Though he is now a marked man, Baby Giro winner Joe Dombrowski was relaxed on the eve of stage 1 of the Larry H Miller Tour of Utah. With his fourth place finish on the Queen stage at the Amgen Tour of California, the 21-year old Bontrager Livestrong rider is aiming for a top 10 finish this week, if not better.
“Our team comes in with pretty relaxed goals into races like this.” Dombrowski told podiuminsight.
“They are big opportunities for us but, you’re at the press conference and you see the guys that are here and it’s not easy. But that being said, I think at California we showed that I could climb with those guys, I think if we ride a decent team time trial and I’m feeling good late in the race, top 10, maybe a top 5, we’ll see how it goes.”
Composed entirely of athletes under the age of 23, the Bontrager Livestrong Cycling Team returns to the Tour of Utah for a third time. Previously competing as Trek Livestrong, they placed third in the team classification in the 2010 Tour of Utah. That year Dombrowski finished 27th overall.
Staying near Park City with teammate Connor O’Leary, the squad has been training in Utah for the past two weeks in order get acclimatized to the altitude and to preview the decisive climbs.
“It sort of worked out nicely that all of us that did Cascade were also going to do Utah and also Colorado so we all traveled together.” Dombrowski explained. “We didn’t get to see all of the stages but we did most of the climbs in the sense of the key parts of the race.”
The training also included team time trial practices which Dombrowski has never done in a race. “This will be my first one. We’ve got a couple of guys on the team from New Zealand who have done a couple of pursuit stuff, they have a little bit of experience but a lot of us, it’s the first time that we’ve ever done one but the practices seemed to go relatively well.”
The squad practiced at the Miller Motorsports Park, the venue with its banked turns and perfect pavement for the 13-mile (21-km) stage 2.
“We got in three practices this past week, and they went pretty well. We had a little bit of a crash on the last time but everyone’s okay and hopefully that means bad rehearsal, good performance.” he said with a smile.
Like all the climbers, Dombrowski is eyeing the final two stages. Stage 5 is the known day, the Queen Stage with a finish climb to Snowbird but stage 6, the unknown, has a brutal climb very close to the finish.
“Stage 5 and stage 6 are both tough.” he agreed. “Obviously the team time trial is decisive and really any day can be decisive.”
Obviously wind in the flat stage day could also wreak havoc in the field but Dombrowski sees stage 5 as the first opportunity for the GC contenders to make their mark.
“The final day stage 6 up Empire Pass, I’ve ridden that climb three or four times now, it’s just nasty pavement, really steep, it’s a high altitude. If you were to crack, you could lose minutes, it is a descent to the finish but I think it’s such a hard climb that if it’s five minutes, it’s not going to come back.”
There is no question that Dombrowski can climb, he has proven it this year multiple times, at the SRAM Tour of the Gila, at the Tour of California and at 2012 Girobio. But positioning may have cost him the stage victory at Gila when he was too far back in the field when the road pitched up. Though he closed the gap fast, he never managed to catch the stage winner.
Dombrowski knows that positioning is “super-important” and he’s learning. “I came to cycling pretty late and for me, it’s been this game of my skills catching up with my fitness. That’s the thing. At the U23 level, I can get away with that, you can not be in the perfect position and then work your way up as people start going backwards in the climb but at a race like this, or Colorado, or California, that just doesn’t work.”
“That’s one of the reason why it’s such a good experience for us because we get to do this high level races, it really exposes our weaknesses and it shows us what we need to work on to reach the level of these guys.”
Dombrowski is definitely a favorite for a stage win in the final days.