American Joe Dombrowski has begun his transition as one of the new kids on the block at the Astana Qazaqstan Team, taking part in a meeting for new riders that was held at the end of October near Montecatini Terme in Tuscany alongside Vincenzo Nibali, David de la Cruz and others.
Now 30 years old and a veteran with nine seasons in the WorldTour peloton, Dombrowski added his first Grand Tour stage victory last year racing for UAE Team Emirates, a stage 4 win at the Giro d’Italia. He said he expects his role in 2022 to be that of a key support rider for Miguel Ángel López and Nibali, who return to Astana, and fellow newcomer De la Cruz, who also moves over from UAE Team Emirates, in the Grand Tours.
“Obviously Astana has been around for a long time. I suppose where I see them now, I think they are a team still focused on stage racing and the Grand Tours. I have a potential to fill a role of either my own opportunities looking for either stages particularly the Grand Tours which I like, or helping a GC rider maybe in the Grand Tours or week-long stage races,” Dombrowski said in an interview with FloBikes while he was home in Virginia this month.
“I know a number of the riders coming over, like Valerio Conti, [Alexandr] Riabushenko and De la Cruz, and also one of the coaches is coming over [from UAE Team Emirates] as well. One of the big names of course is [Vincenzo] Nibali, along with his brother [Antonio].”
Dombrowski said his conversations earlier in the year with UAE Team Emirates were non-committal from the team about renewing his contract after two seasons, so he started asking a few other teams about prospects for work. He landed with Astana and signed for the next two years.
“I had interest from Astana, and I thought it would be a nice opportunity. I decided I wanted to wear blue next year,” he told FloBikes. “Also when I talked to other riders who have been in the team, they always said it was a nice environment, sort of a family-feeling team. It kind of ticked the boxes.
"Additionally I feel now I’ve been with a few teams now and I also think I can migrate to another team fairly easily. I’m looking forward to the next couple of years.”
While at UAE Team Emirates, Dombrowski said his two seasons there passed quickly, mainly due to the lack of racing in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic and the abbreviated calendar. His big takeaways were the Giro win, a second-place finish on stage 3 of the Vuelta a España, and being teammates with two-time Tour de France winner Tadej Pogačar.
“I would say maybe he’s the best rider in the world right now. Yeah, he won the Tour de France which is amazing, and he’s done it twice now. I think he’s done three Grand Tours so far in his career and he’s won two. And, he’s won multiple stages. It’s not that he can do well only in Grand Tours, he can really deliver everywhere,” Dombrowski said.
“You also see him win in one-day races. He can animate almost any sort of race. You don’t necessarily see him in the Classics, but I almost have the feeling if he raced the cobbled Classics, he could be in front there, too. It doesn’t really seem like there’s anything he can’t do.”
Dombrowski said that for a 23-year-old, Pogačar was advanced in his mental strength, not just his physical strength.
“One thing that is an advantage for him is that he is really calm. He’s still so young. And you can imagine there is an immense amount of pressure on him to perform going forward. But you just have the feeling that it comes really naturally to him and is easy. He doesn’t expend a lot of mental energy to do what he does. I think in the long run that’s going to be a big boost for him.
“Sometimes when guys are so successful it can become a weight on their shoulders, but I don’t see that with his personality. It’s like he’s just a boy out there having fun, riding his bike. And everything just seems to come naturally. I think his mental state and how he’s so calm and enjoying what he’s doing will serve him really well. And then obviously he’s super talented. I don’t know if we’ve seen a rider like him in a long time.”
Dombrowski himself was a highly-touted youngster when he burst on the scene with an impressive victory at the under-23 Giro d’Italia in 2012 riding for a US Continental team, then signed with Team Sky. He won the GC at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah in 2015 and was third on GC in 2019 with Slipstream teams, then moved to UAE Team Emirates to reboot his career.
“It’s been a good experience. It was certainly different to EF [Education-Nippo]. Actually, for the most part, I don’t think any of the teams at the WorldTour level are too different. It’s the same races, you end up going to the same places for training camps, it actually ends up being a lot of the same people. Professional cycling is a small world,” Dombrowski reflected.
“I feel sometimes it can be good to change. You can kind of glean new things from being in a new environment and working with new people, and I think also it can probably put on a new pressure. It can be rejuvenating in a way.
“Now I’m getting ready to head to Astana next year, new team, new environment. It will be some people I knew before, so a little bit familiar. I got to know some of the new riders a few weeks ago. I got my feet wet a bit, and the next thing will be going to Kazakhstan actually, which should be interesting.”
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