Julich played key role in landing American U23 standouts
American U23 standouts Ian Boswell and Joe Dombrowski may have independently reached their decisions to sign their first UCI ProTeam contracts with Team Sky, but the Bontrager-Livestrong teammates, who have become fast friends over the past two years on the US-based development team, agree it's a move that should benefit them both.
"It was in a way a happy coincidence that we both had interest from Sky, and that was the case with a couple of other teams, too," Dombrowski told Cyclingnews. "But it just worked out that we both felt on or own that was the best place to go. We also recognized that we could sort of support each other well in making the transition there if we were on the same team, so I suppose it was a little bit of both."
Given the amount of interest that the two riders generated from WorldTour teams, it wasn't really much of coincidence that they shared offers from multiple squads looking to hire their talent and develop their potential. Boswell, who ran second at U23 Liege-Bastogne-Liege this year and finished fifth overall at the Tour of Utah, said he had been talking with eight teams before he finally chose Sky.
"After the Tour of Utah and my ride there I had interest from a lot of ProTour teams," Boswell said. "There are so many good teams out there that it really was a decision where I had to stop and slow down and think about, you know, it's easy to get excited. But there are so many good teams, and it's hard to choose just one, but at the end of the day I had to look at where was the best situation for me and my future."
Dombrowski, who turned heads in May at the Tour of California with a fourth-place stage finish atop Mt. Baldy – and then followed it with an overall win at the Baby Giro and consistent results against some of the best climbers in the world at the Tour of Utah and USA Pro Challenge – said he basically had his pick of which team he wanted to ride for next year.
"Initially I was a little stressed in making my decision," Dombrowski said. "Eventually I just sat down and wrote down a list of things that were important to me in choosing a team. Some of those things were that they were ideally English speaking and that they were progressive in training and nutrition and science and aerodynamics and all of that. I wanted to go to a team that was a clean program. There were a few factors that came into play, and that helped me narrow it down to a few teams that I was really interested in."
In the end, Team Sky's success at this year's Tour de France, and, more importantly, how the relatively new team climbed to the top of the podium of cycling's biggest Grand Tour, had enough draw to convince both riders to climb on board the black-and-blue train. Both Boswell and Dombrowski pointed to Sky's investment in staff and organization, as well as its commitment to remain on the cutting edge of training and equipment, as key factors in their decisions.
"For me, that was really a draw in being with a team that I think is kind of cutting edge with everything," Dombrowski said. "The other big draw for me was the caliber of riders who are the same kind of riders as me that I'll have to learn from there. When I really thought about it, I kind of naturally went to Sky, because I felt for me, even though they're not an American program, I felt like they would be the best fit and the best place for me to learn and develop over the next couple of years."
Beyond its cutting edge reputation and high-profile success at the Tour, Team Sky had a secret weapon in the battle to land Boswell and Dombrowski. Bobby Julich, the team's race coach, also played a key role in each rider's decision. Julich, who finished third overall at the 1998 Tour with Cofidis, forged his own career on European teams from 1995-2008 and was Sky's main contact with the two young Americans.
"Having Bobby Julich there, a guy who was in a similar situation as Joe and I when he came to the ProTour – it's different now, it's easier for Americans to make their way into the European peloton – but to have someone there who's gone the extra mile to make Joe and I get set up and make us feel comfortable with the team, stuff like that makes you feel kind of at home," Boswell said.
Boswell signed a three-year deal with Team Sky, while Dombrowski, who had briefly considered riding for Bontrager-Livestrong for part or all of next season, chose to sign for two years.
"They were pretty much OK with whatever I wanted to do," Dombrowski said. "In the end, I decided that I either wanted to do a whole year with Livestrong – but I felt like maybe I'd be spinning my wheels a little bit – or I just wanted to move straight up. And I decided to make the jump and do two years with Sky."
Julich's guidance came in handy again as the riders considered where they would live next year during their neo-pro season in Europe. Each had been leaning toward Gerona, Spain, already home to many European-based US pros, or Lucca, Italy, where USA Cycling has a house for the national teams that both riders have participated on. But Sky wanted the riders to live in Nice, where several other team riders have taken up residence. Julich, who also lives in the French city, stepped up as persuasive tour guide when Boswell and Dombrowski visited after the recent world championships.
"When they said they wanted us to live in Nice, I wasn't opposed to it, but I had never been there and didn't know anything about it," Dombrowski said. "When I went about a week ago, it was amazing. The weather seems really nice and there are a lot of good things to do off the bike, but it seems like the training is really good, too."
Now both riders will return later this month for a team meet-and-greet and an opportunity to find their first residences in what they hope will be the beginning of long careers in Europe, a continent both of them have visited extensively because of their racing but where they have never before had to put down roots. It will be just one of the challenges they'll face as they transition from a UCI Continental team to the pinnacle of the sport.
"It's different from being a European rider making that step to the pro ranks," Dombrowski said. "Obviously, for everyone making that step there is an adjustment period, but I think it's different for Americans, especially because living in Europe is going to be a change totally aside from the racing aspect of it."
Boswell, who has been chasing his cycling dreams since before he was 15 years old, said he's excited about the challenge of working his way back to the front of the peloton, where he's gotten used to riding in the U23 ranks, but admits he'll likely find it more difficult to pull off next year in the WorldTour.
"It's an interesting point in your career," Boswell said. "Because you're at the top of one level, but with just one signature on a paper your signing yourself to the bottom of the list again. It just goes on from here. In a way you're always working for it and trying to get there; that's you goal. But once it happens it's like, 'Wow! I've reached my goal, now I have to start setting new goals.