This post continues with our series of interviews about how to be a Pro Cyclist. Â This is the first interview with a female Pro, and the first with a cyclocross specialist. Â Amy DombroskiÂ has been a national champion in Road, Mountain, and Cyclocross. Amy currently rides with the Belgian-based Young Telenet Fidea Cyclocross Team. Other interviews with Brad Huff, Ken Hanson, and Stephen Ettinger.
Derek: Please start with your story of how you became a pro cyclist.
Amy: I grew up in Vermont always following my older brother around, trying to be just like him. Â He lured me into ski racing which is what I chose to follow through high school, at Burke Mountain Ski Academy. When I graduated from there I fell back into my “follow brother Dan” routine and followed him out to Colorado. Instead of Boulder, where he was living, attending grad school, I went to Steamboat Springs to bang my head against the alpine ski racing wall some more. Early in that ski season I had a crash which screwed my knee up. I realized that I wasn’t disappointed. I realized that I was pleased to not have to ski race the rest of the season. So I followed my brother to Boulder, started doing rehab on his bike and following he and his good looking teammates around. He encouraged me to try a race; I remember it well, the oval criterium in Fort Collins. My cleat came off of my shoe and I think I was lapped once or twice, but I was hooked. That season I was just trying to fit in amongst my brother’s friends and keep up with them on the bike. I got pretty fast pretty quickly and when the road season concluded I followed my brother to cyclocross. The same year I picked it up is the same year I won my first ever National Championship in the U23 category in Providence. Unlike ski racing, where I thought I was better than I actually was, I realized that I actually was ok at the pedaling discipline. That little win was like a drug that lured me into cycling.
Derek: Shed some light on your experience of making a living in CX vs. Road if you could
Amy: I started off with racing road. Webcor was the first professional team I joined and the first time I was paid for racing my bike. The first year is one I will never forget. I was thrown in way over my head but I think I rose to the occasion. We went to Australia for my very first World Cup, which my teammate won. Granted I was only able to keep pace for 1 lap I think, but I was still a part of a World Cup win. Then to New Zealand for Tour of NZ, a multi day stage race. Then later in the year to France for a 10 day stage race called the Tour de l’Aude. This was 2008 and through that racing we qualified 3 of our girls for their Olympic teams. It was a stunning season. Everything was new and everything was a massive challenge and all my teammates were like the best teacher you could ever imagine. Such a plethora of experience. I did two years with Webcor. Â The 2nd year didn’t hold that same level of excitement. I felt a bit bored with it and threw together a mountain bike. I raced it a bit and had good fitness from the road stuff. Nationals were to be held in Colorado, so I figured I’d give it a shot and won the U23 title. A week later I went to Bend for road Nationals and won the U23 title there as well, and was also the one who initiated the winning break in the Elite race. I was on form to say the least. With the mtb win I went on to race some more mountain bike races in America and with my results was able to land a spot on the prestigious Luna Chix. It was a mediocre season but I wasn’t very happy, something wasn’t right. The next season I wanted to do things differently, and do things my way. I was beginning to see the light- that cyclocross is where my heart is. I tried to form my own off-road team, and with crankbrothers we formed the Race Club. I raced a couple mountain bike World Cups but was in way way over my head. I could hardly wait for cyclocross season to begin, my first full season in Europe. And that season in Europe cleared all my confusion and dabbling in bike racing…I wanted to be a cyclocross specialist and suddenly, with the growth of cyclocross over the years, it was possible. Â Race Club wanted to be mountain bike focused so I left and was able to land a spot on Belgian based Telenet Fidea. If I love cyclocross and I enjoyed living there the season with Race Club then the next logical step seemed to be this. Racing in Belgium, the motherland of cycling on a team like Telenet Fidea is a bit like being in America and playing baseball for the Yankees. I felt like a sports star. I felt respected and looked up to. I felt like people wanted to meet me and appreciated it if I took the time to sign a rider card or photo. No it is not a glamorous living but I get by and so far, my first season on TF has been the best and most rewarding experience.
Derek: What differentiates your journey to Pro from others at your level?
Amy: I did a lot of jumping around from team to team and I got a lot of criticism for it. But it was just me trying to figure out what makes me tick. I am picky and have a difficult time rolling with the punches. If something isn’t perfect and I’m not happy, then I have a very hard time accepting it for what it is, putting my head down, plugging away and getting through it. It took a few years to figure out what I loved most in cycling, and perhaps if I had just stuck to one of them, perhaps I could have been a successful roadie or mtb’r, but my heart wasn’t in either discipline as it is in ‘cross. So I think a lot of pros decide if they like pavement or dirt and roll with it. It has only been of recent that you see Americans specializing in ‘cross. In Belgium, of course it’s different, ‘cross has been huge there for years. But only recently is it growing for women. I spend six months in America and six in Belgium. It can be difficult. Americans like their sun and special coffees so to be away from home may not work for many pros.
Derek:What do you see as the differences between the path to pro for a woman vs a man?
