Amy Dombroski mountain biking racing in Vail, Colo., early 2013. by Eddie Clark
Collision with Truck Takes Life of US Cross Racer
Amy Dombroski's team, Belgian Young Telenet-Fidea, is reporting that the talented young racer was truck by a truck during a training session earlier today. It is with great sadness that we report her loss.
In our March 2012 issue, Mountain Flyer published a profile on Amy. Amy was an inspiring athlete with the sort of drive that makes champions. She will be missed my many.
Below is the original profile, in it's entirety, published in Mountain Flyer:
Adventurous Spirit Leads Dombroski to Cyclocross Capital of World
by Jen See
At the end of last season, just as she was hitting the big time, Amy Dombroski walked away from one of the most prestigious women’s teams in the United States. Parting from the well-funded Luna cyclocross and mountain bike team was not easy, but the team was not the right fit for Dombroski. She wanted to set off on her own adventure across the Atlantic. Her goal? To crack the code on Belgian cyclocross, the most competitive circuit for cross racers in the world.
Dombroski grew up on a Christmas tree farm in northern Vermont and began her athletic life as a downhill skier. After high school, she moved to Steamboat Springs, Colo., for the champagne powder. She fell in love with Colorado’s sunny, high-altitude winters, which were a striking change from the gray of northern New England. “They have a sun!” she laughed, describing her first winter in Colorado.
When an injury interrupted her ski racing career, Dombroski headed to the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine to recover. Her brother also lived in Boulder at the time and had already discovered road cycling. “He had a few bikes, and was like, ‘Here, borrow one of my bikes for rehab,’” she said. “I’ve stayed there ever since.”
Before too long, Dombroski started racing, but it was definitely not love at first sight with cyclocross. In fact, she hated it. “When I started cyclocross, it was like, ‘This sport’s retarded, I hate it, it makes me cry, it makes me frustrated. This is asinine.’” She liked riding the bike, not jumping on and off of it. Slowly the sport grew on her, and by the time she turned 23, Dombroski had won three U23 national championship titles in the “asinine” discipline of cyclocross.
In 2008, she made her first trip to Europe and rode the World Cup at Hoogerheide, which remains her favorite course on the international circuit. Dombroski fell in love with the high-level competition and enthusiastic fans of European cyclocross. She began staying in Europe for increasingly long stretches, including a two-month stay last season. Still, it was not enough. “Spending a month there, you just get over the jetlag and everything, and then you’ve got a week and then you head home again,” she explained.
Dombroski was determined to race a full season in Belgium, and a sponsorship agreement with crankbrothers made it possible. In October, Dombroski left her Boulder home for six months. First, she headed to Cross Vegas. “I had to pack for six months away. I’m going to Vegas with a down jacket, rubber boots and glacier gloves. Like, this is ridiculous,” she said. Racing in front of an enthusiastic crowd of industry insiders and bike shop owners in town for the Interbike trade show, Dombroski finished second behind a flying Katerina Nash of Luna.
From Vegas, Dombroski made a brief stop in New England. Then she flew across the Atlantic to chase her Belgian dream. The first few races proved a rude awakening. Despite her previous experiences racing in Europe, Dombroski was surprised by the variety of the courses in Belgium. “In the U.S., I’ve never gone to Youtube before a race to preview the course,” she said. In Belgium, Dombroski quickly discovered that it was a good idea to look at videos of each course before she went to a race.
Not only is every race on the Belgian circuit different, but many races included challenging features that were entirely new to Dombroski. The Superprestige Zonhoven in October was her first hint of the challenges to come. “It was in a sand quarry. It was 70 to 80 percent sand,” she said, admitting that she had never seen a cyclocross circuit like it.
“The course was just shocking. You are riding along the top of the quarry, and you don’t even know it, and you’re kind of fighting the sand. And all of the sudden, you make this 90-degree turn and it just drops down,” she said of Zonhoven. Dombroski had no idea how to ride the steep, sandy descent. “And I almost fall off my bike because I don’t want to go down it. I’m so petrified of it.”
The Zonhoven course reminded Dombroski of a drill she used to do for training during her career as a downhill skier. “We had these sand dunes near us, and they set up ski gates in the sand,” she said. Then Dombroski would run down the dunes, slaloming through the gates without skis. “That was pretty reminiscent of Koksijde and Zonhoven because it was just steep sand dunes, but it was a little different riding your bike down it.”
The day after Zonhoven, Dombroski raced the GvA Trofee Koppenbergcross, held on a circuit that includes the famed Koppenberg climb used in the Ronde van Vlaanderen road race. The sandy course at Zonhoven made for long sections of running. “We were off our bikes during that race so much and running so much. It was like 50 percent running,” she said. At Koppenberg, the course was totally different from Zonhoven. “We weren’t off our bikes once. The variety of the courses is, you really don’t know what you’re going to get.”
Just as she was beginning to feel at home in Belgium, the wheels nearly came off for Dombroski. “I got sick the first time in November and took some time off and I thought I was better,” she said. She returned to racing, but still felt below her usual level. Instead of getting better, it got worse. “I just felt more tired each day.” She had traveled to Europe with hopes of scoring results against top riders like Marianne Vos and Daphne van den Brand. But Dombroski was not sure she could finish the season. “And it was just kind of about whether I should stick it out for the rest of the season or if I should throw the towel in and go home,” she said.
It was doubly difficult to suffer through the setback in her season without her Colorado-based support network. “I have a friend doctor that I go to when I’m not feeling well here. I have a friend that I can go hang out with when I’m in the pits. And I didn’t quite have the support network,” Dombroski explained. “I think having a support network for when you’re feeling shit is the most important part. Anyone’s going to be your friend when you’re winning.”
