Joe Dombrowski is one of just three American riders who rode this year's Giro d'Italia, and in an exclusive diary for Cyclingnews, he shared his thoughts on the racing, revealed what goes on inside the peloton, and shared his own emotions of riding the Corsa Rosa.
He won a tough stage to Sestola in the 2021 Corsa Rosa and rode the Italian Grand Tour as part of the Astana Qazaqstan team led by Vincenzo Nibali, who fought to finish fourth overall in his last Giro d’Italia.
In this final diary update, Dombrowski talks about the final week of the race, his plans post-race and hopes of riding the Tour de France.
This Giro has finally come to a close and I’m heading home to Nice with my wife and parents, with a sense of fatigue, pride buta lso mixed emotions.
In my first blog for Cyclingnews before the Grande Partenza in Budapest, I said my wife and I would treat ourselves to a special dry aged wagyu beef if I repeated my 2021 stage win. For lots of different reasons I didn’t manage to win again and that’s the main source of my disappointment, but I think we’ll have the steak one night this week to celebrate reaching Verona and completing my tenth Grand Tour. I think I deserve it.
Racing almost daily for three weeks means the fatigue somehow dumbs your emotions and a sudden change routine leaves you feeling a little lost and melancholic. Fortunately, I have my wife and parents to lift me out of the Giro d’Italia and back into the real world in the next few days as my body also begins to recover.
To be honest, I finished this Giro with neither a feeling of disappointment, nor of great satisfaction. The initial plan was always to be a mountain helper for Miguel Ángel López and Vincenzo Nibali. With the loss of Lopez early in the race, it opened up some opportunities for me to target stages from the breakaway before I switched back to a support role to help Vincenzo end his final Giro in fourth overall.
I made the breakaway two or three times, but for one reason or another, it never panned out to be a day in which the break would make it to the finish. That’s the biggest source of my disappointment.
Then there were also occasions I had the freedom to jump in the break, and didn't make it. On the days that I was asked to stay in the peloton with Vincenzo, I could be there until there were just seven to ten riders left in the GC group. That’s certainly a strong show of form, vital help for the team and so satisfying too. But a stage win, or a real chance to play for one, never materialised. In cycling you always need a combination of a strong head, strong legs, and a little bit of luck too. I lacked the luck this year.
Was the Giro a snooze fest?
There's not a lot of time in the day-to-day shuffle of Grand Tour racing but I noticed commentary on social media that this Giro was a snooze fest. That’s interesting if also debatable.
From our side, it's impossible to have a good perception on how the race looks from the television. As I wrote in my previous diaries, Grand Tours are a total bubble, and there isn't much time or energy to dedicate to anything outside of being where you need to be on time, and doing your job in the race.
I do think this particular Giro did have some design elements which perhaps led to what some people have described as boring, at least from a GC perspective. Until the last week, the only real decisive days were on stage 4 to Mount Etna and stage 9 to the Blockhaus. Etna almost always sees the GC group remain intact, and Blockhaus finished with fairly minimal gaps. I read that after two weeks, the GC gaps were among the smallest in Giro history.
The other stages in the race often included long climbs, but too far from the finish to make a large impact. The last week crammed in a lot of hard stages, particularly the stage 16 to Aprica.
In my opinion, the placement of so many difficult stages at the tail end, may have blunted more aggressive racing from the GC contenders especially with Jai Hindley, Richard Carapaz and Mikel Landa pretty much on equal form. Of course, it is not us riders who design the course, but rather we paint the picture on the canvas laid out in front of us.
The most dramatic brush strokes came at the end and Saturday’s stage from Belluno to Marmolada finally ended the GC gridlock which had persisted throughout the race. Hindley put on an incredible show and deserved to become the first Australian to win the Giro d’Italia.
I was particularly impressed by the strength of the Bora-Hansgrohe team. Wilco Kelderman, Emanuel Buchmann, Lennard Kämna and Hindley all rode very well in the mountains, and managed to not only take part in the GC race, but also to contend for stage wins from the breakaway with Kämna.
We were discussing at dinner one night how you can sense how some riders are going, by their movement and breathing in the climbs. Hindley in particular, always looked incredibly "easy" to me, though I must be honest that his name was not top of my mind as the winner of this Giro, when we started in Budapest one month ago.
Vincenzo finished fourth overall and that’s a big result for him and for the Astana Qazaqstan team. It would have been great to see him on the podium in his last Giro but we have to be honest: the trio of Hindley, Carapaz, and Landa were a cut above the rest in this Giro.
My Giro alongside Vincenzo and Astana Qazaqstan has been like being at a language school as well as a Grand Tour.
The language predominantly spoken in the team is Italian, followed by Russian. While my comprehension of Italian is decent due to my French skills, and time in teams like UAE Team Emirates, I was never really able to speak in a way to contribute to a dinner table conversation, so I would mostly just sit there quietly while trying to understand and improve my Italian.
By the end of this Giro, some of the staff were joking that I was speaking Italian after just a month of total immersion. I’m certainly not fluent in Italian but it was interesting that I had built some confidence to jump in the dinner table conversation sometimes. In truth it’s probably a combination of fatigue-driven dinner conversation becoming more and more simplistic and also further integration into the team ma ‘va bene cosi’.
My race program going forward is yet to be confirmed, but it will either be a couple small races after the Giro, and a rest period. Or I will do the Tour de France. I'd love to take part in the Tour, as I have never done it in my career.
Regardless of what I do, I won't be doing much this week! There is constant stimulus and stress in a Grand Tour, with almost no time in the day to just do nothing.
The week after always feels a bit like when the lights go out and the music turns off at the party; a sense of withdrawal of sorts. It's a strange feeling to wake up to on Monday morning and during the first week but I am sure I will enjoy a bit of peace and quiet.
Thanks for reading my Cyclingnews diary during the Giro d’Italia. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I did writing it.
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Joe Dombrowski is a rider currently racing for Astana Qazaqstan. During a pro career that started in 2013, Dombrowski has raced for Sky, Cannondale, and UAE. Major results on his palmarès includes overall titles at the 2012 U23 Giro and 2015 Tour of Utah, and stage 4 at the 2021 Giro d'Italia.