After storming the slopes of Mount Baldy in May at the Amgen Tour of California on his way to a 12th place overall finish, 21-year-old Joe Dombrowski and his U.S. National teammates have taken on Europe and the Girobio, affectionately known as the Baby Giro.
In the span of two days, the young Virginia native has seen cycling in all its colors, from the highs of claiming the leader’s jersey at one of the most prestigious under-23 races in the world, to the devastation of sitting roadside with a puncture, watching that jersey slip away.
On stage 4 to Terminillo, Dombrowski, who also rides with the Bontrager-Livestrong development team, used his climbing wings to claim the stage victory and take the overall lead by six seconds. That overall lead, in a race previously won by the likes of Marco Pantani and Danilo Di Luca, is one of the most cherished podium appointments in the world of u23 cycling.
“Marcello [Albasini], our director, and all my teammates had a lot of faith in me,” Dombrwoski told VeloNews. “When you have teammates sacrificing for you like that, it really feels good to deliver in the end. It was really exciting for me, and I was proud to wear the jersey the next day.”
And, then, the crueler side of sport struck.
“I was a little devastated initially,” Dombrowski said of his stage 5 mishap. “Everything was going just perfectly. I was sitting in the top 10 wheels on the strade bianche, and actually was in a split that had caught out the favorites. Then, just like that, I was standing on the side of the road inside of the last 10km. In the end I lost three minutes to the winner, but luckily managed to keep it around a minute to [Fabio] Aru and [Francesco] Bongiorno, the two Italian GC favorites.”
But, the race isn’t over. Dombrowski sits seventh overall, well positioned between Aru (22 seconds back) and Bongiorno (21 seconds ahead) with four of nine stages remaining. Friday’s run to the Passo di Gavia will likely determine the final outcome. With 5500 meters of climbing on the day, there is the potential for huge time gaps. Still, another hurdle the American team will have to overcome is the loss of two strong team members. Josh Berry abandoned after a crash in the neutral zone on the first day, and Ian Boswell — a key asset in the mountains — has fallen to the stomach flu.
“I am still in the GC hunt, and I’m going to throw everything I have at the Gavia,” Dombrowski said. “That will probably be the most decisive day of the race. With only four of us left, it makes it a little bit harder on all of us to make sure I stay up there for the GC. That being said, we are taking it day-by-day, and are stress free about the whole thing.”