Using Tour of Utah defense as training, Dombrowski eyeing victory at Leadville 100 MTB Race

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Fresh off a title defense at the August 1-7 Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah, and less than a week before he starts the Vuelta a España, American Joe Dombrowski (Cannondale-Drapac) will take the start at theAugust 13 Leadville 100 mountain-bike race in Colorado.

The Marshall, Virginia, native first began throwing around the idea of participating in the Leadville 100 at the Giro d’Italia with Cannondale-Drapac press officer Matthew Beaudin. Dombrowski said he joked with Beaudin about the idea and said, “Hey, if Cannondale gives me a new mountain bike I would totally do Leadville.” Beaudin and team manager Jonathan Vaughters jumped on the idea, and soon Dombrowski had an entry to the race.

“To be honest, I was probably the most hesitant about it out of everyone,” Dombrowski told CyclingTips. “Even from JV’s point of view, in terms of training, he thought it would be fine. It will be a little tight with travel because I will only be flying to the Vuelta six days ahead of time. For sure it’s not the best preparation for the Vuelta, but Andrew [Talansky] is going to the Vuelta as the team’s GC leader. I’m don’t know what my role is at the moment, but to be honest if I’m not riding GC, the first week isn’t that critical anyway.”

For Dombrowski, the Leadville 100 is an event he wants to go to and something he is excited about. His Cannondale-Drapac teammate Alex Howes, a Colorado native, is looking to compete alongside him in Leadville. Howes, who just completed the Tour de France, tweeted on Monday about looking for an entry to the race.

The 25-year-old Dombrowski will line up alongside his former coach Jeremiah Bishop, who placed fourth last year at Leadville and missed breaking the six-hour mark by a mere 62 seconds. Bishop coached Dombrowski in his early years and helped him to make the jump to the WorldTour.

Dombrowski will be fresh off attempting to defend his overall title at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah, which ends a mere five days before the Leadville 100. The stage race takes place at a high altitude, so his preparation for Leadville won’t be hindered too much, although it is on the wrong type of bike.

And while Dombrowski may have a blossoming career on the road, his first experiences with bike racing came on knobby tires.

“I got started into riding bikes by mountain biking,” Dombrowski said. “My friends had done a bit of racing and they took me to the Wednesday at Wakefield, a midsummer Wednesday night mountain-bike series. I was just hooked on it from there. As a junior I raced mostly on the mountain bike and got my start from there.”

The Leadville 100 is not one of the more technical mountain-bike races in the country, with the main factor being the high altitude; it’s held primarily above 10,000 feet, with 14,000 feet of elevation gain. The course includes a couple of long strenuous climbs, which can play into Dombrowski’s favor, including the famed Columbine climb. Furthermore, the race has a history of past roadies being triumphant.

“Given the course, it’s really not that technical. It’s at high altitude and it’s got some good climbs, so I feel I have a good shot at it,” Dombrowski said. “I mean you saw Lance [Armstrong] win it and Levi [Leipheimer] win it, and they are road guys.

Dombrowski sees the Leadville 100 as a way to mix-up the monotony of the road a bit and have fun at the end of what has been a long season. The fourth-year pro will have raced 81 days on the road for the 2016 season, should he finish the Vuelta a España.

“It fits in and I just thought it would be a fun thing to do,” Dombrowski said. “I haven’t raced mountain bikes in quite a while and I don’t ride the mountain bike that often, so it’s a pretty unique challenge. Not just a standpoint of mountain-bike racing, which is different, but on the road I never really think about tire selection and gearing, or what am I going to do in the feed zone? The soigneur is usually there. It’s something I’m relatively new to. I’ve done a few 100-mile mountain-bike races in the past, but I’ve never done Leadville. It’s definitely something I’m looking forward to.

“It’s kind of a fun event and I’ve had a big first half of the year already and I’ve done the Giro and I’ve done [Tour de Suisse] and a lot of big WorldTour racing, so it’s a fun end-of-year addition to the schedule. That is kind of what drew me to it, but I want to take it serious and I want to try to go there and win. I don’t know if I’m way off the mark there and going to be like a fish out of water, or maybe I have a really good shot. It’s hard for me to say because I haven’t raced mountain bikes in a really long time.”

Dombrowski will race as part of the World Bicycle Relief squad at the event. As part of his entry, he’s helping to fundraise for the charity, which aims to provide bikes for those in remote parts of the world.

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