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Joe Dombrowski: New team, new ambition, same stage-hunting exploits in 2022

American climber talks the transfer to Astana Qazaqstan, the intensity of racing for the break, and the need for a little luck.

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It will be a case of same, but different, for Joe Dombrowski when he joins Astana Qazaqstan Team next year.

It’s a given that Dombrowski’s perennial stage-hunting exploits will continue with his new Kazakh squad. But 2022 will also see the American handed increased opportunity and responsibility in the team’s hunt for GC wins.

“The team wants me as a key climber, especially with a team like theirs and their history of grand tours. They see me alongside and helping some of those guys like [Miguel Ángel] López, [Vincenzo] Nibali and [David] de la Cruz,” Dombrowski told VeloNews.

Dombrowski’s two-year contract with Astana carries a similar job description to the free-wheeling, attacking position he enjoyed at former squad UAE-Team Emirates.

But after struggling for space in a roster focussed around Tadej Pogačar in the past two years, Dombrowski’s new deal will dial everything up a notch or three in 2022.

Also read: Dombrowski lands two-year deal with Aatana-Qazaqstan

“My role at UAE, where they have so many big riders, was more a support role. I didn’t really ever ride for GC. I did get some opportunities for stages, especially in grand tours, but the rest of the time was riding for others,” Dombrowski said in a call last week.

“I told Astana I felt I could do the same with a rider like López and support him or race opportunistically for stages – and they wanted similar. But I think at Astana, the way it will be next year, they’ll be wanting a lot from me – maybe to ride GC on some smaller races, to ride deeper for guys like López.”

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Dombrowski had one of his best seasons in 2021, claiming an emotional and long-awaited win at the Giro d’Italia and narrowly missing out on top honors on stage 3 of the Vuelta a España some months later.

However, with the knowledge that he wouldn’t have his contract renewed by UAE-Team Emirates, Dombrowski began looking for a new team well ahead of time. Talks across the WorldTour left the 30-year-old with one clear favorite, and the deal was done early – far before López’s high-profile return to Astana could throw a wrench in the works.

“I started talking with Astana earlier in the year, and it seemed like a really good option – going there really stood out to me. The sort of team that you could say they’ve evolved into, I felt like there would be good opportunities for me there,” Dombrowski said.

“I’d also heard good things from people. I feel like it’s always kind of a good barometer – what you hear from other riders and staff – because it’s difficult to know how a team is from the outside.”

The ever-intensifying battle for the break: ‘It’s a war’

Joe Dombrowski during stage 3 of the 2021 Vuelta a Espana
Dombrowski said that making the winning break is becoming harder than ever. (: Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)

Dombrowski closed the book on his time with UAE-Team Emirates with his palmarès-topping rides into the breaks at the Giro and Vuelta.

The Virginian’s exploits at the front of the race came in a season where the peloton was faster than ever – it could take half a stage for an attack to stick, and even the toughest mountain stages would be completed at well beyond 40kph.

It all made Dombrowski’s mission even harder.

“It’s a war to be in that break, I mean it. In the Vuelta sometimes it was taking 80 to 100K for the break to go – at the pace we were going, that’s nearly two hours,” he said.

“And it’s not easy to be in the break because as soon as the flag drops, the peloton closes the road and that’s it, or it’s going to take two hours. You can’t just go with every move for that long – or if you do, you’re in the break but you’re dead. It takes a little bit of racecraft and a little bit of luck.”

The increasingly ruthless racing at the top of GC meant that getting into the break was all the more important for a stage-hunter sniffing after success.

Primož Roglič won four stages of the Vuelta (two from time trials) while Egan Bernal won or hit the podium five times at the Giro d’Italia. Tadej Pogačar scored a hat trick at the Tour de France, once from a TT.

“It’s like a self-perpetuating machine. Realistically, you can count on one hand the number of guys that can either be on the podium for the GC at a grand tour or can win the sprint stages – or it’s probably 10 guys or less,” Dombrowski said. “So if you want a chance to win you know where you need to be.”

Making the most of every opportunity

Joe Dombrowski scored his biggest career win on stage 4 of the 2021 Giro d'Italia.
Joe Dombrowski won stage 4 of the 2021 Giro d’Italia and went a close-second on GC. (Photo: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)

Dombrowski came to within 22 seconds of wearing the leader’s jersey when he made the winning break and ground away each of his attacking companions to win stage 4 of this year’s Giro.

The possibility of pink was cruelly wiped out the very next day – the American was part of a high-speed crash that also took out Mikel Landa and Pavel Sivakov, and concussion ended his race.

Like racing for the break, Dombrowski acknowledged that a lot of pro cycling comes down to chance.

“There’s always an element of luck in racing. I felt that after winning the stage at the Giro there was also a really good chance I would take the pink jersey in the next days, given where I was on GC, and the form I had,” he said.

“I felt I was going really well and I typically get better in the third week. Then, the next day you’re out with a crash. You could say that’s unlucky but it’s also lucky that I managed to win the day before.

“That’s just how cycling is sometimes – you have to make the most of the opportunities while they’re there.”

Dombrowski has a new team and new opportunities for 2022. He’ll be hoping for a bit of luck, too.