Over the past few weeks, Joe Dombrowski split time between his waterfront apartment in Nice, France, and a hotel on Majorca, the European-vacation-destination island in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Spain.
A bike brought him to those distant locales from Marshall, Va.
Dombrowski, 21, signed in September with Britain's Team Sky, the top professional cycling team in the world. Then he moved to Europe in December to begin his tenure with that squad.
Only three years ago, Dombrowski was still honing his cycling skills on the back roads of Fauquier County. By the summer of 2010, though, he emerged on the national radar after posting some impressive race results.
The world took notice this past summer when, as a member of the USA Cycling National team, he won the Giro Ciclistico d'Italia, a 10-day, nine-stage race in Italy.
As a result, Dombrowksi, a 2009 Fauquier High graduate, is now living in Nice, training in Majorca and preparing for the 2013 International Cycling Union (UCI) WorldTour season with the likes of Sky teammate Bradley Wiggins, who won the 2012 Tour De France.
"From what I was doing last year living at home [in Marshall] and with a development team, to where I am now, it's a pretty incredible jump," Dombrowski said. "It's been a bit of a whirlwind."
Dombrowski signed a two-year neo-pro contract with Team Sky after spending about two years riding for Team Bontrager-Livestrong
, an under-23 developmental team based in Texas.
Joining Team Sky was equivalent to signing with an NFL or NBA team as a first round pick, but Dombrowski didn't have to deal with a draft. Instead, most of the WorldTour's premiere teams courted him like a top college football recruit.
“Most young guys, when they move up, they get one or two offers and you just go with what you can get,” Dombrowski said. “I had the luxury to go wherever I wanted, but it makes it a tough decision.”
He chose Sky, in part, because of the team’s recent success, the opportunity to train alongside some of the best riders on Earth and the chance to learn from hands-on coaches.
“It's not for everyone. Some riders like to do their own thing,” Dombrowski said. “Sky likes to control everything you're doing. As a young rider trying to learn everything possible, that seemed like a good fit.”
Dombrowski chose Sky despite getting offers from American teams like Garmin-Sharp and BMC Racing.
"You would think I'd be most comfortable with an American team,” he said, “But the level of support and the investment that Sky makes in you as a rider, it's [the best]. … They invest a lot in sports sciences and training and nutrition.”
The average annual salary of a UCI ProTeam rider in 2012 was reportedly about $355,000, but that’s a figure criticized for being skewed by the high salaries of a handful of cycling superstars. Dombrowski did not disclose his salary.
Dombrowski’s teammates on Sky include the likes of Wiggin, Michael Rogers and Chris Froome.
"You sit down at a table in training camp with guys that are Olympians and World Champions in the past, but they don't really carry themselves as though they are,” Dombrowski said. “There are no attitudes. Everybody's down to earth.”
"The older riders have been good sounding boards for my questions, whether on the bike with tactics, or off the bike learning to live my life here,” he said.
Dombrowski’s race schedule will begin in mid-February with events in the Middle East, he said. Then he will do stage races in Italy and Coração as Team Sky prepares for the Giro d'Italia (Tour of Italy) in May. Wiggins, Sky’s team leader, set a goal to win the Giro d’Italia this season, which Dombrowski will try to help him accomplish.
"In a race like that, it'll be I'm purely a support rider for Wiggins,” Dombrowski said. “I'm not necessarily racing to win on my own any more.”
That’s a drastic change from his role with the likes of Bontrager-Livestrong and the USA national team.
“I went into a lot of races, particularly stage races, as a team leader or a protected rider,” Dombrowski said. “Now it's more about learning and adapting to [the WorldTour]. Five or six years down the road when you've gotten stronger and learned more and you're ready to be a leader, then you're ready” to be protected.
Dombrowski attended his first training camp in December before returning to Marshall for the holidays and has since alternated between his apartment in Nice and training camp in Majorca. Team Sky bought out an entire hotel on the island for its riders to use while training during the offseason.
Team Sky is based out of the United Kingdom, but the team placed Dombrowski in France because its training base is located in the Nice/Monaco area. Dombrowski said Sky hired a woman to help him transition from life in America to life in France.
“Like, ‘This is how you open a bank account and this is where you go to get your groceries,’” he said. “All the things that are different and difficult and can be distractions from training.”
Nice has a population of almost 350,000 and is bordered to the North by the Maritime Alps, the perfect terrain for Dombrowski, who excels as a climber.
“I basically live right in the middle of the city, but I can be on quiet roads in 10 minutes,” he said. “You can go on a four-hour ride and see four or five cars.”
In that sense, Nice is not unlike Fauquier County. The temperature there, however, is typically around 60 degrees this time of year.
“I really enjoy training in Virginia. We've got some nice roads in Fauquier County,” he said. “But I've really enjoyed Nice. There's good food. The roads here are incredible.
“My apartment is right on the Mediterranean,” he said. “I could cast a fishing pole and hit the water.”
/ On Twitter @jeffmalmgren