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Joe Dombrowski ready to step into GC role at Astana if needed, but would prefer to stage hunt

Following the sacking of Miguel Ángel López from Astana-Qazaqstan, Dombrowski would be willing to ride for GC, but the American wants to keep stage hunting.

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Joe Dombrowski says he would be prepared to step up as a general classification rider in the wake of Miguel Ángel López’s departure from Astana-Qazaqstan, but he’d prefer to keep targeting stages.

López was sacked by Astana last week due to potential links to a Spanish police investigation into drug trafficking and money laundering. The Colombian has strenuously denied any wrongdoing but his sacking has left Astana with one less GC rider, having already lost another to retirement.

Dombrowski has previously tackled a grand tour with GC intentions and finished 12th at the 2019 Giro d’Italia. With WorldTour points at stake, a strong classification result can be very valuable to a team, and Astana may have to rethink its strategy for 2023.

“If that’s what the team wanted, then I’d be certainly happy to try. I guess it’s also just, can I finish on the podium? I don’t think so. Maybe someone thinks I can, but I think probably the answer is not,” Dombrowski told VeloNews. “Even if you’re top 10, I guess it’s that whole weighing if you think it’s better to be ninth to overall on the GC or to win a stage a mountain stage?

“I would prefer to win a stage. But if the team gives me an objective, whether that’s to help a GC rider, to win a stage, or to even try and do GC myself, I’m happy to do any of those things and do it the best I can. But if you ask me what’s most impactful? I think most people would say that winning a big mountain stage in a grand tour is more impactful than finishing 10th on GC. Obviously, it’s nuanced. When you’re 21 years old, if you finish top 10 it is worth a big contract so that probably makes sense. But when you’re 30 years old it has less value.”

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Much like last year, Dombrowski’s major targets sit earlier in the year with a return to the Giro d’Italia in May on the cards. It will be his eighth appearance at the Italian grand tour.

After a season where he felt as though the results didn’t reflect his form, he’s hoping to get off to a strong start. In 2022, he was pulled in at the last moment to ride his debut Tour de France, but that is not on the cards yet.

“After this camp, I’ll do another training camp and Teide at altitude. I’ll start the season at Ruta del Sol, then Gran Camiño, Catalunya, back to Teide for altitude, Tour of the Alps, and then the Giro d’Italia, and then after that, I don’t know,” he said. “That’s kind of what the first part of the season will look like. I would say the Giro was kind of the objective, but if I can show well already in February or March at some of the other races on my calendar that might be good too.”

López leaving

The off-season was thrown into turmoil last week when Astana sacked its top rider, Miguel Ángel López, for his potential connections with a Spanish police investigation into drug trafficking and money laundering.

López was suspended by the team earlier in the year following reports about his link to the investigation, but he was subsequently reinstated due to a lack of evidence. Last week, the team said new information about the possible link had come to light, though López has categorically denied the allegations.

The Colombian had been with his team in Altea preparing for the new season when the news dropped and he abruptly left.

“I don’t have too much to say, because I don’t really know anything beyond what I’ve read in the media. He was here at the camp, and then he just left. We weren’t really told anything,” Dombrowski said. “I only know what I saw from the statement from the team and then I had read some of these other reports, which seem like at the moment somewhat speculative, but you can’t really say if we don’t know.

“It’s obviously not what anyone wants. I was thinking about it in the context of how does it affect the team and me? Last year, at the Giro, we had two GC leaders. Now, neither of those guys is on the team. So, how does that change things?

It’s quite unclear how López’s departure will impact things for Dombrowski and the team as a whole. Mark Cavendish is rumored to be joining the team for 2023 and has reportedly met with the squad in Altea.

If the Manxman does join the team next season, it could ease the pressure on riders like Dombrowski as the squad looks to better its UCI points haul in 2023. With the Giro d’Italia on his program for next year, the American is unlikely to race a grand tour with Cavendish or, indeed, GC leader Alexey Lutsenko.

“I don’t think that we have a GC rider for the Giro. So, for me, that probably leaves more opportunities to kind of chase stages,” he told VeloNews. “At the same time, I guess what I saw in the Giro this year is you have opportunities when there’s not a GC rider, and you can chase stages if you’re a climber like me. But on the other hand, for example, with Nibali in the Giro, it’s also an opportunity in the sense that maybe you can’t go in the breakaway, but if you can stay with him, until the last climb, and it’s a group of only 10 riders left, you can be there with a bottle or gel or whatever. That’s also valuable. In a way, I almost prefer to have a GC rider, and sometimes you can kind of fill both of those roles.”

Contract year

In the background of Dombrowski’s targets this year is the fact that he will be out of contract with Astana at the end of the season. He joined at the start of 2022 after two years with UAE Team Emirates and a five-year stint with EF Education.

There is some pressure to perform if he hopes to secure another contract, whether it’s at Astana or elsewhere, but he doesn’t see it as anything more than the usual stresses and strains of a cycling season.

“I don’t think there’s ever not pressure, or I would just say, if you don’t feel some pressure, then you’re probably not in the right place,” Dombrowski said. “If you have great results closer to signing a contract, it probably impacts the contract more than if they happen the year before. But in the end, you can never kind of rest on your laurels.

“You could go crash and break your leg in the first race of the season next year and now what? Then you would think well, at least I had good results last year, and people might still believe. I don’t think it’s productive to operate in a constant mode of high stress, but I think that there’s an ideal amount of stress that acts as a stimulus. If you’re shaking it’s probably too much stress but if you’re too lackadaisical, then also you’re not going to have the results.”

Dombrowski has enjoyed his time with the Astana squad so far, but whether or not he stays for another contract could depend on how the team develops ahead of the 2024 season. The team will have a lot of riders up for renewal at the end of next year, opening the door for a major overhaul, if the team wants it.

“I haven’t really thought about it too much. If they’re happy with me, and like, depending on how this next season goes, and also how the team is going and what direction they’re going, then potentially, yes,” he said when asked if he hoped to stay put beyond next year.

“I would say there are all kinds of factors that will maybe tilt my decision one way or another. Also, Miguel is now out of the team, so I’ll be interested to see what direction the team aims to go going forward from this year.”