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Giro d'Italia

Giro d’Italia: Joe Dombrowski’s long wait is over with overdue stage win

Joe Dombrowski completes circle dating back to 2012 'Baby Giro' with solo stage victory under the rain.

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Joe Dombrowski and his long-running debt with the Giro d’Italia are finally square.

After nearly a decade of knocking at the door, the 29-year-old American climber churned his way to an emotional and overdue stage victory Tuesday in the fourth stage of the Giro.

Battling through horrific conditions and deftly handling the three-dimensional chess match of breakaway dynamics, the UAE-Team Emirates climber found the key to victory in the leg-breaker, 187km stage from Piacenza to Sestola.

“I’m really happy today. It was hard to know what was going to happen, if it was going to be a group of GC riders or if a break would have enough time,” Dombrowski said. “It wasn’t enough for the pink jersey, but a stage win is a nice way to end the day.”

Dombrowski and the Giro is a career-long love affair.

In 2012, the Virginia native became the first and only American to win the “Baby Giro,” beating back future grand tour winner Fabio Aru and a pack full of future WorldTour professionals.

That victory cranked up the hype machine, and he landed him on the powerful Team Sky franchise. He and Ian Boswell would join Danny Pate on the peloton’s powerhouse as the lone Americans. Dombrowski couldn’t find much space on the superstar-packed Sky lineup, however, and moved across to the Slipstream organization in 2015.

Also read: Five North Americans racing the Giro d’Italia

The Giro d’Italia was always central in his narrative.

In his Giro debut in 2016, he surged to third in the penultimate day in a bruiser of a mountain stage, finishing behind Rein Taaramäe. The Giro was close, yet oh so far.

Flash forward to 2021, and it was Taaramäe who almost spoiled the party.

On Tuesday, with rain pelting down on the peloton, the Estonian climber was clear off the front in the serrated stage profile with two other riders. Dombrowski was lurking behind as the day’s big breakaway group fragmented under the pressure of the course, the speed, and the incessant climbs.

Working with Alessandro De Marchi (Israel Start-Up Nation), the pair powered away from the remnants of the break, and patiently reeled in the attackers.

For once, things were going his way.

“I was feeling good in the last 50km, and I was trying to not do too much work, because I knew that the last climb was a tough one,” Dombrowski said. “When we had seven, eight minutes, I knew this group had a good chance to stay away. I had to stay attentive, follow the splits. With 25 riders, it’s never that every rider is cooperating. You need to be ready for the attacks. I was able to follow everything, and I was able to get the gap.”

Dombrowski might not have lived up to the hype of evolving into a grand tour contender, yet he never stopped fighting.

And the Giro was always his preferred terrain. Since his 2016 debut, this year marks his sixth career Giro start. In every edition, he’s lit up the breakaways and came gut-wrenchingly close. In 2019, feeling healthy again following some health issues, he was back in the frame, riding into the top-10 on two stages, including eighth in the stage over the Mortirolo. He arrived at the finish in 12th overall, a career-high mark.

It’s all for the love of the “corsa rosa.”

Once the race hit the day’s final climb Tuesday, things finally tilted Dombrowski’s way.

Riding with more tactical touch, he saved the best for last. He and De Marchi reeled in Taaramäe just as the race hit the day’s final test, a brutally steep climb that was ideal for his legs. With De Marchi also eying the pink jersey, the door was wide open for Dombrowski.

“I was able to follow everything, and I knew De Marchi was the strongest in the group,” he said. “I knew if I could follow his wheel, I’d be in a good spot. I was able to get the gap.”

Dombrowski played it perfectly, riding discretely and patiently waiting for his moment, before pouncing to gap De Marchi.

The victory counted for the first U.S. stage win since 2019 when Chad Haga won the final time trial in Verona.

And it was also good for Dombrowski’s first pro win outside the United States (or, to be more precise, Utah).

“Joe D” closed the circle Tuesday he started with the “Baby Giro” in 2012.

Dombrowski is no baby anymore, and now he’s a winner of a stage at the Giro d’Italia. And second overall on GC.