Ten Questions: Joe Dombrowski
Posted on April 30, 2013 by
DENVER, COLORADO - In an amazingly short period of time, Joe Dombrowski has elevated himself into a very select group of elite American cyclists. The timing of his meteoric rise into the professional ranks comes after a tumultuous period for American cycling, and cycling in general. As the sport struggles to prove it has cleaned up after years of doping scandals and the recent disgrace of many of its former top athletes, Dombrowski has been hailed as one of the great new hopes. He is admired by fans for his humble love of riding, unassuming attitude, and dominant climbing ability. After receiving interest from several professional teams, he selected the UK based Sky Cycling Team to begin his professional career this year. With two current stars already on the team's roster, Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome, Dombrowski is free to learn from his teammates as he builds the skills needed to perhaps be a team leader one day.
Over the past week, we caught up with the Wünderkind via email while he was back home in Virginia.
What have the past few years been like for you? Has it sunk in yet that you are getting paid to ride your bike alongside the best riders in the world?
When I look back and really think about the last few years, it's been a whirlwind really. In 2011, I did my first year with Trek Livestrong and was still relatively new to road racing. Last year, I had some strong results in the domestic races, and had my career highlight so far in winning the Baby Giro in Italy. Now I'm in my neopro season at Team Sky. It all happened pretty quickly, and if you would have asked me a couple years ago I would never have been able to imagine myself where I am now.
People often ask how it is to race against the world's best, or what it's like to train with guys like Bradley Wiggins or Chris Froome. Obviously those guys are among the best in the world right now, but outside the race you wouldn't know it. While I certainly look up to them, and aspire to be a that level, they're really pretty (cool) guys and carry themselves the same way anyone else does on the team despite their status in the races.
What is a typical training day like for you since you turned Pro, and what do you like to do when you're not on a bike?
The short answer is it just depends. Some days I am out there for six hours and doing various intervals. Other days I ride at a super easy pace for an hour. Up until now, I've only ever worked with Jeremiah Bishop as a coach. He is a good friend of mine, a training buddy, and a fellow professional racer, albeit on the mountain bike. Jeremiah and I have a really good relationship on and off the bike, but Sky keeps all the coaching/training plans inside the team through their own coaching staff. Jeremiah and I still talk often, but we aren't able to work together anymore.
The change to working with my coach at Sky has seen a pretty dramatic increase in training volume. I've been consistently doing 20-30 hour weeks this year with a lot of structure even between difficult stage races. That has been difficult at times, but as with any change to a new system, it requires some faith on your part, especially initially.
During the season, much of our "off-bike" time is focused around recovery. Therefore, even when you're not training, in a sense, you still are. That being said, I like to do pretty normal stuff for a 21 year old kid. I like to hang out with my friends, I enjoy good food and good coffee, and I like to read. During the fall and winter, I have a bit more liberty to get into active activities that aren't always centered around training. I love to ski, and a couple years ago I got into Telemarking, and I like to get out on the trails both on my mountain bike and on foot.
...if you would have asked me a couple years ago I would never have been able to imagine myself where I am now.- Joe Dombrowski
Besides the race, of course, one of the best things about watching cycling on TV is seeing the incredible landscapes. We always hear pro racers lamenting that they never get to really experience the sights and the towns they pass through because they are so focused on training, racing, and recovering. Has this been the case for you, too?
At the races, that complaint in mostly valid. We often fly in the day before the races. During stage races, once the race starts we are pretty much going all day. Wake up, breakfast, transfer to start, race, transfer to finish, massage, dinner, go to sleep. The most we usually see is the inside of different hotel rooms, which I might add, are generally not very glamorous.
That being said, I have gotten to see some pretty incredible places while out training. I love exploring the roads around my new home in Nice. I love riding in Italy, from the hills of Tuscany, to the mountains of the north. My favorite place to ride though is still the mountains of Virginia.
What is it about the mountains of Virginia that makes them your favorite? Is it familiarity? How do they compare to other places?
Virginia is home for me so I am biased, of course. You can get to feel really connected to an area, you know? I do think we have some great roads, though, and I still even find new roads within riding distance of home. I think that is the beauty of the riding on the east coast (of the United States). It's similar to Europe in that there's so many roads to explore. I've spent time training out west in cycling hotspots like Boulder, and while that's a nice place to train, you're somewhat limited in road selection. I love exploring and finding new roads while out training.
I have a feeling you'll include Passo di Gavia, where you dramatically came back to win the Giro Bio1, but what climbs or roads have been among your favorites and/or the most challenging for you so far?
