achieving the things I’m getting to do now. I’m also looking forward to it in the sense that I’ve done 11 grand tours but for whatever reason I’d never done the Tour, I was always earmarked for the Giro. So when there was an opportunity to do the Tour with Astana, and the fact that they asked if it was something I wanted to do, was nice. I haven’t been with the team that long but my impression is that they ask the riders what they want and it’s an open conversation.
CW: What are you most looking forward to at the Tour?
JD: The Alpe d’Huez stage looks cool. We’ll do the Col du Galibier before, if I have the same legs as I had in the Giro, it would be nice to get in the breakaway. If I have freedom it would be cool to target a stage like that. It’s a relatively quiet first week in terms of GC challenges, other than the stress of not losing time on the cobbles and cross winds, but then the second week is pretty stacked in general and going into the third week in the Pyrenees, the Hautacam.
CW: How do you see the GC race playing out?
JD: Maybe they’ve been trying to kind of dance around each other but we haven’t seen a big face-off between [Primož] Roglič, [Jonas] Vingegaard, and [Tadej] Pogačar yet. That may be orchestrated, like maybe they don’t want to have a showdown before the Tour. But Dauphine form isn’t necessarily the same as Tour form, it’s still three weeks before the start of the Tour. You want to be good also in the last week of the Tour so you’re looking at five weeks. Vingegaard looked super strong, I think almost stronger than Roglič in Dauphine. Pogačar looked dominant in Slovenia albeit it’s not a super high level race. But knowing Tadej, like he’s Tadej so, I don’t know it’s hard to say. If I had to put money on someone I would say Tadej will win again but you never know. Tadej, he can win all types of races and part of that is due to his skills on the bike. There’s a good chance he could be the strongest and he’s also just a really great bike racer.
CW: At the Giro, you seemed to really enjoy racing with Vincenzo Nibali who’s in his last season as a professional. What do you admire about him as a racer?
JD: I don’t mean this in a negative way, but I don’t know that in his best years, Nibali was always as strong as Contador or Froome for example. But if you look at the way he won races and you look at the fact that he won all three grand tours, I think there’s only five or six riders in history that have done that. But he also won Milano-Sanremo, Il Lombardia, you know it’s like you can’t imagine Chris Froome winning Sanremo. So to me there’s a certain class that comes with a rider that can win those types of races. It’s something you see now with Pogačar but to be honest, I think in the last twenty years there’s not been so many riders like that who can win all types of races. The dominant Grand Tour riders of the last 15 years, I don’t know that they had it in them to win the way Pogačar does or Nibali has throughout his career. It’s cool to race with him, he doesn’t necessarily win races being the strongest rider but there’s a lot of good race-craft, he's tactically good, he descends really well. Things that can make the difference, not only the highest watts per kilo which is cool.
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Marshall is a freelance writer from Missoula, Montana. He road raced throughout the U.S. and Europe with the US U23 National Team. Marshall has worked as a bike tour guide, brand marketer, and promoter of two wheeled stoke. In 2019 he traveled the U.S. racing, riding, and reporting on the sport of gravel. Marshall's aim is to help grow the sport of cycling by telling stories that hold the door open for people to become riders.
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