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Sky lines up for ‘Neo-pro Joe’ in Colorado

American rookie is one of two leaders for the British Tour-winning squad at the USA Pro Challenge and is aiming for the top five

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ASPEN, Colo. (VN) — Joe, do you want the good or the bad news?

“Lets start with the good news,” said the young, slim American Dombrowski.

The good news is your team believes in you. But they kind of put this Colorado race on you.

“Yeah. I’ve been receiving a lot of tweets lately confirming that. It’s good. It’s good they believe in me. To have guys like Richie [Porte] and Chris [Froome] ride for you — not that there’s pressure, but a little bit of pressure.”

There’s a little bit of pressure, to say the least. Dombrowski, in his first season with Sky after a wildly successful campaign last season aboard developmental squad Bontrager, is one of the men tapped to ride for general classification here in Colorado. The other is Kanstantsin Siutsou — a major player in Froome’s Tour de France victory.

The kicker? The yellow jersey of the Tour is here, as is his top domestique, in Porte. And did Dombrowski ever think that a Tour winner would be taking pulls for him?

“No,” he told VeloNews on the eve of the race. “It seems a bit silly, doesn’t it?”

We’ll see about that much, of course. Objectively, the course suits a time trialist who can climb, as it lacks a truly race-breaking summit finish. There is a very sharp, but short, finishing climb into Beaver Creek, and an uphill time trial in Vail. It’s good for Dombrowski, but not great.

“We’re going in with two guys who we think can ride well here, and we’ll protect those guys and just see how they ride here,” said Sky sport director Dan Hunt. “We’ll see how it pans out, because we know everything about bike racing except how we operate at altitude. And this whole race is at altitude. We don’t know if the lads are going to have one good day, one bad day. Two good days, one bad day or whether they’ll just get better as the race goes on. My message to the other teams? We are not going to ride. At all. We’re not necessarily here to win the race. We’re going to try and race as well as we can, but we’re not prepared for this type of race.”

Dombrowski rode to a top 10 last year, though, and has shown he performs well in the Colorado and Utah mountains. Still, he doesn’t go into this race as any sort of favorite, given the fact that Colorado’s own Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) is still trying to wash a bitter Tour de France taste away, and Garmin-Sharp’s Tom Danielson just smashed up the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah, taking the overall on the final day.

“I think the race itself, if you were to look only at the courses, they’re not really that demanding. But I think altitude plays a big part and makes something that’s not particularly demanding a lot more demanding. Like we saw last year into Beaver Creek — not that hard of a climb, not big time gaps, but time gaps,” Dombrowski said, pointing to where he’d need to take time.

“Guys are going to be aggressive. I think it’s going to be a race like we saw last year, where it’s not just sit and wait for the mountaintop finish and then we race. I think it’ll be hard all week, especially for me, because the TT suits me more than like a dead-flat TT would, but still, there’s a lot of guys … Tejay, for example, is a really good time trialist. I think for someone like me, I would have to look to take time before then … because I can’t bank on taking time out of someone like Tejay in the time trial. It’s just not going to happen.”

Dombrowski is as mild-mannered a young rider as there is, and remarkably polite. It’s a bit surreal even for him that in one year, he’s gone from leading Bontrager to carrying the Sky flag into Colorado.

“It’s definitely a bit of an odd circumstance where you have the best guys on the team coming here, but with a very relaxed attitude,” he said. “They’ve just come off winning the Tour, and it’s sort of a break for them before rebuilding for the end of the season. But nonetheless, it’s still a big opportunity.”

He’s had to recalibrate his expectations. A week ago, Dombrowski wasn’t sure what role he’d be in here.

“Originally, I didn’t have any intention of riding GC here. With the team we’re bringing, no one would have expected me to have done that. Now that it seems that I am, I’d say, I wouldn’t say it’s impossible to win, but I also have to be realistic. It’s a race that suits me pretty well, but maybe not perfectly. Last year I think I was in the top 10. If I could improve upon that and be in the top five or on the podium, I’d be happy with that.”

Froome, meanwhile, is happy to do the work for others. And there’s got to be some pressure in that.

“One hundred percent. One hundred percent. … That’s professional cycling for you. … I think the old days where a Tour winner will never pull on the front or do any work, those days are gone,” he told VeloNews. “As a professional rider you’ve got a job to do in every race. And my job here, I think, would be to try and do something for my teammates.”

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