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Dombrowski continues quest to master grand tours’ mountains

The 25-year-old American has ridden three grand tours, including the Giro and Vuelta in 2016.

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Perhaps it’s no surprise which grand tour is Joe Dombrowski’s favorite. For a rider who won the “Baby Giro,” his first taste of the “real” Giro d’Italia this season convinced him.

“I really enjoyed the Giro,” Dombrowski said. “It’s my favorite race I’ve done as a pro so far, partly because it suits me. It has longer climbs, less punchy than Vuelta a España. I usually ride well that time of year, May-June. I like the fans, the culture. I love the Giro!”

The Giro has that affect on many riders. The 25-year-old made a big splash in his Giro debut this year, riding into several key breakaways in a quest for a mountain stage victory on the sacred Italian pavement. He backed that up by completing the Vuelta for the second straight year, putting three grand tours into his legs in a little more than one year.

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That bodes well for Dombrowski, who is going into the offseason on a high note and already thinking about 2017.

“I think I have more depth in terms of handling the races and handling a lot of race days,” Dombrowski said of completing three grand tours. “It’s like when you go skiing. If you do 20 ski days in a season, you can be pretty good, but you get better if you ski every day for three weeks. You see more progression, pack skills, more tactically astute.”

In 2012, Dombrowski became the first American to win the so-called “Baby Giro,” a prestigious stage race for under-23 riders, beating none other than Fabio Aru — who won the 2015 Vuelta, which happened to be Dombrowski’s first grand tour attempt. Other big names in that “Baby Giro” included Ilnur Zakarin (ninth, now with Katusha) and Dombrowski’s current Cannondale – Drapac teammate Davide Formolo (eighth).

When he turned pro the next year, Dombrowski was hampered with setbacks in his two seasons with Team Sky. By the time he joined Cannondale in 2015, he was starting to hit his stride. He raced 68 days last year, including winning the overall at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah, and 81 in 2016 — a sign he’s maturing as a rider with the ability to go deeper into most challenging mountain stages, his preferred hunting ground.

“It’s been a long season, but I’m happy with it,” Dombrowski said. “It’s been a good year. I would have liked to have won a [Vuelta] stage, but in terms of how I was riding, I would say it wasn’t great. I was in a break with one opportunity to win, but Nairo [Quintana] won that day.”

That day was to Lagos de Covadonga, the day Quintana cracked Chris Froome and won the stage. Just being in the mix on those decisive, epic stages is where Dombrowski wants to be moving forward.

What’s next? After two Vueltas and one Giro, there’s only one remaining grand tour to check off the list for the 25-year-old.

“The Tour next year? Maybe. I’d really like to do the Giro again,” he said. “To be honest, I have no idea what they’re going to tell me.”

After seeing how the 2017 Giro course stacks up in what will be its centenary edition, it won’t be hard to guess which grand tour he’d pick.