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Sept 10, 2015 – Joe Dombrowski of Cannondale-Garmin is another member of the new generation of American racers competing in his first grand tour, the Vuelta a España. His best ride to date at the Vuelta was on the killer Andorra stage last weekend, when he placed 15th, finishing in a small group with Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde. This is how Joe answered our 10 questions.

John Wilcockson/Images by Yuzuru Sunada

1. Wilcockson: Joe, you’re sort of infamous for being a techno freak, probably because your parents are both aerospace engineers, but have you inherited any athletic genes from them too?

Dombrowski: I get that a lot. I suppose I am a little more analytical. I think my parents have a lot to do with that. I think my Dad is the most intelligent person I have ever met. In terms of their own athletic pursuits, they played sports in school, but never competed at a high level. In that regard, I’m the only serious athlete from my family.

I came to the sport on my own volition. I had friends in high school who were into mountain biking, and that’s how I got my start. My parents didn’t know anything about cycling, but as I progressed, they were supportive of my goals. I think it was good from that standpoint, in that my parents never put any pressure for me in regards to my cycling. Honestly, I don’t think they really care what my results are as long as I am having fun and racing clean.

2. Wilcockson: Also on Twitter, you showed that you’d packed “Car & Driver” magazine in your suitcase for the Vuelta. Does that mean you’re a demon driver? And what car (or cars) do you like to drive?

Dombrowski: I don’t know that my persona really fits this, but I’m somewhat of a closet gear head. I like cars of all sorts, and “Top Gear” remains one of my favorite shows on television despite its departure from the BBC lineup. I own two cars, and they couldn’t really be more opposite. I’ve got a white, diesel Ford Fiesta hatchback that is very bare bones. Manual roll-down windows and locks. I think it has a whopping 82 horsepower. I also have a BMW M3. It’s the ’92-era V8 version. A white coupe with red leather interior. It’s more of a toy then anything. I have fun with it and I will occasionally do track days.

I really like older cars, and other modes of transport as well. If I had to pick a few favorites I think they would be:
• a ’93-era Porsche 911 Turbo (these can actually be a good investment, but I’ve sort of missed the boat on that … the value on a good one is already sky high)
• a 1960s-era Vespa
• a Piaggio Ape, like you see all over when training in Italy
• and a Citroen 2CV, a French classic!

3. Wilcockson: Also on Twitter, you said you’ve been reading a book about Robotics. What are your thoughts on that subject, and can any of them be applied to bicycles and bike racing?

Dombrowski: Yes, I began reading P.W. Singer’s “Wired for War” at the start of the Vuelta. I haven’t finished it, as I got a delivery of Richard Moore’s new book, “The Bolt Supremacy” after stage 4, and I jumped into that. I would argue that modern racing is more controlled then in the past—particularly in the mountain days of stage races. Racing is racing, and I think it always will be somewhat of a primal and emotional affair, but now you see more and more of the racing efforts governed by technology like Garmin, and least a more controlled mind set brought to the racing. That has really helped the sport progress.

4. Wilcockson: That book on Usain Bolt…. His events last only a few seconds, yours last several hours—very different efforts. So what types of thing have you learned from reading about the Jamaican runner?

Dombrowski: I’m about halfway through the Bolt book, so I can’t speak to all its contents, but it’s been great so far. It’s given great background to the running culture in Jamaica that cultivates such dominance in international running. I’ve enjoyed the book so far, and I look forward to digging into it a bit more

5. Wilcockson: You’re a pretty skinny guy, but you’re also tall for a climber, an inch taller than Chris Froome; do you have to keep a close eye on your weight, or can you eat anything and still remain skinny?

Dombrowski: I’ve never really had to maintain a super-strict diet to stay skinny. That said, I still definitely focus on fueling as much as possible. I find that if I focus on eating food that I know is good for me, and adequately fuels my efforts on the bike, then I am going to be about as lean as I need to be to perform well in the races. It’s no secret that weight is super important in cycling, especially as a climber, but I think people would be more surprised with how much we eat, not how little. Additionally, I think that being too aggressive in the pursuit of leanness can leave riders lacking power, and having a bit of a hormonal and immunological mess. It’s a balance for sure.

