Bontrager-Livestrong's Joe Dombrowski put in the biggest ride of his career Saturday at the Amgen Tour of California's Queen stage, which featured two ascents of category 2 Glendora Ridge climb and the beyond category climb to Mt. Baldy's summit.
The 20-year-old from Marshall, Virginia, finished fourth on the 126km stage behind winner and current race leader Robert Gesink (Rabobank), and Columbia-Coldeportes riders Jhon Atapuma and Fabio Duarte. Dombowski is currently 12th overall and earned the Best Young Rider jersey for his performance Saturday.
More importantly, the development team rider finished ahead of WorldTour riders and Tour de France hopefuls Tom Danielson (Garmin-Barracuda), Chris Horner (Radioshack-Nissan), TeJay Van Garderen (BMC) and Levi Leipheimer (Omega Pharma-Quickstep).
It was an amazing day for the rider who continues to compile an impressive list of international and domestic results, most recently finishing third overall at the Tour of the Gila. But Dombrowski's day got off to a rocky start when he flatted about 40km into the race.
“It took me about 20-25 minutes to get back to the group,” he said of the chase to catch back on. “I was really struggling, and my teammates were actually pushing me onto the wheel in the wind.”
Dombrowski and his team director Axel Merckx had said they would come out swinging for a top result Saturday, but after the flat and chase, the Bontrager-Livestrong rider started second guessing his own chances. “I didn't think that I'd be able to do much on the last climb of the day because I wasn't feeling that great,” he said. “And then I kind of rode into it on the climb of Glendora Ridge.”
Once back in the group, Dombrowski made his way up to the front and then pressed the issue on the slopes of Mt Baldy. “Coming into the base of Baldy I was sitting toward the front and tried to follow Gesink,” he said. “But it was a little too much for me, so I just rode my own pace.”
Gesink initially pulled Danielson and Van Garderen with him but eventually rode way from his GC rivals, bringing back all-day escapees Horner and Atapuma in the final kilometres to take the win and the yellow jersey. Behind him, Dombrowski was sweeping up the scattered remains of the break – and the chasers – and making his own charge for the line. He caught and dropped all but Gesink and Atapuma, but then Duarte jumped him near the finish to deny him a podium spot.
“It was a little disappointing,” Dombrowski said. “I was with Duarte coming into the last k, and it flattened out a little bit. He was sitting on, and I was like, 'Well, I can't really sit up.' Then he attacked with probably 300 meters to go and that was sort of it. But still, a great ride and I can't really be disappointed with it.”
Despite his young age and “development” status, Dombrowski handled his result like a seasoned pro who is used to besting Tour de France veterans and grand tour winners.
“I looked back at the base of Baldy, and it seemed like there was only about 10-15 guys left,” he said. “So I knew that I was in a good spot. But in the climb you're so guttered I didn't really think about it too much.”