Here is a little background. Joe Dombrowski and I first met at a mountain bike clinic I put on at the Greenbrier Challenge in Maryland. He and his Dad were looking for something to do, and for them riding with me was a good way to see some good lines and get a few tips. A year later I got a message from a local racer, saying, “hey you have to ride with this kid, he’s flying!” So, as I have done many times with other budding talents, I took him on an easy spin, thinking I might give him some pointers.
Needless to say that was the last time I rode my mountain bike on a road ride with Joe Dombrowski! He was indeed a natural climber — a little choppy in his pedaling but full of energy and not afraid of long rides. We half-wheeled each other to the top of Massanutten Mountain, both smiling from the effort.
For my part, I was just passing on some knowledge, and I had a few state championship road titles and NRC races for background, which was enough to get him started. That was four years ago.
After some dabbling in mountain biking (including the Shenandoah 100) and fair bit of cyclocross racing, he decided to pursue road racing, partly because there are more job opportunities. So I started giving him some training advice, and he took it seriously. He got faster and stronger with every workout, and so I kept advising. Our relationship is a bit more like training partners and friends that enjoy some serious over-the-top training rides while chatting about global politics, economics and training science.
So, needless to say, he has taken off like a rocket. In 2010 after riding for Haymarket Bikes he started the Tour of Utah as a guest rider with the Axel Merkx Bontrager-Livestrong Squad and got some attention.
In the last year Joe has shocked the peloton as he demolished race after race, but his biggest win was the breakthrough at the amateur Giro d’Italia, often called the Baby Giro.
In the pro ranks, he’s taken the best young rider jerseys at the Amgen Tour of California, the Tour of Utah, the Tour of the Gila. A top-5 finish on Tour of California’s queen stage confirmed his staying power.
Last week was a treat watching him put a scare into some of the best riders in the world in the USA Pro Cycling Challenge by attacking the lead group with Christian Vande Velde, Vicenzo Nibali, Tejay van Garderen and others on the final climb of the race. I’d guess it’s a good sign when Phil Liggett announces your name as the future of the Tour de France.
Perhaps the great experiment of a pro mountain biker coaching an amateur road racer to a quick rise to success is not so random, but the result of an awesome meshing of good friends from different generations that both love to hammer. In my mind the hands-on riding time we have allows me to see exactly what he is doing in training and make more agile adjustments to his riding and training practices. To me its the difference between taking a dance class or looking at a book about dance to become a better dancer or taking an online course.
If you do look at many of the superstars on the road, you’ll see that a lot of them come from an off-road backround. Cadel Evans, Jakob Fuglsang, Fredrik Kessiakoff, Tom Danielson and Peter Sagan even started their careers in mountain biking for the team I race for, Cannondale Factory Racing!