A few weeks ago, VeloVoices sat down for a chat with Aqua Blue’s Larry Warbasse, just before he took his first WorldTour victory in the Tour de Suisse and stole everyone’s heart with his heartfelt interview at the end of the stage – and his uncontrollable tears of joy and relief. Let’s find out more about this Michigan lad who made good …
STOP PRESS! Larry is now US National Road Race Champion, winning with a sprint to the line on 25 June. He’ll be easy to pick out on the road in that Captain America outfit!
Larry Warbasse was a former downhill ski racer, who was first introduced to cycling as a teenager through the vibrant mountain bike scene in his Michigan hometown of Dearborn. Grabbing the attention of USA Cycling, Larry joined the national development programme and competing in Europe with the US Under-23 squad was the catalyst for his pursuit of a pro cycling career. His dreams came to fruition when he joined BMC in 2013, became an IAM cat in 2015 and joined Aqua Blue when IAM folded last year. He will celebrate his 27th birthday on Wednesday, the 28th.
Sheree: I love Aqua Blue’s introductory video about you: “Confident in the kitchen, charming in the flesh, and devastating on the dance floor.” I know the charming bit is true! After two years each with BMC and IAM, it’s your fifth season as a professional rider. So what’ve been the best bits so far?
Larry: I guess finding my feet at the highest level of cycling. It took a while to really feel like I was in the races. When you start out, especially coming over from US, it adds this extra level of difficulty because you’re so far from home, everything is so foreign and you’re living in a place where you don’t speak the language – everything is exponentially more difficult. So, I think the first year is almost a wash, because you’re so shell-shocked trying to figure out your life. So, I guess the best part has been getting established here, really feeling comfortable. With that has come more success and slowly moving up the ranks in the races. I’m also enjoying living in Nice, on the Cote d’Azur.
Sheree: When we spoke earlier in the year in Australia, you said it was a question of waiting and seeing which of the WorldTour races Aqua Blue would be invited to but, with the team successfully animating races, the invites have flooded in. Wild-card invites to Liege-Bastogne-Liege, the Tour de Suisse and Vuelta a Espana in your first year as a ProConti team have to be hailed as a huge success.
Larry: It’s been going really well, the team’s made a great impression and everyone who comes up to me goes “Wow, it’s awesome!” Even guys in the peloton say: “That looks so cool. Oh, you guys have so much fun. You have the nicest bikes and the best [designed] kit.”
Sheree: It’ll be interesting to watch the team develop particularly given team-owner Rick Delaney’s stated ambitions of a Tour de France start in four years. But tell us a bit about your own ambitions on the team.
Larry: I’d like to step up in terms of some of the hillier races because, on this team, I’ll definitely have a chance to be the leader. So I think trying to deliver on that will be a really big goal of mine, though I don’t know what that exactly means. Maybe a stage win in a big race, or top ten GC or something in one of the WorldTour races we get to be a part of. [He accomplished his goal of a stage win in a big race with that fantastic Tour de Suisse win a few weeks ago – ed.]
But it’s more about just trying to grow into that role, of hopefully, potentially, being a leader and being capable of achieving results. Also, I’d like to work on my time-trialling and I’ve been thinking about shooting for the national time-trial championships.
Sheree: Well, you do have one of the best trainers in the business for that, Bobby Julich!
Larry: Exactly! So I’ve got a great bike and good equipment so that’ll be another priority of mine. The nationals are at a good time, right after Tour de Suisse. It’ll be a good opportunity for me. Time-trialling has been one of my strengths in the past but in the last few years I’ve not trained at it all that much. I think if I really focus on it I could do some good rides.
Sheree: How did you hook up with Bobby?
Larry: As you know he was at BMC and I was probably the first rider he coached back in the spring of 2013. Then he came on board full-time in 2014 and he coached quite a few riders, and I was still one of them. We stopped working together when he went to Tinkoff and I went to IAM. At the end of last year, he was still over here [Bobby also lives on the Cote d’Azur] and we got to talking. I was looking for a coach with whom I had a good connection. Bobby’s more than a coach; he’s a mentor and friend. It was pretty easy. We work really well together. We just talk all the time like we’re buddies.
Sheree: He’s such a great guy, I interviewed him when he was with Sky.
Larry: He’s awesome. A lot of the guys he coached at BMC and Sky all speak really highly of him and say he’s a great coach. He can relate to you as a rider because he’s been there before, he knows how it is.
Sheree: When you’re ready to retire and look back on your career, what would you like to have achieved?
Larry: It’s something I’ve thought about a bit recently. I think it’s one where when I retire I can say that I’ve gotten the most out of myself. I would hope that meant I achieved some good results, a few victories in races. I’d really like to win a grand tour stage at some time in my career, at least one. And, I’d like to finish with a long and successful European professional career.
I’d like to be one of those riders who, at the end of their careers, are known for being a good rider and a good guy who was always there for the team. One of those guys you see in the peloton today that has everyone’s respect. That’d be so cool. Whether that’d be through results, or just always being there for the team leader, it doesn’t matter. You see someone like Daniele Bennati, that guy has so much respect in the peloton. Sure, he’s won some races but he’s always been such a supportive rider and he’s one of those guys who are always there. To be someone like that would be pretty cool. I don’t necessarily have to win every race.
Sheree: Hey, even those riders that win lots of races, lose more than they win. It’s what keeps cyclists humble!
Larry: Yeah, it’s hard to explain to people outside of cycling sometimes. People always ask: “Did you win?” Yeah, maybe if you’re playing a team sport like basketball, you’ll win a lot, right? But if you’re in cycling the chances that you’ll ever win are very slim.
Sheree: Do you have any advice for young neo pros?
Larry: I would just say believe in yourself, keep on doing what you’ve been doing, don’t lose faith, because that’s really easy to do. The first year for most guys, you’re way in over your head whether you like it or not and there’s not much you can do. Every year you’ll see progression, you just have to wait for it. It takes time, but not everyone can come in like a Sagan or Alaphilippe. It was the same with me, I thought I had to change something when I became pro but what I was doing was already working. I guess you live and learn.
Sheree: Wise words, Larry. Do you have any particular pre-race routines?
Larry: I like to meditate before a race; I use an app called Headspace. I’ve been doing this on and off since 2014 but now more frequently. I’ll meditate for ten minutes on the bus and everyone thinks I’m sleeping. Also, I like to organise all my stuff before the race so that I’m not late signing on. I’ll put lots of information about the stage onto my stem – it saves me getting caught out by a technical road or some crazy descent in the middle of the race. Most people don’t think anything about it but suddenly the bunch splits into five, and they’re the wrong side of the split. There are a couple of times where it has paid off big time for me.
Sheree: Which are your favourite races?
Larry: My favourite to watch is the Tour of Flanders. It’d be cool to do it once before I retire, not that I have any burning desire to do it anytime soon! I enjoy racing in Spain, the weather’s usually good and it’s fairly laid-back. I love the Tour de Suisse, the parcours of which this year is going all over the country. I haven’t really cracked the Classics because they’re so long.
And here is Larry’s victory in Tour de Suisse – a victory that was wholeheartedly celebrated by cycling fans everywhere.
Sheree: So the Tour de France and the Classics are ones for the future. Thanks for talking to us, good luck in the forthcoming races and we’ll catch up soon.
Header: Larry Warbasse at Tour de Suisse ©GETTY / Corbis Sport / Tim de Waele