Being Pro: Cannondale-Garmin’s Joe Dombrowski

(Photo: Bettini)

By Michael White

Cannondale-Garmin’s Joe Dombrowski is gearing up for the Tour de Suisse this weekend. Here’s an interview that we snagged with the young American at the start of the season about his new team for this year, switching equipment, his training, and some other fun topics.

RBA: What’s it like switching equipment when moving to a new team?
JD: For the most part, it’s usually pretty easy. Most guys will get their new bike in November, prior to the January 1st mark. So that way you can ease into making changes. For me, a lot of the things carrying over were the same, so it wasn’t hard. The mechanics can take your bike from the previous team and match the fit to the new bike, so overall I’d say it was pretty easy. This is my first time on a Cannondale. Well, I’ve had a Cannondale mountain bike, but this is my first time on the SuperSix EVO. It seems pretty quick and light, and just a little sharper than my previous bike, so that’s nice.

RBA: How does the Cannondale-Garmin squad differ from your previous team, Sky?
JD: I would say that this Cannondale-Garmin team has probably more of a laidback environment. Also, being an American team, it’s definitely an environment that I’m a little more familiar with. Last time I moved to a new team, from Sky to what was Trek-Livestrong, I had one teammate who made the transition with me named Ian Boswell. And he was basically the only guy I knew when joining Sky. But coming here, I already know half the team from various interactions and running into each other. So I feel pretty at home here.

RBA: What are some of the differences between racing in Europe and in the U.S.?
JD: I’d say the biggest standout is probably that in Europe the roads are old. The infrastructure they’ve established is typically quite a bit older than what we have in the States. So a lot of the roads are pretty narrow and twisty and much more technically demanding in terms of navigating within a big, 200-man peloton. In a way, it’s nice to come back and race in the States, to be able to do the Amgen Tour of California or the USA Pro Cycling Challenge in Colorado and other American races. For one, as an American I get to come back home for a bit and race in front of friends and family and fans. Also, I’d say it’s a little less stressful than racing in Europe just because, you know, you go to a race like Amgen Tour of California and you’re going to be on good, big, wide roads, and the weather is probably going to be good most of the time and we don’t often get that in Europe.

RBA: You sustained an injury last year; would you please tell us about it?
JD: In 2014, I didn’t race much and I missed a lot of the season because I had an operation in July that put me out of contention for the rest of the year. It was my iliac artery. Basically, your aorta comes off your heart and the iliac artery splits and feeds into the femoral arteries in your legs. So they become the main blood supplies into your lower limbs. It’s a somewhat common area for professional cyclists to injure because the artery can become damaged from repetitive hip flexion or it can kink because it’s stretched longer than normal from the rider being in the same cycling position for years and years. And basically, you just have a lack of blood flow to one limb.

For me, it started in my first year with Sky around the middle of 2013. I had no idea what it was. The symptoms are kind of vague, just sort of a lack of power in one leg. You know, all of a sudden I felt like one leg was doing 400 watts while the other was doing 200 watts. And I’d get some numbness in my foot and it took me about a year to figure out what was wrong, and when we finally had the diagnosis I came back to the States and had an operation done. And so I was off the bike starting in July 2014 and was completely off any exercise for about two months and then the third month was getting back on the bike, but in a very conservative, graduated approach in returning to regular training.

RBA: How have you adjusted your training and preparation for the 2015 season in light of your surgery?
JD: The biggest thing the doctors told me was, “Don’t do much. Just sit around and take it easy.” The first few weeks on the bike, I was supposed to keep my heart rate below 130 beats per minute, which, when you’ve had a couple of months off, feels pretty slow. So I was slow for quite a while. I was definitely in no rush to try and get fit quickly afterwards. My surgery involved going in through the abdomen, clamping down on the artery and opening it up lengthwise and so a patch was basically formed on the damaged area. It’s pretty major surgery since it involves one of the biggest blood vessels in your body so you don’t want to mess around with potentially interfering with the healing process.

