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Joe Dombrowski talks Tour de France debut, life at Astana, and TTs with Alexander Vinokourov

VeloNews catches up with US climber after his first Tour: 'I probably stick out like a sore thumb, like, 'who is this American on Astana?'

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No stranger to grand tours, Joe Dombrowski was only a beginner during the 2022 Tour de France.

It took Dombrowski 11 starts across the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España before Astana-Qazaqstan’s long, lean, climber machine got the call to make his Tour debut last month.

After racing through the Giro d’Italia earlier this season, the 31-year-old struggled for form at this summer’s Tour. But the experience of the world’s biggest race was worth the suffering.

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VeloNews caught up with the Virginian soon after he raced into Paris before returning to his home on the French Côte d’Azur.

‘It’s almost like people never knew you were a professional cyclist …. And then it’s like, ‘oh, you did the Tour de France!’

Riders from the States like Powless and Dombrowski receive more home hype when on Tour. (Photo: Getty)

VeloNews: Joe, congrats on making it through three weeks in France. The crowds were huge the whole time and there was a notable U.S. presence both on the roads and in the peloton. How did it feel to race the Tour compared to the Giro or Vuelta? 

Joe Dombrowski: I would say the only thing that was strikingly different which was interesting to experience, especially now I’ve done over 10 grand tours is that the Tour stands apart in that it is in and of itself bigger than the sport.

Maybe this is because I’m American and there isn’t a great following of cycling in the greater public in the U.S. relative to traditional cycling countries, but I noticed a lot of people were following my race and the race in general because I was in it. It’s almost like, in some ways, people never knew you were a professional cyclist all this time. And then it’s like, ‘oh, you did the Tour de France!’

It was cool, like the last day to finish on that stage on the Champs-Élysées. It’s so iconic, right? In what other event in the world do you get to ride through the Louvre and do laps on the Champs and around Arc de Triomphe?

If you look back on your career when you’re finished, I think there are things that you want to have done, and probably number one on that list for most riders is the Tour de France. So it was something that was definitely a cool experience.

‘I probably stick out like a sore thumb, like, ‘who is this American on Astana?’’

Italians and Kazakhs make up 22 of Astana’s 30-rider roster. (Photo: Getty)

VN: This is your first season with Astana-Qazaqstan, and you’re booked in for one more season there, too. You’ve raced with a number of teams during your 12-year career, how does life compare at Astana?

Twenty-two of the team’s 30 riders come from Kazakhstan or Italy, how is the dynamic?

JD: I suppose from an outside point of view, I probably stick out like a sore thumb, like, ‘who is this American on Astana?’ But, actually, overall, I quite like the team.

It’s like a mix of Kazakh and Italian. The spoken language in the team is more or less Italian or Russian, but all the official emails and documents are all in English. When we’re around the dinner table or when when they speak in the radio, it’s mostly Italian. So it’s not much different to when I was at UAE Emirates.

In terms of my race program, that’s another factor. When you’re at this team, you get to do the races you want to do. If I look back this year, more or less everything I’ve wanted to do is what I’ve done. If you voice your opinion on this or that race, they listen. That’s nice because it’s definitely not like that on all teams.

Vino’s ‘still got it’

VeloNews spotted Alexander Vinokourov motor pacing behind a team van at this year’s Giro. (Photo: Andrew Hood)

VN:  Alexander Vinokourov is your team principal, how is he to ride for?

He’s only 10 years out of the peloton. I’ve seen him riding his gold Willier at both this year’s Giro and the Tour, and he’s not slowed down much! Does he ever ride with the team at training camps?

JD: “Vino” is at most of the big races, and his bike’s always there. When there’s an opportunity, like if the finish is, 60, 70K from the hotel and it’s a nice road then he typically goes on the bike. And I can tell you, he’s still pretty strong.

I remember in December, probably he was not in his best climbing shape, but we were doing some TTs on the flat [at training camp]. Of all the riders and him, he was definitely not the slowest. He’s still got it.

I found him to always be straightforward. You message him, you always get a quick response. He comes to all the big races and on the bus, the directors handle the meeting, but he also gives his insight. I’ve noticed on the bus he’ll speak with riders one on one in addition to the race meeting about what you should be looking to do and how things are going.