Joe Dombrowski (EF Education First) took the best Grand Tour finish of his career when he finished 12th overall at the Giro d'Italia on Sunday, eclipsing his previous-best result of 34th at the same race three years ago.
The US climber won the under-23 version of the Giro in 2012, and went on to race aggressively in the senior race in 2016, finishing third on the penultimate stage and taking fifth place in the best young rider competition.
However, by his own admission, the 28-year-old has failed to fire at Grand Tours since then, and so the 2019 Giro has signalled a return to form, with a result on which he can now build.
Dombrowski came alive during the third week of the race, and then proved a model of consistency through the final week, gradually moving up the GC to end the race with 12th overall in Verona at the weekend.
Despite that, Dombrowski expressed disappointment that his third week hadn't gone better, and put it down to having possibly been the result of crashing at the end of the second week, the day before the second rest day.
"I think it was a good race, and I'm happy to be done," Dombrowski told reporters, including Cyclingnews, in Verona. "Overall, I'm pretty happy with it, but I think I faded a bit in the third week. Normally I'm pretty good in the third week, so I don't know why. I crashed on the stage into Como [stage 15], and maybe that kind of kicked me off a bit, but overall I'm pretty happy with it, and I was pretty consistent throughout the Giro."
Dombrowski was part of the day's main breakaway on the wet and cold stage 16 over the Mortirolo, finishing in eighth place on the stage in the same group as eventual Giro winner Richard Carapaz (Movistar), runner-up Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) and Dombrowski's own teammate Hugh Carthy, who also rode consistently in the final week to take 11th overall.
"In the GC battle, the first losers are 11th and 12th," Dombrowski laughed of his and Carthy's finishing positions, "but overall I think it was a good race, and we have to be happy with that.
"I think having two guys in a similar place in the race is advantageous because if you want to be in the break on those mountain days, you can't follow everything, and sometimes you miss that one opportunity," he said of the advantage of having Carthy with him in such situations, adding that he enjoyed the opportunity to race alongside his British teammate.
With regard to the value of the team taking GC positions outside the top 10, rather than having been able to score any stage wins, Dombrowski admitted that it was a difficult line to walk.
"Do you allocate totally towards trying to be in the top 10 on the GC, or do you try to hop in breakaways to try to win a stage? Not that they always cancel each other out, but it makes it more difficult," he said.
"But I think going in the break doesn't always have to be something that kills you. I was in that break on stage 16 over the Mortirolo," continued Dombrowksi. "If you sit in the wheels in the break, it's almost the same as being in the pink jersey sitting 10th wheel. I mean, you have to pull a little bit, but it's not a bad place to be, and if you're not really able to follow the first three, four or five guys, it can also potentially put you in a position where you can hop up the GC.
"I remember one day when Team Ineos were riding because Davide Formolo [Bora-Hansgrohe] was in the breakaway, which was threatening their top 10 position," Dombrowski said of stage 17, when Ineos came to the front of the peloton to try to chase down the break to protect Pavel Sivakov's ninth place overall.
"Eventually people see that they can't be in the top three or the top five, but that they can be, say, eighth, and so they ride to protect that. And that's the beauty of Grand Tours. There are so many races within the race, and it's quite nuanced," he said. "To the casual fan, maybe it's not something you pick up on straight away, but it almost makes the sport more interesting the more you know."
Now that Dombrowski has found his feet, it's that word – consistency – that the 28-year-old will try to keep foremost in his mind.
"It's not a secret that the last couple of seasons have not been what I wanted, results-wise. I'm focused on doing what I need to do to get back to the level that I know I'm capable of in races," Dombrowski said after signing a contract extension with EF Education First at the end of last year.
"In the past, I've shown that I could be good on a day or a few days before," he said on his team's website after the Giro. "Not that I really targeted the general classification, but to finish two spots out of the top 10, that shows I was consistent. For me, this Giro was a step forward in consistency, and I'm pretty happy with that."