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Giro d'Italia

Power analysis: Joe Dombrowski’s long-awaited Giro d’Italia win

We dive into the American's power numbers from stage 4 of the 2021 Giro d'Italia.

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It’s been a long time coming – when Joe Dombrowski (UAE-Team Emirates) won the Baby Giro back in 2012, many thought that he was the next big thing. The Virginia native went on to win the youth classification at the Tour of Utah that year, a race that he would win outright in 2015. Dombrowski made the jump to Team Sky in 2013, but was plagued by injuries, and struggled to find a spot in the best stage racing team in the world.

Two years later, he was back to his American roots, riding with Team Cannondale-Garmin where he would spend the better part of four years. But the results didn’t quite live up to the hype. Once touted as the next grand tour star, Dombrowski struggled to find his way in cycling. But that all changed on the climb to Sestola.

Stage 4 of this year’s Giro d’Italia was an odd one. It was a cross between a sprint stage and a mountain stage, with 82km of pan-flat roads, leading into a saw tooth profile for the final 100km. Despite only three categorized climbs in the race handbook, the riders would climb over 1,800m (5,950 feet) in the mountainous second half. The climbs throughout the day were perfect for Dombrowski, lasting about 5 to 15 minutes at a time, they were neither too long nor too short. A pure climber would struggle to break away before the final climb, while a puncheur could find the pure elevation gain insurmountable.

The stage began with a massive fight for the breakaway. Probably half the peloton wanted to be in it, as they knew the GC teams would likely let the breakaway take the stage win. Victor Campenaerts (Qhubeka-Assos) and Quinten Hermans (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert) were the first riders to gain a significant gap, and it was another 20 or so kilometers before the breakaway would fully form. Dombrowski followed the attacks and went across to the break in a large group, which moved away from the peloton in the pouring rain, as the climbs loomed in the distance.

Joe Dombrowski's effort to make the break in stage 4 of the 2021 Giro d'Italia.
Joe Dombrowski’s effort to make the break in stage 4 of the 2021 Giro d’Italia.

Dombrowski – making the breakaway:
Time: 17:43
Average Power: 345w (5.1w/kg)
Normalized Power: 357w (5.3w/kg)
Average Speed: 49.2kph (30.6mph)

As we look through Dombrowski’s power file, his peak power numbers are not all that striking. How is this guy in the WorldTour – let alone winning a grand tour stage – if he’s only putting out 5w/kg for 20 minutes?

Professional cycling is all about sustainability and repeatability. Especially in a breakaway, it’s all about resistance to fatigue, and that’s exactly what we see in Dombrowski’s power file, as he pushed between 4.5w/kg and 6w/kg up every single climb, for over five hours. Add in mental fatigue, pouring rain, and the stress of racing down slippery descents, and it’s easy to see why there’s much more to pro cycling than pedaling hard.

Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers) in the maglia rosa took up pacing duties at the front of the peloton, but not before letting the breakaway’s gap extend to more than six minutes as they neared the first few climbs. This is where we see Dombrowski’s ability to repeat 5 to 15-minute sub-threshold efforts came into play. Because Dombrowski was riding below his threshold, he was able to save his energy for the final few kilometers of the stage when it matters most.

Dombrowski's repeated sub-threshold efforts on climbs in the middle of the stage
Dombrowski’s repeated sub-threshold efforts on climbs in the middle of the stage.

Dombrowski – climbs in the middle of the stage:
Time: 59:37
Average Power: 296w (4.4w/kg)
Normalized Power: 324w (4.8w/kg)

Rossena Climb:
Time: 8:58
Average Power: 323w (4.8w/kg)

Monte Testa:
Time: 6:17
Average Power: 327w (4.9w/kg)

La Stella:
Time: 5:28
Average Power: 315w (4.7w/kg)

unclassified climb:
Time: 5:59
Average Power: 330w (5w/kg)

Castello di Carpineti:
Time: 11:03
Average Power: 370w (5.5w/kg)

The next major test was the Montemolino climb that came with 50km to go. Dombrowski was one of the riders pushing the pace in the breakaway, who were chasing a small group of three that had gone up the road. As we can see in Dombrowski’s file, the pace was ratcheted up as the breakaway climbed up from the valley to the top of the Montemolino climb. Less than half of the break remained as they sprinted for the mountain points at the summit, and then there were only two climbs left to go.

Dombrowski – Montemolino:
Time: 32:09
Average Power: 332w (4.9w/kg)
Peak 20min Power: 355w (5.3w/kg)
Final 2km: 406w (6.2w/kg)

After a short descent, the reduced breakaway hit the Montecreto, a 4km climb with an average of 7.3 percent. Saving his matches yet again, Dombrowski rode the climb at ~340w (~5w/kg); and with the peloton still five minutes behind, it was looking like he would have his chance at the stage win.

Cruelly, the Giro organizers saved the hardest climb for last, the Colle Passerino – and even then, there was still a 2.5km rain-soaked descent to take on before the riders would finally see the finish. At 4.3km at an average of 9.5 percent, the Colle Passerino would break the legs of nearly every rider in the breakaway, except for Dombrowski.

Alessandro De Marchi (Israel Start-Up Nation) led the American up the lower slopes of the climb since De Marchi had a chance to take the maglia rosa for the first time in his career. The Italian caught the few breakaway riders that were still up the road, and soon there was only Dombrowski left on his wheel. Without much of an attack or even an acceleration, Dombrowski rose out of the saddle and began dancing away from De Marchi – a horrible, painful-to-watch dance that looked like he had ants in his pants.

Dombrowski held a gap of just 13 seconds at the top of the climb, as he slapped it into the big ring and began sprinting down the descent.  Two kilometers later, Dombrowski took his first-ever stage win in a grand tour, and one of the biggest victories of his professional career.

Dombrowski's effort on Colle Pesserino
Dombrowski’s effort on Colle Pesserino.

Dombrowski – Colle Passerino:
Time: 14:18
Average Power: 374w (5.5w/kg)


Dombrowski's power file from stage 4 of the 2021 Giro d'Italia
Dombrowski’s power file from stage 4 of the 2021 Giro d’Italia.

Dombrowski – Giro d’Italia stage 4 (without neutral zone):
Time: 4:54:26
Average Power: 284w (4.3w/kg)
Normalized Power: 314w (4.7w/kg)
Average Heart Rate: 137bpm
Max Heart Rate: 167bpm
Kilojoules Burned: 5010 kJs
Rain: Lots


Power Analysis data courtesy of Strava 

Strava sauce extension 

Riders: Joe Dombrowski