Team Sky's Joe Dombrowski battled through several bloody noses Monday during stage 1 of the USA Pro Challenge in Colorado to finish near the front of the race in 18th place, just five seconds down on stage winner and current overall leader Peter Sagan (Cannondale).
The 97.6km stage ended with a bunch sprint among 17 riders who peeled off the front in the closing kilometer. Dombrowski, in a blood-stained jersey from his nosebleeds, led the next group across the line.
"I'm feeling alright, it was nothing too major," he said after the stage. "I think the dry air combined with heavy breathing caused a couple of nose bleeds today. I went back to the doctor's car and they gave me some gauze to put in there. So it was nothing serious."
As the first Team Sky rider to cross the line, Dombroswki lived up to his billing as leader for the Colorado race despite having Tour de France winner Chris Froome and rising star Richie Porte on the Sky roster. Froome finished stage 1 in 77th place, 4:59 down. Porte came in 103rd, more than six minutes off the lead pace.
"It was a harder stage than what I think a lot of people thought it was going to be," Dombrowski said. "The climb around 10k to go was pretty hard, and over the top there was a group of GC guys who went. Sagan went, and I went with Tejay [van Garderen]. It was just a bit disorganized, you know, where you had GC guys up the road without any teammates, but eventually it regrouped. We pulled back the two guys on the hill at 2km to go here, and it was safe sprint, so all OK."
The 22-year-old from Virginia, riding in his neo-pro season, now faces the pressure of leading what is widely considered the best team in the world in one of the biggest races in his home country. But Dombrowski appeared to be handling the extra pressure well.
"It's still important to have fun and just enjoy racing in front of my home crowd," he said. "But there is definitely a little bit of pressure when you've got Chris Froome and Richie Porte going back to get your bottles."
Dombroswki lost five seconds to potential GC rivals like van Garderen (BMC), Lucas Euser (UnitedHealthcare), Tom Danielson (Garmin Sharp), Janier Acevedo (Jamis-Hagens Berman) and RadioShack Leopard's Andreas Kloden and Andy Schleck, but he was pleased with his performance on the opening day.
"I think for the first day I was pretty sharp," he said. "And it was a harder day than what it looked like on paper. A lot of times I struggle on these first real punchy days, but then I find my legs later in the race. So hopefully later in the week I can do something. I managed to be right there in the front coming into the finish there, so I think I'm doing alright."