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Giro d'Italia

Joe Dombrowski: Working for Vincenzo Nibali at Giro d’Italia is like ‘riding with Kobe Bryant’

The American said the 'Giro is really starting' this week as GC fight ramps up.

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Riding for Vincenzo Nibali (Astana-Qazaqstan) in his final season is akin to working with the late basketball legend Kobe Bryant, according to Joe Dombrowski.

The American rider joined Astana over the winter and is a key component of Nibali’s support network at the Giro d’Italia this month as the Sicilian mounts his final GC challenge at the Italian grand tour.

Nibali will be bowing out from professional racing at the end of the season and Dombrowski hopes he can help him to something big before that happens.

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“I said in an interview earlier this year that it’s a bit like riding with Kobe Bryant or someone like that who is an icon of the sport,” Dombrowski said in Aprica after stage 16. “It’s his last year and I would love to see him do something special in this last week and if I can help him and be a part of that then that would be something that’s fun for me.”

Dombrowski was very visible on the front of the peloton during stage 16 as Astana tried to turn the hurt up a notch over the Mortirolo. Astana massed on the front of what was left of the main group with just under 80 kilometers to go and began stringing the group out.

Dombrowski was the last of the riders in front of Nibali and he guided him over the top of the Mortirolo before peeling off and letting the Italian take over on the very technical descent.

“Alexandr Shefer [ team DS] asked Vincenzo how he was feeling at the bottom of the Mortirolo, and we started to pull a bit, first with Fabio [Felline] and then with David [de la Cruz], and then I took over the last 3 or 4k from the top,” Dombrowski explained.

“That seemed to thin it out a bit and at the bottom of the descent I think some guys came back but it was maybe 15 riders or something. Then, Bahrain took over on this small climb before Aprica. It was pretty hard, I hung on for a while and then I was like job done.”

One of the strongest descenders in the peloton, Nibali gained a small advantage over the other GC favorites by the bottom of the Mortirolo. However, he was reeled back in soon after in the valley road before the final ascent to Aprica.

Nibali was ultimately dropped when the maglia rosa group began to split up with 10 kilometers to go. Richard Carapaz, Jai Hindley, and Mikel Landa went up the road and Nibali had to grind his way to the line alone, losing some 42 seconds to the pink jersey.

Though the big pressure didn’t result in a time gain, Dombrowski doesn’t think that it was a wasted effort.

“It was just to make it a hard day because, to be honest, if it finished at the bottom of the Mortirolo then it would be something different,” he said. “I could see when I looked back with one kilometer to go until the top of the Mortirolo there weren’t so many guys in the group and there were people suffering.

“If he really piles the pressure on then, well you saw that Pozzovivo crashed. It briefly reminded me of the Colle dell’Agnello in 2016 when he was pushing and Steven Kruijswijk more or less lost the race there. Then, when you come to a valley with a headwind, it’s not that you’re going to ride alone to the finish. We tried, and I look at it a bit that this week the Giro is really starting. I know that some people say that it has been a boring GC but when you see this last week it’s not so easy.”

Despite losing some time, Nibali still moved up the overall rankings and is now in fifth place overall at 3:40 behind the pink jersey.