Amy: There are a lot more opportunities for men. There’s also a lot more incentive to going the distance for men – there’s a lot more money to be made. Women’s cycling is growing, but not at the rate I believe it should, simply because of money. It takes a metric shit ton of time and sacrifice – for not a lot a payout. So most women have a job on the side or are going to school on the side. With training, racing, working/schooling, there’s not much time left! Â Because of this, the numbers are smaller on the women’s side, simply because not everyone can afford the lifestyle. For men, there are more men because they are able make the money and be able to commit.
Derek: Who trained or influenced you?
Amy: My very first cycling experience was while I was at Burke Mountain Academy with my dorm parent Jeff and a boy I had a massive crush on, named Graham. Just following the boys around again! But I didn’t fall in love with it there, nor did I do much of it. My brother was certainly the biggest influencer and for the first year he coached me. When I decided I wanted to “go pro” I began working with Missy Thompson, who my brother had raced with on the University of Colorado team. She helped me make huge strides forward and it was with her that I earned my first professional spot with Webcor. I then transitioned into a dirt rider with coach Ben Ollett and when I decided to lay it all into ‘cross, I began working with Simon Burney who wrote the bible of Cyclocross. Simon live and breathes ‘cross and without him I would never have made the transition to a Belgian cyclocross professional. Working with Simon I achieved my best ever World Cup finish, a 6th place. Unfortunately a large portion of that year racing I was sick and so he and I decided we needed someone good with numbers to better measure how my body is reacting to racing and training. Russell Stevenson joined our team last summer and now handles the everyday training, the numbers, the zones etc, while Simon keeps an eye on the overall plan. I had my most consistent season under this approach and with all we learned this winter, I am looking forward to the gains we can make this summer and more success in the coming winter.
Derek: What were the key turning points-times when you made rapid advances in your career?
Amy: For me I think it is all about keeping it fun, challenging and new. I get bored easily. When I’m not having fun my drive, motivation, work ethic and will goes out the window. So the year I won the U23 National Champs in road, mtb and ‘cross, it was challenging because I was trying to be good at all the disciplines and it was new because I was finding entirely new goals. The year I had my 6th place World Cup finish- that was all very new living in Belgium and extremely hard racing but in a fun situation. This last season, sure I was back living in Belgium, but being on a big Belgian team, I was forced to step it up another level. I did some of the hardest training I’ve ever done and I learned a massive amount about myself.
Derek: What are the biggest common mistakes made when trying to be a Pro cyclist?
Amy: Over -training, under-resting is a big one. You train you train you train, then if you’re not fast, the logical step seems to be to train more. But so often it’s simply that you’ve exhausted yourself and need time to recover. And when motivation and energy is low, it’s common to mistake that for laziness and push yourself more when really it’s just your body telling you to relax and have a nap. I think over-racing can fit in this category too. If you’re on a professional team, that team may ask too much of you. Too many races and too much training can be similar beasts.
Another negative cyclists are guilty of is starving themselves. There’s such an obsession with power to weight ratios that a lot of pros just look emaciated. It works to an extent, it’s a drastic curve. You get faster and faster until your body can’t handle it any longer. Then you get sick and slower and if you crash you break yourself. Generally speaking…
Derek: What are the best and worst parts of being a Pro?
Amy: Best: I get to ride my bike for work and I don’t have to work against a clock on the wall.
Worst: Worrying about getting sick, living like a monk and finding and securing cash sponsors.
Derek: How did you go about successfully finding personal sponsors and when did you need them?
Amy: For women more so than for men, securing sponsors has as much to do with personality (and often times good looks) as it does ability and results on the bike. I have had some success finding sponsors because I can talk the talk and walk the walk. What that means is that I am decent on the bike and I have a decent personality and I am decent at writing. If someone can get a result or two on a certain piece of equipment, that they can then talk to the press about in a positive light and then write a race report and include said equipment – that is worth money to a sponsor.
For me, half the year in america, half the year in Belgium, it is important to have support in both places. I am on a team in Belgium so sponsors are sorted there already. But when I am back in America it is important to have local sponsors. Some that have kept me afloat for multiple seasons are Pro Peloton, a bike shop in Boulder who help me source equipment and keep that equipment running smoothly. CrossPropz is a tool I use for cyclocross training and when I host clinics, but the owner has also become a father-like roll to me. Super Rupair is a car repair and dealer- of course it would be difficult maintaining 2 different cars in 2 different countries, so they provide me with a car when I’m in Colorado. Massage and body work is an integral part to keeping a professional cyclist’s body functioning but it can also be very expensive so KneadEd massage and Peak Sports Chiropractic are massive local sponsors. Then other companies like Chamois Butt’r, Lazer, Pearl Izumi, Crankbrothers, SRAM have stuck with me for the long haul, long time sponsors who continue to support year in and year out. It’s important to keep good working relationships with your sponsors because then they’ll hold onto you and you’ll be lucky to hold onto them.