Joe Dombrowski on what makes the Giro d’Italia stand apart
From brutal climbs to great coffee and Italy's living history, the Giro is unlike any race on the calendar: 'The Giro is unique.'
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Joe Dombrowski is deep into his eighth Giro d’Italia, a record among modern U.S. riders in the Italian grand tour.
The Astana-Qazaqstan climber will be hunting for another stage win in the final week of the Giro route laden with big-mountain stages that make the Giro what it is.
A winner of a stage in 2021, Dombrowski has raced in all three grand tours, yet the Giro is the one that’s marked his career.
“It’s a combination of things,” Dombrowski told VeloNews. “Italy is visually a beautiful country, and the starts and finishes are often in very beautiful locations. Not that the Tour or Vuelta don’t have those, but the Giro pulls out all the stops to really showcase a location.
“I like the rhythm of the race,” he said. “It’s the grand tour that most suits the climbers, with a lot of long mountain stages with a lot of long climbs. The Giro is unique.”
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Dombrowski brings a singular vision to grand tour racing among the U.S. contingent in Europe. Now 32, Dombrowski is racing his 13th grand tour, also the most among the current crop of active U.S. pros.
With eight starts in the Giro, four in the Vuelta a España, and one in the Tour de France, Dombrowski has lived in the front line of what each grand tour offers.
He said the Giro attracts a special breed of fans. The passionate tifosi is something that helps the Giro stand apart.
“The Tour is the most known, and it’s like the Super Bowl. Everyone goes to Super Bowl party because that’s the party,” he said in a telephone interview. “In Italy, the cycling fans are among the most knowledgeable about the sport. The Giro tends to have this fan base and they’re passionate, and you feel that in the race.
“I haven’t felt in the Vuelta or Tour to the same extent, and that’s why in part the Giro is my favorite.”
Living the bella vita
Dombrowski, who lives in Nice, France, during much of the racing season, also has a special appreciation for Italian food, wine, and cuisine.
“They take food very seriously in Italy. France is a bit like in the U.S., and you can eat well if you know where to go,” he said. “Pretty much anywhere you go in Italy, there is always good food. Even the ‘panini’ in the Auto Grille is good.”
That’s not to say the top pros at the Giro are enjoying the best of Italian cuisine.
Nearly every top WorldTour team packs its own team chef, meaning the Italian antipasti and pasta dishes are replaced with high-energy, easily digestible racing staples.
“We stay in from everything ranging from a low-end pensione to luxury palazzos. It’s a bit of a crap shoot, really,” he said. “The Giro has a bit of everything.”
For Dombrowski, the Giro reflects the Italian culture. It’s at once chaotic and a bit disorganized, yet also deep quality and beauty.
What really sets the Giro apart is how the race dives deep into the heart of the history of the nation.
The Tour is so big now that the starts can be in bare, expansive areas large enough to accommodate the moving city. The Giro brings the race right into the middle of Italy’s living history.
“With the Italians, if they create something, you know it’s going to be beautiful,” he said. “Think about the trademark Italian brands like Ferrari. They’re very good at creating beautiful things, from the architecture, to food. And they expect things to be high quality, and that is also reflected in the starts and finishes.”
After surviving two weeks and a stomach bug, Dombrowski is hoping to have his chance to shine this week on his favorite cycling stage.