I guess it’s not too outlandish a thought that an accomplished mountain bike racer is coaching a rising star of road racing. Ok, maybe it’s a little different.
Here is a little background. Joe Dombrowski and I first met at a mountain bike clinic I put on at the Greenbrier Challenge in Maryland. He and his Dad were looking for something to do, and for them riding with me was a good way to see some good lines and get a few tips. A year later I got a message from a local racer, saying, “hey you have to ride with this kid, he’s flying!” So, as I have done many times with other budding talents, I took him on an easy spin, thinking I might give him some pointers.
Needless to say that was the last time I rode my mountain bike on a road ride with Joe Dombrowski! He was indeed a natural climber — a little choppy in his pedaling but full of energy and not afraid of long rides. We half-wheeled each other to the top of Massanutten Mountain, both smiling from the effort.
For my part, I was just passing on some knowledge, and I had a few state championship road titles and NRC races for background, which was enough to get him started. That was four years ago.
After some dabbling in mountain biking (including the Shenandoah 100) and fair bit of cyclocross racing, he decided to pursue road racing, partly because there are more job opportunities. So I started giving him some training advice, and he took it seriously. He got faster and stronger with every workout, and so I kept advising. Our relationship is a bit more like training partners and friends that enjoy some serious over-the-top training rides while chatting about global politics, economics and training science.
So, needless to say, he has taken off like a rocket. In 2010 after riding for Haymarket Bikes he started the Tour of Utah as a guest rider with the Axel Merkx Bontrager-Livestrong Squad and got some attention.
In the last year Joe has shocked the peloton as he demolished race after race, but his biggest win was the breakthrough at the amateur Giro d’Italia, often called the Baby Giro.
In the pro ranks, he’s taken the best young rider jerseys at the Amgen Tour of California, the Tour of Utah, the Tour of the Gila. A top-5 finish on Tour of California’s queen stage confirmed his staying power.
Last week was a treat watching him put a scare into some of the best riders in the world in the USA Pro Cycling Challenge by attacking the lead group with Christian Vande Velde, Vicenzo Nibali, Tejay van Garderen and others on the final climb of the race. I’d guess it’s a good sign when Phil Liggett announces your name as the future of the Tour de France.
Perhaps the great experiment of a pro mountain biker coaching an amateur road racer to a quick rise to success is not so random, but the result of an awesome meshing of good friends from different generations that both love to hammer. In my mind the hands-on riding time we have allows me to see exactly what he is doing in training and make more agile adjustments to his riding and training practices. To me its the difference between taking a dance class or looking at a book about dance to become a better dancer or taking an online course.
If you do look at many of the superstars on the road, you’ll see that a lot of them come from an off-road backround. Cadel Evans, Jakob Fuglsang, Fredrik Kessiakoff, Tom Danielson and Peter Sagan even started their careers in mountain biking for the team I race for, Cannondale Factory Racing!
It isn’t just coincidence that great mountain bikers make awesome roadies.
The top 3 reasons mountain bikers make good roadies:
1. You have to have exceptional handling skills to drink a beer while riding down a trial.
2. It takes serious mental toughness ride 100 miles through mud with no chamois cream!
3. You have to be a good climber (since there are not many flat mountains).
I have no doubt in my mind that my dirt background is actually an advantage for Joe, especially when combined with the personal experience I have had working with Hunter, president of Peaks Coaching group, which has given me the skills to apply a lot of my ideas.
The background I have racing to 10 stage race wins on the mountain bike give me a unique perspective on training and racing for road, and I am no stranger to stage race prep, tactics and recovery.
For sure my training style is unorthodox. Some things are still a work in progress, but to put in the massive amount of training one needs to be competitive in the hardest events in the world, I have learned an important lesson; that a key part of training is simply enjoying the training.
A good example was the Virtual tour of Virginia we did this spring. Joe, Virginia state road champ, Keck Baker and I motorpaced against the winning GPS files of the Tour of Virginia. OUCH! 200 miles of motorpacing through the mountains, chasing the shadow of a virtual peloton! It wasn’t easy, but it was FUN.
It also rendered some great specific skill practice, as well as forced us to work on adaptation to leg speed and fluctuations of power demand that came in handy for a top race like the Tour of California. It was also great to work with Joe on some finer points of racing, like being on your toes. The Moped flatted doing 60 down Panther Gap, and lets just say it was little scary and leave it at that.
The long and short of how we made such a successful partnership is that I think I wanted a wicked-fast training partner that could keep up with me and hammer. Check.
Joe crashing in my basement for more than week for pre-season training seems like last month. My wife Erin cooking dinner while Joe played Thomas the train with my son Conrad while I sorted out the diabolical route for the next day on the computer will all be fond memories when Joe ships off to race with the big boys in Europe.
In the long run I will coach more athletes in both disciplines, but for now I am sticking to my mantra: “do simple things well.” The goal is to keep racing until I am at least Tinker’s age, and be a good dad, husband and coach for Joe.
In retrospect, attention to process over results has been one key to getting this far, and I believe if we keep things grounded and fun, we will continue to make steady progress on the the road to the Tour de France!
Good things happen when some good effort goes in the right place with honest intentions.
It’s all just back to normal adventure in a few weeks after we wrap up our respective races. Joe is going to the worlds, I am doing the final tie-breaking National Ultra Endurance Series race and Pisgah Stage Race. It won’t be long before it’s time for us to hit some dirt adventure when the drop bars go wild at Guns, Grits and Gravel.
Jeremiah Bishop’s occupation has always been Adventurer/Explorer, which led him to his career as a pro mountain biker. He races full-time for Cannondale Factory Racing, has over 100 race wins, including eighth place at worlds, and is a two-time U.S. national champion in short track and marathon. Jeremiah is an ace stage racer and a star of the ultra endurance race scene. He is also a cycling coach (on pavement as well as dirt) and stays true to his adventurer roots by fishing, hosting the Alpine Loop Gran Fondo charity event and getting in extra time outdoors with his family. Check out Jeremiah’s regular Singletrack.com column with pro tips about racing, training and life, Go Big or Go Bigger