SANT’ANNA DI VINADIO (VN) – As Cannondale’s Joe Dombrowski crossed the finish line of the last mountain stage in the Giro d’Italia on Saturday, he admitted to being “a little different.”
After an impressive third place finish on the 20th and penultimate stage of the race — 134 kilometers from Guillestre to Sant’Anna Di Vinadio — the 25-year-old American could certainly say he achieved his objective of the race apart from helping Colombian teammate Rigoberto Urán in the overall.
That goal? “To try to win a mountain stage.”
Try the Virginian did in this Giro … And then try, try and try again. Barely a day in the mountains went by in the three-week race without Dombrowski getting in amongst it. That includes his eighth-place finish in last Sunday’s stage 15 mountain time trial.
Dombrowski may have lamented not winning Saturday’s stage in the Alps that saw Estonian Rein Taaramae (Katusha) win by 52 seconds ahead of Colombian Darwin Atapuma (BMC), with Dombrowski 1:17 back; but he can ride in to Torino with his head held high in pride.
That Dombrowski rode so strongly at the tail end of the Giro — his second grand tour after his debut in last year’s Vuelta a España — may well be a sign of what is to come from him in the three-week races. And he gave every hint of further hope by how he felt at the finish in Sant’Anna Di Vinadio, an Alpine village he knows so well from having trained there and on the surrounding roads which are only an hour’s drive from his European base in Nice.
“I may be a little different than most riders in that for me the third week is usually easier than the first,” said Dombrowski who is in his second year at Cannondale after two with Sky.
“I am not super punchy or fast, but I can keep going and going. A lot of guys really fatigue … “I think they [grand tours] suit me. [After] the Vuelta I was pretty tired by the end, but coming out of this Giro … I was talking to my roommate [American Nate Brown and saying,] ‘It’s hard during the stage, but I don’t feel any more tired than I do at a hard training camp.’”
Dombrowski believes he made best of his every chance in his first Giro, in which he currently sits in 34th place overall, one hour, 32 minutes, 56 seconds behind race leader Vincenzo Nibali (Astana).
“We came here riding for ‘Rigo,’” said Dombrowski of Urán, now seventh overall at 11 minutes 17 seconds to Nibali.
“That was for me the main thing, and then as a secondary thing, if I could go for a stage that’s what I wanted to do. But … almost every mountain day I’ve been up in the front doing something or trying something. Today was the closest I came to actually taking a stage.”
Joe’s big day out
In Saturday’s stage, Dombrowski made the first break of eight riders that escaped after four kilometers. On the Col de Vars where the summit was at only 19km, the break grew to 10 riders, with Taaramae and Russian Aleksey Rybalkin (Gazprom – Rusvelo) joining them.
The breakaway then rode away from a peloton that included all of the overall favorites, and it soon became clear that the day’s likely stage winner would come from among them.
The break split up and by the summit of the Col de la Bonette at 63km, Spaniard Mikel Nieve (Sky) led with six chasing: Dombrowski, Taaramae, Atapuma, Giovanni Visconti (Movistar), Tanel Kangert (Astana), and Alexander Foliforov (Grazpro – Rusvelo).
Nieve was caught by Dombrowski’s group at 85km, making a group of seven that became eight with 40km to go when the Italian Gianluca Brambilla (Etixx – QuickStep) caught them.
On the third first-category climb, the Colle Della Lombarda, Dombrowski made his first move, which saw Atapuma and Nieve follow and with 25km to go their lead was 14 seconds.
But then Taaramae and Kangert bridged across five kilometers later as the summit neared.
Before the top and with 14km to go Taaramae made his winning move, soloing away over the summit with a lead of 31 seconds on Atapuma, while Dombrowski and Visconti went up and over at 46 seconds to Taaramae, by which time Nieve and Kangert had dropped back.
From there to the mountain finish at Sant’Anna Di Vinadio, Taaramae pushed on to his win while Atapuma, also growing in strength in the last week, rode to second place on the stage.
Dombrowski’s ride was a well-planned one — the former Sky rider knew the Colle Della Lombarda from training there since moving to Nice in 2013.
“I know the climb super well because Sky’s at Nice and comes up here to train at altitude,” he said. “I tried to attack at the bottom because I knew it was hard and then it was not as hard. “So I wanted to make a bit of a selection. But there was a headwind coming up so it made it a bit tactical. I attacked a couple of times, followed some stuff. I think Visconti and myself weren’t really expecting Taaramäe to just chip off the front. There was a bit of hesitation.
“You look at the strongest guy and you follow him, and if somebody comes back you think, ‘They are not going anywhere.’ And it turned out he was going somewhere.”
Dombrowski conceded that he may have underestimate Taaramae, saying: “I think so.
“He lives in Monaco and I know he trains out here too. He knows all the roads.
However, Dombrowski accepted the outcome well. He also revealed that seeing his parents by the side of the road with one kilometer to go on the climb to the finish gave him a boost.
“I felt like I could win and I’ve wanted to win a mountain stage in this Giro since the start of the year,” he said. “And this was really the one because it I know all the roads; my family was there with a kilometer to go. I wanted to win really bad today but it doesn’t always work out.”
And how did he react when he saw his folks? With the broadest of smiles, Dombrowski replied: “I saw the big American flag, and I think I actually gave them a wave as I went by.”