She decided to stay in Europe and wait out the illness that threatened to end her season. Her illness meant missing a block of racing over the Christmas holidays, one of the highlights of the Belgian season. She found it difficult to watch the races on television. “It’s tough when you’re in the cyclocross headquarters of the world, and you’re sitting on the couch,” she said. But it might not have been that much better at home. “If you’re sick, you’re sick. Being in a different place doesn’t really make much difference. A sick bed is a sick bed,” she said.
In the end, she was happy she stuck it out and stayed in Europe. Racing the full season allowed Dombroski to learn the technical European courses, to find her rhythm on the bike, and to connect with the thriving community of Belgian cyclocross. “The community of cross in the U.S. is very close-knit and very supporting, and I didn’t think I’d find that in Belgium, but I did, and it took the entire season to find that,” she said.
The Belgian fans are passionate about the sport and follow the riders’ careers closely. The most diehard fans collect rider cards. The cards feature a photo on one side and the rider’s major results on the other side. “You’ll get these people, who have been collecting for years and years,” she said. “I was over there with Simon Burney, and he was racing back in the 1980s. And these guys would come back and they’d have cards from him when he was racing, and they’d be collecting cards from me now.”
Because the majority of Belgian fans do not race themselves, the focus is entirely on the pro riders. “It’s just people who are really, really into cycling and are into the people who are into cycling.” Dombroski said she sees all kinds of people lining the barricades at cross races in Europe. It is one of the most noticeable differences from racing in the United States, where a good portion of the fans likely race or at least ride bikes.
“When you go to a bike race, most of the people there might not even ride a bike. They’re smoking cigars, they’re drinking beer, they’re overweight, they have a beer belly,” she said. “It’s more about the actual racers.”
The audience for the women’s races is smaller than it is for the men’s races, and often Dombroski found herself at the starting line early in the morning. The UCI recently mandated that the top-level men’s races must include events for the elite women. “There are a lot more races for us; however, a lot of races put us at undesirable times like 10 a.m., and the men aren’t racing until 2 or 3,” she explained.
Numbers in the women’s field grew throughout the season, though, because the women’s races received television coverage during the men’s events. “It didn’t compare at all to the numbers the men had, but they’re still there and they want to see the women race, and they want the women’s cards….People are there to watch you race and they think you’re a rock star,” she said.
By the end of the season, Dombroski also recovered her fitness and scored her best ever international result, finishing sixth at the Plzen World Cup. “I was pretty proud of it, because not many Americans have finished that high up in a World Cup,” she said. “Pretty much Katie Compton is the only one, and Rachel Lloyd when she was racing.”
Bike racing can be a roller-coaster ride, and Dombroski definitely experienced the extremes this past year. “It’s hard to believe I was gone for six months. It just absolutely flew by. You know, it was definitely a tumultuous season,” Dombroski said. Despite the low points in her season, her enthusiasm survived. “A lot of Belgians came up to me and they were like, ‘How are you liking it?’ And they were shocked to hear me say, ‘Oh I love it. I don’t want to go home.’”
For many American cyclists, competing in Europe is stressful and they struggle with the day-to-day challenges of living abroad. But Dombroski thrives on the adventure of travelling to new places. “I really enjoy trying new foods. And so that’s one of the reasons I like traveling so much,” she said.
She also has a knack for noticing the unique details of the places she goes. In Belgium, it was the bread, and specifically, the bread machines. “Like the coke machines we have here, they have bread machines,” she explained. “And you can get bread out of the machines. They’re pretty big loaves, like soccer-ball sized.” The typical machine stocks three varieties. Of course, the bakeries have a nearly infinite number of choices. “And it was so cheap, like one or two euros!”
One key to Dombroski’s success is her flexibility. She also keeps life simple during the season and sets up a comfortable home base. “If you don’t have a good routine, or a good place to lay your head at night, it’s not good, and it’s not going to work.” She turned off her phone during her time in Belgium. “It was kind of like a vacation because I was so shut off from the world.” She returned to Colorado to a towering pile of unpaid bills and unopened mail, but it was worth it to keep her focus on racing during the season.
With her first Belgian season behind her, Dombroski is looking forward to racing some local mountain bike events this spring to keep her skills sharp. She will also hit the road for some stage racing later in the summer to prepare for the cross season. “Last year, I did some stage racing leading into the cross season, and I really like how that translated over to my cross,” she explained. “But the main goal is cyclocross.”
Dombroski also needs to assemble a new sponsorship support team if she wants to return to Europe next season. Her deal with the crankbrothers Race Club 11 ended with the cyclocross World Championship in January, where Dombroski placed 23rd. “They gave me an amazing season this year. It worked out perfectly for me this season,” she said. Because crankbrothers is primarily a mountain bike brand, the company is shifting its emphasis to supporting its elite mountain bike racers. “I completely understand where crankbrothers is coming from,” she added.
Still, Dombroski admits that she is not looking forward to the sponsorship search. “I’m a little jaded from every single season starting over again,” Dombroski said. “But it’s probably my fault for being so picky.” Dombroski knows what she wants. She wants to be a top-level cyclocross racer, and there is no incentive for women riders to race for the paycheck alone. “You’re racing for pennies, and if you’re not happy, and you’re working for pennies, it’s not a good existence at all.”
Dombroski is eager to give Belgian racing another try. “I really enjoyed it, and I’d really like to try it again,” she said. “And if I do return next year, they’ll have that much more respect for me.”