Ha. Well, actually, I remember telling my director after that stage that I would be okay with never doing the Gavia again. That hurt! I didn't see much until I drove back down it, but it is a beautiful climb.
Some of my favorite climbs back home in VA are Wolf Gap, Tanner's Ridge, Reddish Knob, Vesuvius, and Howards Lick out in West Virginia. I like the twisty, steep ones with lots of switchbacks. There are so many good climbs in Nice as well. The famous climbs from the coast like Col de Eze and Col de la Madone are great rides. Now that it is starting to warm up I'm looking forward to exploring some of the roads in the high mountains above Nice.
I saw some comments from you on Strava2 about where the best cappuccino could be found after a ride in Nice. Such things are important for any self-respecting cyclist, aren't they? And where have you found the best cappuccino so far (Nice or elsewhere)?
Cycling and coffee go hand in hand. I'm not sure what it is, but it's just right. We have a little Nespresso machine on the bus. You can hear the poor thing groaning at the back of the bus on the way to every start as riders and staff pound pods through the thing.
The coffee in Nice is, well, pretty much terrible. I don't know what is wrong. They have the espresso machine, they have the beans and the milk. I guess the French just don't have the same appreciation for coffee as neighboring Italy. That said, our coffee rides usually mean riding away from Nice in search of a good cappuccino. On really easy days, I might ride the 30 minutes to Monaco to the Park Place cafe. Richie Porte showed it to me. Great cappuccinos, and reasonably priced (considering you're in Monaco) at two euros a pop.
If we are out slightly longer, the best coffee is in Italy. We sometimes stop in the Italian coastal towns of Ventimiglia or, ironically, Latte. No cafe in particular as the coffee in Italy is pretty good across the board. I'll often also grab a panini of foccacia, prosciutto, and mozzarella before I make my way back along the coast to Nice.
Speaking of Strava, you are pretty active about putting your training rides and races up for everyone to see. What has the Strava experience been like? Any pressure to perform even in training since the whole world will see? Have you noticed if this has motivated recreational riders to aim for your times? One of my personal claims to fame was that I was only a few seconds behind your time on Mechanic Street Hill in Luray, VA, although you since increased that gap to 21 seconds.
I think Strava is great. It's fun, especially when training somewhere new to see where you went and what segments you rode over. I also use it as a tool to find new roads and climbs when I'm in a new area. No pressure to perform, it's just fun for me. I do see people go after my segments sometimes. I have a few KOMs around Nice, but those seem to be the most vulnerable. There are some fast guys around there!
In addition, I think it is a nice friendly interaction between myself and some of my fans. I think part of the beauty of cycling is the fan's access to the riders. Something you don't see as much in other sports. I think Strava is kind of a cool extension of that.
I'm familiar with the Mechanic Street Hill. To be honest, I think I was out motor-pacing when I claimed that KOM... I guess someone should flag that? Ha.
What places are on your schedule this season, and which are you especially looking forward to visiting?
At the moment, the only thing I have confirmed for my schedule is Bayern Rundfahrt and Tour de Suisse. The team makes the race program up until the Tour and reassess after that for the latter part of the year. I've heard Bayern is a nice race, and I'm looking forward to Suisse. I've been to Switzerland a few times and I do appreciate their cleanliness and order.
What's on your bucket list (i.e. places you want to visit, mountains you want to climb, etc.)?
As I said earlier, we generally don't get to see a lot of the areas we travel to during races but there are some races in some pretty cool areas that I'd like to do some time. I've heard the Tour of Beijing is nice. I think it's fairly low stress racing because it's so late on the calendar, and most of the teams have a few days there before or after the race. I'd love to see some of China.
I love exploring new areas in training. Often times I'll race somewhere and think how nice it would be to do some training there. The Basque Country in northern Spain, the Aosta Valley in Italy, and the Pyrenees in southern France are all places I've raced and wanted to return to at some point to ride when you really can soak in the area without the stress of riding in the peloton.
Is there a goal to etch your name as a winner of Alpe D'Huez, Mont Ventoux, or some other mythical climb at some point in your career?
Of course! I wouldn't say I have any climb in particular in mind, but it's dreams like that which keep you pushing forward whether things are going your way or not. I've always enjoyed racing in Italy. I've ridden well there, I like the races, I like the food, and I like the people. I suppose winning atop one of the famous climbs in Italy would be a nice thing to do at some point in my career.
Follow Joe on Twitter: @JoeDombro
1 The Giro Bio, or "Baby Giro," is the version of the Giro d'Italia grand tour for riders under 23 years of age.
2 Strava is a cycling application and website where users can track and compare their rides against one another (www.strava.com).