6. Wilcockson: This is your first time doing a three-week race. Recovery is key to riding a strong grand tour, so how much sleep do you get each night at the Vuelta, and what other “recovery” methods are you using—listening to any music to help you relax?

Dombrowski: The Vuelta operates on Spanish time. The stages are late, so the entire post-race schedule is shifted later then normal. We are often leaving the dinner table at 11 p.m., and flipping the lights off after midnight. It’s taken a bit of adjustment, but luckily, with the late starts, we are usually able to sleep pretty late. I’ve been consistently getting up for breakfast around 10, so it’s pretty easy to get the standard eight to nine hours per night.

I think sleep is one of the most important aspects of recovery, so for me, having a standard bedtime routine is important. After dinner I like to go up to my room and read a book. It’s too easy to get caught up in the stir of messages and social media while you are racing. Of course, I appreciate everyone’s support and do my best to get back to everyone, but before bed it’s time to put the phone down and relax. When you’re in the race, there are key times that you really need to be “switched on.” In order to have the capacity to do that, I think it’s important to keep the stress low, and the fun high, when you’re off the bike. Don’t stress!

7. Wilcockson: You missed most of last season because of surgery on your left leg. What was the exact problem and how did you rehab it and get back to full fitness?

Dombrowski: Starting about halfway through my first pro season, I noticed deficiencies in my left leg under serious effort. The symptoms were numbness in my left foot, and a serious drop in power from my left leg as intensity increased. I was working with the medical staff at Team Sky, but it took us almost a year to identify the problem. I was actually the one who brought the condition of iliac endofibrosis to their attention, and after pushing a bit they arranged an appointment with a vascular specialist in London to go through the diagnostic process.

No one is really sure what causes iliac endofibrosis, but it occurs in sports with repetitive hip flexion such as cycling, triathlon and rowing. The thought is that a hypertrophied psoas impinges the external iliac artery between the shortened psoas and the inguinal ligament, and over time, the artery walls thicken and harden similar to what you would see in an unhealthy arteriosclerosis patient. The fix is usually surgery on the artery, where the affected area is cut open, cleaned out, and a synthetic or harvested graft is sewn in. Additionally, if the artery is lesioned to the surrounding hip flexor musculature, it will be freed.

Because of the nature of the surgery, the recovery process is somewhat lengthy and usually staying completely away from any exercise for six to eight weeks is advised. After that, you can start with the bike again, but in small, incremental steps.

8. Wilcockson: As an under-23 you won the Giro-Bio ahead of Fabio Aru. He’s now 25, a year older than you, but he is already riding his fifth grand tour and has finished on the podium at the past two editions of the Giro d’Italia and now shooting for victory at the Vuelta. Are you envious of his achievements, or is he an inspiration?

Dombrowski: Well, the reality is, this is my first grand tour, and I am in a different position. I don’t know that it’s fair to make a direct comparison without the background information regarding my injury last year. That was a major setback, and this has been a real rebuilding year for me. That said, I do think I have the capacity to be a winner in this sport. Can I reach the level of grand tour contender, or outright favorite like Aru? Maybe, maybe not, but for now I’m focused on myself and continuing to make steady progress. I’ll continue to pursue my dreams and I know if I put in the hard work, I can be content regardless of the outcome.

9. Wilcockson: With a couple of weeks of the Vuelta in your legs, what have you learned so far about riding a grand tour, and about working for a team leader like Dan Martin (until his crash)?

Dombrowski: The Vuelta has been a great learning experience for me thus far. I think physically I will glean a lot from putting myself through three weeks of hard racing. I’ll get to hone my pack skills, and tactical acumen day in and day out. Unfortunately, we lost Dan to a crash but as far as a support role, the job is pretty much the same as any stage race. Bottle and jacket fetching, positioning, et cetera. If there is an opportunity, winning a mountain stage here would be a dream.

10. Wilcockson: After an excellent Tour of California in May, your Tour of Utah victory in August, and now getting a grand tour under your belt, what’s in the future for Joe Dombrowski?

Dombrowski: I want to soak up as much as I can from this Vuelta. I want to come out of it a more complete and savvy rider. And I would really love to show what I can do in the big mountains. My last race for the season will be Giro di Lombardia. I’m looking forward to that and I’m already making plans for some fun activities for the off-season.

Wilcockson: Thanks, Joe, have a good rest of the season!