Amy Dombroski's first cyclo-cross experience lasted about 30 nightmarish minutes.

It consisted of a tutorial on dismounting courtesy of her older brother, Dan, and a couple of jumps over some twigs. After that exercise, she vowed to move onto a sport that induced fewer tears.

However, the Jericho native's decision to abandon the steeplechase of cycling, as cyclo-cross is known, was short-lived. With some gentle encouragement from her brother, Dombroski got back on the bike. Two months later, the now 20-year-old was crowned the 2006 U-23 cyclo-cross national champion.

In December, Dombroski, riding professionally for Velo Bella-Kona, won the 2007 U-23 national championship by a substantial margin, earning herself a berth on the United States elite women's cyclo-cross team that will be competing in Treviso, Italy, at this weekend's World Cyclo-cross Championship.

Cyclo-cross is a cycling event where participants ride a course studded with barriers that require them to dismount their bikes and run. It combines the worst aspects of mountain biking and the worst aspects of road cycling, Dan Dombroski often says. In spite of that, or because of it, Dombroski was determined to master it.

For much of her life, Dombroski focused her athletic energy on ski racing. After graduating from Burke Mountain Academy in 2005, Amy headed out to Boulder, Colo., to pursue a possible professional ski racing career. But after getting sidelined by a knee injury, a career in skiing was out and Dombroski needed a new competitive outlet.

A doctor recommended cycling in order to rehabilitate her knee, and within months, Dombroski was entering road races. Dan Dombroski says his sister was "hooked immediately."

Her first road race was not her finest. One of the pedals flew off her bike, and Dombroski finished fourth out of eight women. But soon after that debacle, she began winning practically every race she entered and quickly rose in the ranks to join the elite field within a year.

Dombroski, who is a student at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colo., has only been cycling competitively for the past year and a half and she is already a pro in the three major disciplines -- cyclo-cross, mountain biking and road cycling. In September, Dombroski came in second place in the women's professional field at the Green Mountain Stage Race. More recently, she signed with Webcor Builders professional women's cycling team, which was recently named the best women's cycling team in the country by the cycling magazine Velo News.

Cycling seems to suit the compact and reserved Dombroski. Having been a cross-country runner in high school, Dombroski already had naturally good aerobic fitness. Plus, says Michael Engleman, head of the U.S. Women's Cycling Development Program, Dombroski has an "athlete's mind," and an ability to endure the strictly regimented training schedule needed in order to compete at an elite level.

"She's very small, but she can put out a lot of power, and she's very tough," Engleman said. "She's a small athlete with a big engine."

Dombroski's big engine helped pedal her to her second consecutive national cyclo-cross title in early December. The conditions were less than ideal in Kansas City, Kan. -- frozen ruts, cracking ice, thick mud that clogged the cyclists' gears. She couldn't believe she had to race on that terrain. But for some reason, it appealed to her.

"The feeling of knowing you're going so hard and you're in so much pain, but it's a good pain. That's the satisfying part of it," Dombroski said.

Dombroski's trip to the World Cyclo-cross Championships is more a learning experience for her this year and it will be only the second time she's competed outside the United States. In her first international race last weekend, Dombroski rode to a 24th place finish at a Cyclo-cross World Cup event in Hoogerheide, Netherlands.

She'll be in good company in Italy. Fellow Jericho resident Jamie Driscoll, a University of Vermont student and current collegiate national champion, will be representing the United States on the U-23 men's team in Italy.

Dombroski and Driscoll join two other Jericho cyclists who have recently competed in world championships. Sisters Lea and Sabra Davison, who were introduced to mountain biking by Dan Dombroski, have both competed on the international stage. In 2003, Sabra Davison raced in the World Mountain Biking Championships in Switzerland as a junior, and this past summer, Lea Davison wore the Stars and Stripes at the same event in Scotland.

Dombroski's had to foot the bill for her trip to Italy and that, coupled with school pressures is causing her some stress, she said. But despite all that, she's ready to race. She might not make it to the podium this go around since the Europeans have a rabid obsession with cyclo-cross and Americans have historically had a hard time breaking the ranks. But Engleman says it's just a matter of time.

"If you think she's good now, think how good she'll be in three years," Engleman said.
Contact Lauren Ober at 660-1868 or