Joe the giant killer

Bontrager youngster was third in the Amgen Tour's queen stage on Saturday

ONTARIO, California (VN) — “Today we’re going to attack; we’re going for the stage win.”

You might think this sort of pre-stage confidence in Ontario on Saturday came from Tom Danielson (Garmin-Barracuda), Chris Horner (RadioShack-Nissan) or Robert Gesink (Rabobank). If you did, you’d be wrong; older, wiser pros rarely give away their play so easily.

But a 20-year-old kid like Joe Dombrowski doesn’t know any better. Axel Merckx, the sport director for the Bontrager-Livestrong team has, perhaps, yet to teach that lesson to Dombrowski or his teammates, all under the age of 23 and promising talents.

Not more than six weeks ago, Dombrowski was racing the Koppenberg circuit race, a staple of the local racing scene on the Front Range of Colorado, in his tune-up for the SRAM Tour of the Gila. Today, he rubbed shoulders with each of the aforementioned riders, some of whom have been racing about as long as he’s been alive, on one of the hardest days of racing in the United States in recent memory.

But Dombrowski said he was going for the win, and only three men were able to keep him from that goal.

“At the start of the season, I sat down with my coach and typed out a set of goals,” Dombrowski told VeloNews after the finish. “One of those goals was to target this stage and I also wanted to win the best young rider jersey. Earlier on this week I was struggling a little bit, but today… I don’t know if I’m in it now. But it was definitely a good ride.”

He is, and it was. The 6-foot-2, 150-pound Dombrowski put together the most impressive ride of his short career, and now sits 1:08 seconds behind Wilco Kelderman of Rabobank in the best young rider classification. Overall, he sits 12th, at 3:38 back. Dombrowski will leave the Amgen Tour agonizingly close to his jersey goal, but can take even more confidence from his blistering ride up Mount Baldy.

This week has proven to many that Bontrager-Livestrong deserved its spot in the Amgen Tour of California.

“We’ve shown that we have a really strong and united team,” Merckx said. “Although they’re really young they’re still out there to get results.”

And get results they did. Before Mount Baldy, 20-year-old Lawson Craddock was sitting in 10th place in the overall classification. He slipped off the pace on the iconic stage with its excruciatingly steep slopes, but the experience could not have been better.

For Dombrowski, the success wasn’t his first: in 2011, he finished third at the three-day Ronde de l’Isard in the French Pyrénées on stage 2, with its 20km finishing climb up to Superbagneres. Earlier this month at the Gila, he finished second on the first stage up the infamous Mogollon climb on his way to third overall at the UCI 2.2 category race.

And it surely won’t be his last success. He’s a young man of his word, and he’ll be going for the stage win again, no doubt.