Marshall’s Dombrowski helped Team Sky prepare for Tour de France win
Like most cycling fans, Joe Dombrowski watched on television as Chris Froome won the 2013 Tour de France.
Unlike most, he helped Froome prepare for that performance.
Dombrowski, a 2009 Fauquier High graduate, rode for Froome and Team Sky in three stage races earlier this year, building up to the Tour de France, June 29-July 21. Since signing with the renowned Sky team last September, the 22-year-old neo-pro from Marshall has also often trained with Froome around southern France.
“It obviously really cool to see him win,” Dombrowski said. “I actually have a little bit of a hard time thinking Chris can win the Tour because he's too nice of a guy.… He's totally down to earth. You don't necessarily feel you’re amongst someone that is such a superstar.”
Dombrowski lives in Nice, France, and Froome lives in Monaco with a Team Sky house located between them. Many other Sky members live in that area, too, which gives a collection of the best cyclists in the world opportunities to train together.
“It's interesting to go out training on a day-to-day basis and you don't think anything of it,” Dombrowski said of riding with Froome. “But then you flip on the TV in the afternoon and he's there in the yellow jersey [leading the Tour de France]. And the evening news, that's all they talk about – Chris Froome.”
On Sunday, Froome completed the 21st stage – essentially a ceremonial ride into Paris – to win the 100th Tour de France in 83 hours, 56 minutes, 20 seconds.
He first claimed the yellow jersey during the eighth stage and defended his lead for the next 13, essentially sealing the victory Saturday with a third-place finish in the 20th stage.
“He’s one of the best couple climbers at the Tour and probably the best time trialist in terms of stage racing,” Dombrowski said. “In addition to the physical side if it, you have to be able to recover every day over the course of three weeks.
“And you have to be smart enough and good enough in the pack to put yourself in the right place at the right time,” Dombrowski said. “He's kind of the complete package like that.”
With the help of eight Sky teammates, Froome won three stages of the Tour en route to the overall general classification victory. Sky did not select Dombrowski as one of its nine riders who made up its Tour de France team – unsurprising for a first-year professional cyclist.
Instead, that squad consisted of Great Britain’s Froome, 28, Australia’s Richie Porte, 28, Norway’s Edvald Boasson Hagen, 26, Great Britain’s Peter Kennaugh, 24, Belarus’ Vasil Kiryienka, 31, Spain’s David Lopez, 32, Belarus’ Kanstantsin Siutsou, 30, Great Britain’s Ian Stannard, 26, and Great Britian’s Geraint Thomas, 27.
So Dombrowski spent the first week of the Tour de France instead competing in the Tour of Austria, June 30-July 7.
The 22-year-old finished 28th in the general classification, ninth in mountains classification and seventh in youth rider classification.
“It's gone well,” Dombrowski had of his five months competing for Sky. “It's definitely a steep learning curve, but they've given me pretty low-stress roles. … It’s a lot of learning how to support Chris.”
Dombrowski did just that earlier this season by competing in three stage races with Froome as team leader. He helped Froome win the Tour of Oman and the Criterium International as well as place second in the Tirreno-Adriatico.
Since completing the Tour of Austria, Dombrowski has been training around Nice. A typical day begins with breakfast and then, at 9 a.m., a one- to six-hour ride followed by core exercises. Then Dombrowski tries to enjoy the beach and local French cuisine.
Over the past two weeks, he often finished his training rides early enough to watch the final hour of a Tour de France stage on TV, including Froome’s clinching performance Saturday.
“It obviously really cool to see him win the thing,” Dombrowski said. “But I think it'd be different and more meaningful, and I’d have a different perspective, if you're part of the Tour team and at the race and supporting Chris in his win.
“I hope in the next couple of years I'll be able to make the Tour team,” he said.
A tremendous climber, Dombrowski would contribute most to a Tour de France team during the mountain stages. He would help shepherd Sky’s team leader through those grueling climbs.
In general, as a supporting rider, Dombrowski’s goal would be to help the team leader – currently Froome – gain and maintain the lead over 21 stages.
“It's pretty physically demanding for Chris’ teammates to try to keep that yellow jersey,” Dombrowski said. “Chris took the yellow jersey pretty early in the  race, so he spent almost the last two weeks defending that.
“And the peloton looks to Sky to control the pace,” Dombrowski said. “Riding into the wind, they do all the work, basically, for 75 percent of the stage until the sprinters try to come up.”
The leading team also tries to control which riders break away from the field and become a lead group during the opening hour of each stage. The supporting riders of a team with the yellow jersey attempt to keep their team leader shielded from other potential contenders.
Of course, the role of supporting riders also includes tasks like fetching water bottles.
“They’ll drop all the way back to the team car and get a bottle for each rider and then ride all the way back to [the lead] and distribute them all to the team,” Dombrowski said. “Obviously it is very energy-inefficient, and you don’t want Chris doing that in the yellow jersey.”
For now though, Dombrowski will continue to hone his skills in lesser races and training sessions with Team Sky.
“Just developing in all aspects,” he said. “Physically, being able to stand up to three weeks of racing. That's one of the biggest things for young riders. … It's a [challenge] for young guys to be durable over that time.
“And just improving at your racing tactics and how you ride in the pack,” he said. “There's very little room for mistakes.”
Dombrowski plans to next compete in a one-day race July 27 and then travel with Sky to the USA Pro Challenge in Colorado, a stage race Aug. 19-25.
He hopes to return to Fauquier County for a week before heading west and spending some time adjusting the altitude in Colorado.
Dombrowski also plans to return to Virginia by November, after the end of the cycling season. He’ll train around the county during the fall and early winter until returning to Nice for the 2014 season.
Plus, he got a taste of Fauquier this month when his parents Dan and Valerie visited him in Nice.
“They’re staying at my apartment,” Dombrowski said. “Right on the Mediterranean. I could cast a fishing pole and hit the water.”
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