Ask Joe Dombrowski how he would rate his performance at the Amgen Tour of California, where he finished fourth overall, and he sounds like someone asked to describe an unremarkable meal or movie.
“It was okay,” Dombrowski told VeloNews. “Not bad. Not great.”
Dombrowski, and the Amgen Tour, returned to Mt. Baldy last week for the first time since 2012, where the young American had his breakthrough ride while a member of the Bontrager-Livestrong team, finishing fourth on the stage at age 21. He went on to win the GiroBio that year, ahead of Fabio Aru (Astana), and signed a two-year contract with Sky, however he lost much of the past two seasons due to a weakness in his left leg that was ultimately diagnosed as Iliac Artery Endofibrosis. Dombrowski had surgery in August, and spent the second half of the 2014 season recovering. He signed with Cannondale-Garmin in September.
Though he raced the Amgen Tour last year in support of overall winner Bradley Wiggins, this year was to be Dombrowski’s first attempt at a GC result in California since his 2012 breakthrough. He arrived in Sacramento proclaiming he was “fit and fast,” but picked up what he believes to be the same virus that forced teammate Andrew Talansky to withdraw on the first stage.
On Baldy, Dombrowski was in the lead group of three riders until Sergio Henao (Sky) launched an attack that prompted a race-winning counterattack by Julian Alaphilippe (Ettix-Quick-Step). Dombrowski finished fourth on the stage, passed by American Ian Boswell (Sky) in the final kilometer. He finished the race fourth overall, 37 seconds off the final podium.
“Overall, my performance was, I think, good,” he said. “Looking at it in the broader picture, it was successful in some regard, because coming off the last few years, with my health problems, putting together a real GC result is a step in the right direction for me. In that regard, it was successful. I wouldn’t say I went out and smashed it. I got a little bit sick during the week. I think Andrew Talansky was the first to get it, and then it passed around our team. Overall, my Tour of California was … alright.”
Asked to compare his time on Baldy to his 2012 ride, Dombrowski said they were quite comparable, though he said the circumstances of the hilly stage where much different. In 2012, Chris Horner, down on the classification, was on the move in the breakaway, forcing GC teams to chase up Glendora Mountain Road and across the ridge on a hot spring day. In 2015, the breakaway held no danger men, with Tinkoff-Saxo looking to preserve Peter Sagan as long as possible before the steep slopes of Baldy.
“Time-wise, it was about the same as in 2012,” Dombrowski said. “It wasn’t as hard of a stage this time. We rode the other climbs much easier than in 2012. We had a pretty big group over the first climb. The pace wasn’t quite as on as it was when Horner was in the breakaway. On that stage it was intense all day, like a European-style mountain stage. This time around it was slower-paced until we hit Baldy. Time-wise it was about the same, but the stage as a whole, was ridden easier. And last time it was hot, this time was kind of cold, actually.”
Dombrowski said that he averaged around 375 watts, or 5.7-5.8 watts per kilogram, on the final 5km — the steepest slopes of Baldy. (He weighs 143 pounds, or 65 kilograms.)
“As you may have seen on TV, I had a pretty big drop in power around 3-4km to go,” he said. “I went from feeling pretty good to not feeling very good. Around the last 25 minutes we were doing 5.7, 5.8 watts per kilo. Nothing amazing. Altitude comes into play a bit, at least at the top there, and that varies from rider to rider. Alaphilippe was maybe closer to 6 watts per kilogram.”
Like many American pros, Dombrowski is taking his a week’s worth of California fitness to this weekend’s USA Cycling national road championships in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Joining him from Cannondale-Garmin will be Talansky, Alex Howes, Ben King, and Ted King.
For Dombrowski, it will be the first time he’s raced a professional national championship.
“I’ve looked at the course profile, but I’m not familiar with it” he said. “I haven’t ridden it. It sounds like there is a climb every lap that, if ridden hard, is moderately selective.”
Though Cannondale will bring five strong riders, Dombrowski cited the “strange dynamic” that WorldTour riders can face when racing nationals against full domestic squads.
“First off, it’s nationals, and everyone wants to win,” he said. “There’s teamwork, of course you want to see your teammate win nationals, but every rider that starts, it would be nice to win. That’s combined with fact that, often times, full domestic squads, like a SmartStop or Jelly Belly, have an entire team at the race, where maybe BMC has two or three riders in the race. It can be hard for WorldTour guys to overcome that. If it’s a selective group and it comes down to playing the numbers game, you can only follow so much.”
Last year many pointed to Howes as having been the strongest rider in the field, though he finished a disappointing third. He’ll return as a top favorite.
“The course doesn’t seem to stand out to suit any one kind of rider in particular, but given the nature of the race, and the way nationals often races, it’s kind of a toss-up. If had to guess, someone who can climb and has a good kick at the end would be good bet. Obviously, the harder they go on the climbs, the fewer sprinter-type of riders will be there in the final. If I were to name someone as a favorite, I’d say Alex Howes would be a good bet. He won’t get dropped on the climb, and he can win a sprint out a group of 10-15.”
After nationals, Dombrowski said he would head to the Tour de Suisse, and possibly the Tour of Austria, before the Tour of Utah, and then the Vuelta a España. He’s also hoping to be selected to USA Cycling’s world championship squad, as the worlds will be held in his home state of Virginia.
“I’d love to do worlds, being from Virginia, this year would be cool,” he said. “I don’t think I’ll know whether I’ve been selected until a few weeks before the race. I would love to do it, but it will depend on how the latter part of my season goes, how everyone else is going, and what they are looking for in terms of team support and in terms of a leader.”