RBA: Are there any other major changes for you heading into the coming racing season?
JD: I’m pretty much back up to speed and back into a normal routine. So not too much has changed. My location has changed. For the last two years Team Sky had training camps all winter long and they have this hotel in Mallorca that they buy out for stretches of time and it’s just the team there, so you can come as much as you want. So I spent a load of time at training camps and I was in Mallorca through the winter. But this most recent winter I was in the States and I can kind of just went and did my own thing. I rented a place in Tucson, Arizona, for the last two weeks, which I kind of prefer, because it’s nice to be back in the States whenever I can.

RBA: Where’s your favorite place to ride?
JD: I live in Nice, France, during the racing season and that is, for sure, my favorite place to go for a ride. It’s a unique place. There’s the Mediterranean Sea to the south and the Maritime Alps to the north. It’s one of the larger cities in France, but it is pretty contained geographically without much relative sprawl. So you can ride out very easily. It’s very mountainous, so there are loads of really great climbs. I love it.

RBA: What are some of your goals for 2015 and farther on in the future?
JD: I think the first thing is having a good, consistent, healthy season and getting to where I feel my ability is or can be. I wouldn’t say that there are any set-in-stone goals where I’d say, “I want to be top-five in this particular race.” For me, it’s more about aiming for consistency and having a strong healthy season. I have not yet done a Grand Tour, and I’d like to do that. The Tour de France is the big one—that would be awesome to do. I also really enjoy racing in Italy, so I’d like to do the Giro d’Italia as well. If I could win any of the grand tours one day, then that’d be great. I’d take any one of them.

RBA: Who were some cyclists you admired growing up or early on in your career?
JD: I came into the sport a little bit late, so when I was younger I wasn’t really watching cycling on television. Early on, locally, pro mountain bike racer Jeremiah Bishop was my coach before I went to Team Sky and he was a guy who I trained with a lot as I was getting started as a pro rider. So him being the local pro and all that, he was someone I looked up to. More recently, having been at Team Sky for the past two years, I’m a big Bradley Wiggins fan. He’s won the Tour de France, he’s won gold medals on the track, he’s been the Olympic Time Trial champion and he’s the World Time Trial Champion. I wouldn’t say that, in this day and age, there are too many riders who are that complete. He’s almost like an Eddy Merckx-style figure—he can win anything. And now he’s targeting Paris-Roubaix after finishing 9th last year. Name anyone in the current pro peloton who can win both the Tour de France and Paris-Roubaix, along with winning championships on the track. There’s nobody.

RBA: Who are some of the riders you’re looking forward to racing with on the Cannondale-Garmin squad?
JD: There are definitely some guys who are leaders like Dan Martin and Andrew Talansky, who have come through the team by starting as young riders not necessarily in leadership positions. But now they’ve moved into those roles. So following their leads and watching them is what I planned to do.

RBA: What would you be doing right now if you weren’t a pro cyclist?
JD: I think I’d probably be in school. I was studying economics at one point and I completed three semesters of college-level work. And then I had the opportunity to ride with what was then Trek-Livestrong with Axel Merckx. And I told myself that I’d take a semester off and go race with that team and go to Europe and just see how it all went with a plan to go back to school the following term. The racing went well, though, and now here I am.

RBA: What do you enjoy doing when you’re not racing your road bike?
JD: I like to be outside, especially when I’m back in the States. I like to ride mountain bikes a lot, hike and ski. I usually have a lot of down time when I’m traveling throughout the season, a lot of time in hotels. And when I’m not racing or training I’ve found that it’s good to relax and unwind. So I like to read to try and keep my brain active. I probably read more non-fiction. I just started reading “The Big Short” by Michael Lewis, who also wrote “Moneyball.” But I read fiction, as well. Recently I was blowing through John Grisham novels, and they’re neat for me because he frequently uses areas of Virginia as settings in his book so he’ll drop in the name of something like a local ice cream shop that I know about.

RBA: Do you have a very strict diet?
JD: I think that for cycling, a good healthy general diet is probably best. We eat quite a bit more than sedentary people. I eat dessert, I eat ice cream, and I eat junk food just like everybody else. I think that’s it’s better to eat what you want and stay balanced rather than be super strict with your diet and then ultimately binge and go overboard every now and then. Whether it’s diet or training or whatever it’s a good rule of thumb to keep things steady. I love good coffee and dark chocolate, and I really like Belgian beers. I love cooking and going out to eat good food, too.

CannondaleGarminJOe Dombrowski