Dombrowski Q&A: Eating ice cream, being the Great White Hope, and more

21-year-old American Joe Dombrowski talks about riding with team Sky in his rookie season, being hyped by the media and more

BOULDER, Colorado (VN) — He’s taken his first big pulls in the European pro peloton, and he’s gotten his first taste of living abroad. Neo pro Joe Dombrowski has also gotten his share of media coverage, notably a full spread in the Washington Post.

He’s now with the world’s best team, Sky, and training under Dave Brailsford and co., the crew who created last year’s Tour de France machine. He’s a 21-year-old with massive potential, but he realizes that’s all it is so far: Potential. VeloNews caught up with Dombrowski late last week, via e-mail. Here’s how the young pro is fairing across the pond thus far.

VeloNews: Well, how’s life in the bigs? How are you taking to it?
Joe Dombrowski: I’m enjoying myself thus far. It’s been a lot of changes for me in these last few months, but overall I think I’m handling it pretty well.

VN: Ever catch any flack for signing with a British team, rather than an American outfit?
JD: After the initial announcement last year, a lot of people asked me why I didn’t go to one of the American teams. I suppose it was a consideration, but what defines an American team now? Cycling is so international that teams’ nationalities are really only determined by where they are based out of. Often the teams’ rosters are pretty mixed. The primary consideration for me was that the team was English speaking, which Sky is, and beyond that I didn’t really care too much about the team’s nationality.

VN: You’ve gotten a lot of attention lately, always from us at VeloNews, but now something like the Washington Post. Does that surprise you? How are you handling all that? Are you comfortable?
JD: To me it is a little bit surprising. I’ve had an awful lot of media attention for a young kid that has yet to do anything noteworthy as a professional. Sure, last year I had a strong season. I showed well in the amateur races in Europe, and I raced well amongst the pros in the American stage races, but I think everyone knows that the European peloton is another level. I have time, and I’m more concerned with continuing to learn, develop, and fit in this year than I am with any personal results. I’m comfortable dealing with the media, but I’m not always so comfortable with being hyped up. Time will tell how I adapt to racing at the top level, and while I don’t mind speaking with the media, and I recognize it is part of my job, I don’t necessarily appreciate being labeled the great white hope either.

VN: Sky is so good. Last year, and right now. Seems like too good for some people, suspicion-wise. Dave Brailsford came out and addressed the matter the other day, clearly frustrated. As a rider on the team, is the weight of cynicism exasperating?
JD: To be honest, I would say that the cynicism is somewhat justified. That’s an unfortunate reality for young riders like myself but it is the cost of cycling’s past transgressions. How many times have cycling fans been lied to? There’s a lot of data floating around out there pointing towards a newer, cleaner cycling. We can look at VAM and calculated watts per kilo figures. Those metrics are tangible and directly comparable and we can see that racing has slowed down. Does that mean that doping doesn’t exist anymore? No. It does mean that there are less guys cheating, and the benefits for those that are cheating are minimized to the point that the benefit is somewhat negligible, especially considering the potential cost. At the very least, it’s a step in the right direction. I think it is the job of my generation to change cycling’s cynical public perception. Perhaps that is an unfair weight on our shoulders, but I think that’s reality.

VN: For this year to be a success, what do you have to do? What’s next for you?
JD: I am back at my new home base in Nice this week. I’ll be racing next at Criterium International.

For this year, my personal goals have little to do with attaining personal results. I think my first season will be a success if I can continue to learn and develop as a rider, fit into and help the team, and be comfortable living and racing in Europe. I’ve spoken with Brailsford on this very subject on several occasions. He keeps stressing to me that he doesn’t really care too much about what I do on the bike this year but that it is a priority that I am comfortable in a new environment. I haven’t spent a lot of time in Europe before this year, so just the adjustment to living somewhere new is a lot to cope with, nevermind learning to race at the top level.

I’ll continue with my head down working towards my goals and dreams, but I also recognize that the first year will be difficult. I think eventually the results will fall into place, maybe not as quickly as I’d like, but regardless it’s not worth stressing about this early on.

VN: Lastly… is it still fun for you?
JD: Ha. Good question. It certainly is more of a job now. I don’t think I will ever have as much fun on any team as I did the last two years with Bontrager. We were all young guys with similar interests and while cycling is what brought us together, we were friends off the bike as well. The atmosphere at Team Sky is great, but a lot of my teammates are married and some have children. It’s just a different experience. I don’t think we are all going to go out for ice cream every night like I would with my teammates last year. That being said, I still love racing, and when I’m at home training I still look forward to going out and riding my bike every day. To be successful in this sport you have to love it, otherwise it’s just too hard.