Words and Images by Shawn Lorte
The day before the race is crazy windy. One of the roads into town is closed due to dust and blowing debris. The airport is closed, forcing Team Bissel to fly into Albuqurque and make the 5 hour drive down to Silver City. By the time the sun is setting, the wind is still blowing as hard as ever and the horizon is nothing but a glowing orange cloud of dust.
Race day breaks to calm and sunny skies, and Axel Merckx , the team director for the team is prepping the boys for the days stage. It’s a 94-mile point to point road race finishing with a stiff 2000 ft climb up the narrow twisty road to Mogollon. One of the days obvious favorites is Francisco Mancebo, riding for Team Real Cyclist. But Axel and team souignier, Reed McCalvin, have some favorites too. George Bennett, a 21 year old rider from Nelson, New Zealand, and Joe Dombrowski, a 19 year old from Marshall Virginia.
Being a fairly flat stage for the first two thirds of the race, the entire 171 rider peleton rode together as a group, with a few bonus sprints thrown in to mix things up a bit. Coming through the feed zones, the team looked good, and no one seemed to be suffering, but it is hard to tell exactly what is going on with the riders as the UCI race radio ban has worked its way into the racing here in the US.
By the time the climbing began, the Trek-LIVESTRONG team had organized itself near the front of the pack and began to turn up the power. The climb gets so tight and narrow towards the top that only a few vehicles are allowed past a certain point, and even those that are allowed can’t really see what is going on at the heads of the race. Turns out Dombrowski ends up going toe to toe with Mancebo for much of the climb, Francisco trying to get away and the kid just not letting it happen!
Eventually Mancebo did get away right before the finish, but Joe hung on for a third, earning the team a podium spot on the first day of the Tour. After the race, Dombrowski was reserved and thoughtful, commenting on how well the team worked together. Axels other favorite for the day, George Bennett, came in close behind Dombrowski for a strong fifth pace on the day.
Talking with Axel on the ride back to town, he had this to say about Joe, “I had heard about him. Then I saw him at Cascade and I said, you know what, I’m gonna try you out!” Hearing Axel say this with his deep Belgium accent was something else. This man obviously knows his bike racing, and knows what his team is capable of. He and Lance hand picked these young riders form over one thousand applicants from all over the world, looking to mould them into racers who will ride the grand tours of Europe.
Stay tuned for day two report, hopefully the boys can keep the momentum and continue to podium.