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Cyclocross

Mini but mighty

Which of the four riders currently leading America’s two premier cyclocross series have you not heard of: Georgia Gould, Ryan Trebon, Jesse Anthony or Amy Dombroski? If your answer was Dombroski, you’re probably not alone. Dombroski, who is leading the North American Cyclocross Trophy (NACT) series, has shown herself to be the revelation of the 2008 cyclocross season so far, having taken big wins at the October 11-12 Erdinger Gran Prix of Gloucester. Just 21 years old, the two-time U23 national ’cross champ stands a mere 5 foot 1 inches. So just who is Amy Dombroski?

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By Fred Dreier

Dombroski is small, but tough. How small? Is that a 12oz glass?

Dombroski is small, but tough. How small? Is that a 12oz glass?

Photo: Steve Frothingham

Which of the four riders currently leading America’s two premier cyclocross series have you not heard of: Georgia Gould, Ryan Trebon, Jesse Anthony or Amy Dombroski? If your answer was Dombroski, you’re probably not alone.

Dombroski, who is leading the North American Cyclocross Trophy (NACT) series, has shown herself to be the revelation of the 2008 cyclocross season so far, having taken big wins at the October 11-12 Erdinger Gran Prix of Gloucester. Just 21 years old, the two-time U23 national ’cross champ stands a mere 5 foot 1 inches.

So just who is Amy Dombroski?

A native of Jericho, Vermont, Dombroski was a lifelong ski racer with ambitions of making the United States ski team when she suffered a string of knee injuries in 2005. Having moved from Vermont to Steamboat Springs, Colorado, Dombroski again relocated, this time to Boulder to rehab at the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine, and live with her brother, Dan, who raced bikes for the University of Colorado.

“I ended up borrowing my brother’s cyclocross bike, because that was my only way to get around town,” Dombroski said. “It came pretty naturally. Stuff like cornering was pretty innate from skiing. And I had always liked aerobic sports.”

Dombrowski (r) and brother Dan

Dombrowski (r) and brother Dan

Photo: Fred Dreier

Dombroski jumped in a handful of criterium, road and mountain bike races flying the colors of the CU Cycling team. After finishing second at the 2006 Mike Horgan Hillclimb to Alison Powers, Dombroski caught the eye of the Boulder-local Excel Sports team, which offered her a spot on the roster. When the 2006 cyclocross season rolled around, Dombroski’s brother convinced her to jump in a local race.

“I absolutely hated it. I was on the verge of tears it was so bad,” Dombroski said. “Why would anyone do this stupid sport where you jump on and off your bike? I was very frustrated.”

Frustrated but talented. It wasn’t long before Dombroski was challenging the local elite women, and beating them. At the 2006 USA Cycling national championships in Rhode Island, Dombroski ran away with the U23 title just months after first jumping on a ’cross bike.

Success at the U23 level in cyclocross didn’t translate into pro contracts, however. Dombroski spent 2007 racing local road events for Excel Sports, working a data entry job and trying to get to NRC events. At the 2007 national championships road race, Dombroski made the chase group which rode on the heels of Kristin Armstrong and eventual winner Mara Abbott. The result confirmed Dombroski’s suspicion that her physical talents were largely untapped.

“I was riding for Excel, but how do you bridge the gap to get to the pro level — I didn’t know,” Dombroski said. “I was getting results on the local level but didn’t have the support or money to get to national races. I was frustrated. TIAA-Cref had this great development team, so did the local Rio Grande team for men, but there was really nothing for women.”

Dombroski was put in touch with Michael Engleman, who runs the United States Women’s Cycling Development Program (USWCDP). Engleman saw that Dombroski was a talent on the rise, and put her in contact with Webcor Builders. The team added Dombroski to their road roster for 2008.

For cyclocross, Dombroski flew the pink and purple colors of VeloBella, and her results in 2007 earned her a spot on the elite U.S. squad for the UCI world championships in Treviso, Italy. She finished 21st, the third American.

One month later, Dombroski found herself in a drastic life change. Having won the Tom Danielson scholarship at Fort Lewis College, Dombroski was enrolled in Freshman courses and had moved to Durango. She was burn out from a long ’cross campaign, and was just weeks away from the first road races with Webcor.

Dombroski was rarely in Durango for her first semester of school. She traveled with Webcor to Australia and New Zealand for the opening rounds of the World Cup. She raced in California and Oregon, returning every other week to cram for exams.

“Everything was thrown at me at once and it was really overwhelming. I had a really difficult time with it and was on the verge of cracking — Engleman helped me out huge,” Dombroski said. “I was teaching myself to course material, and it just didn’t make sense to be there. I had this huge support crew back in Boulder that I really missed.”

Dombroski finished out the semester and then pulled out of Fort Lewis. She moved back to Boulder to focus on racing. A few weeks later, Dombroski was on a plane to France to compete in the premier women’s stage race, the 10-day Tour de l’Aude. She held aspirations of finishing five to seven days.

“On day seven I got dropped like 15k in, I think I was the third person to get dropped. A group of us rode 60km in the wind and I wanted to quit,” Dombroski said. “The other girls were content to get time cut. Something told me that I wanted to keep going and finish so I rode the next 20km by myself.”

The other women missed the cut, but Dombroski stayed in. But her L’Aude came crashing down three days later on the final stage. Only 20km in, Dombroski was sandwiched between two girls and crashed, landing on her face and badly cutting her chin and suffering a concussion.

The big miles from her first pro road season paid dividends when ’cross rolled around. When she rolled into Gloucester, Dombroski knew she had the legs for the win.

“It was something I thought I was capable of, but it was very exciting to win,” Dombroski said. “Then I came back to Colorado and got super sick. It was a blow to be at the top and then be bedridden in the course of four days.”

Dombroski says she realizes she doesn’t yet own the horsepower to ride alongside Luna riders Gould and Katerina Nash. Gould, Nash and Rachel Lloyd both rode minutes ahead of her at the USGP opener in Lousiville, and the fifth and sixth rounds of the NACT in Boulder.

But she believes that on her best day, she can challenge for a podium spot — landing in the top-five is her goal for the 2008 elite championships. And after that, Dombroski has her eyes on the 2009 world championships, a fruitful road season with Webcor and another full year of improvement.

“What do I think I’m capable of doing — I want to be elite national champion for cyclocross someday,” Dombroski said. “While I’m feeling discouraged right now and a little bit cracked I think in another two weeks I’ll be feeling a lot stronger.”

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