Joe Dombrowski is one of just three American riders at this year's Giro d'Italia, and in an exclusive diary for Cyclingnews, he will share his thoughts on the racing, reveal what goes on inside the peloton, and share his own emotions of riding the Corsa Rosa.
He won a tough stage to Sestola in the 2021 Corsa Rosa and returns to the Italian Grand Tour as part of the Astana Qazaqstan led by Miguel Angel López and Vincenzo Nibali. However, Dombrowski hopes to also have a chance for another stage victory during the three weeks of intense racing.
With the first week, and the first rest day now behind us, I finally have that feeling of the rhythm of the race that a Grand Tour brings. I've always felt that getting to the first rest day in a Grand Tour, is probably like getting to Wednesday in a normal workweek. You have to get over the hump, and from there, the weekend, or in our case, the finish, seems to come more quickly.
By now, things have settled slightly in terms of nerves in the bunch, and people have found their place both where they sit in the peloton, and where they will sit on the results sheet. I always find it interesting how over the course of a Grand Tour, you get to really know the riders around you. Sometimes even when a rider is somewhat out of my field of vision, I can sense who it is behind me or to the side, by how they move on the bike, and how they fill gaps, or not, in the bunch.
Inevitably this leads to some guys you find rather annoying; but at least it provides funny material for our dinner table conversations. It always seems that the same guys are chopping corners, or throwing water bottles at walls next to the road so they roll back into the bunch like a land mine. Yesterday one rider yelled at me "Joe you're one of the friendliest guys, but one of the most annoying in the bunch!" The peloton can be a hostile environment, and in truth, we are probably all sometimes at fault.
With a few hard stages out of the way, there are already some riders whose race, at least for the general classification, is over. In my last diary, I tipped Simon Yates as looking very strong, coming off his storming ride in the time trial in Budapest. In the stage to Blockhaus, he lost big time. It seems he is dealing with a knee injury following his crash, and how that changes their strategy remains to be seen. Anyone can have a bad day, and he's a rider with class ... it could open up an opportunity for him to win a stage later in this Giro. Wilco Kelderman is another strong rider who saw his GC aspirations disappear on the stage to Blockhaus, but who could also knock out a stage later in the race.
The situation within our team is not so different either. We came into the Giro with Miguel Angel López as our GC leader, but early in the first stage in Sicily, he was out of the race. I had the green light that day to go for the breakaway, and in the scrum of the start, I never heard over the radio that Miguel had stopped. It wasn't until later in the stage when I went to the car to get bottles, that I realized he was missing. Of course, it's disappointing to lose your leader, but adversity can often open the door of opportunity if you have the right mindset. With the loss of Miguel, it has changed our approach to the race. I will look to help Vincenzo [Nibali], but also I will also likely have more freedom to target stages, and that's something I will certainly try to capitalize on.
Personally, I am trying to see this as a nice opportunity, especially considering the evolution of the way Grand Tours are being ridden in the last few years. If we take out the sprint stages, and the time trials, it seems that the rest of the stages are being won more and more by the breakaway. I think that part of the reason for this is that we are racing faster, and more aggressively all day. With that in mind, why should the few big GC teams pull all day and waste energy, when they are actually racing a completely different race?
This aggressive racing creates somewhat of a vicious cycle. When the peloton senses that there will be a lack of control, the attacking for the break will carry on longer, and a strong break can go clear and have a real shot at winning. As the GC teams look to save their bullets, the race for stage wins becomes more open, and more difficult to control, likely reinforcing the big GC teams' hesitation to pull all day.
In reality, we can probably count on two hands the number of riders who are likely able to win from the peloton in either a bunch sprint or a mountain top finish. For the rest, if you want to win, you need to be out in front. I took my opportunity on the stage to Blockhaus and made it into the day's break.
I felt strong all day, but with a maximum gap of only around five minutes, I knew it was going to be difficult. As I mentioned, the big GC teams don't always have the interest to pull all day behind the break. During the stage, I didn't understand why Trek was pulling to keep the gap so close. I wouldn't really classify them as one of the big GC teams though, and while I didn't feel we were ever going to be a threat to the pink jersey of Juanpe López, perhaps they felt differently. In the end, they have likely secured the maglia rosa for at least another few days.
Had things panned out differently, with a bit more of a leash, I felt that I would have had a real crack at a stage win. But as my friend Mikael Cherel had said a few days earlier "Joe, you know in the end it's always the peloton that decides." In this case, the decision was not in our favor, but I hope next time they decide to let us go.
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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.