Larry Warbasse gets high in Sicily

By Larry Warbasse


In the lead-up to this year’s Giro d’Italia, Larry Warbasse and a crew of Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale riders reported to the slopes of Mt. Etna for an altitude training camp. While the famous volcano doesn’t have a starring role in this year’s Giro, it did feature in Larry’s lead-up to the race.

In this account of the training camp, Larry lets us into how the pros do altitude, giving us a firsthand look at how he fueled, how he sparks adaptations to altitude training, and how he learned the difference between could and should.


I’m currently sitting on the slopes of a desolate volcano in the south of Italy.

As I look out my window, I see little other than a flock of tourists scrambling to take photos of the strange smoke rings being puffed out of its peak at regular intervals. I’m staying at the Rifugio Sapienza, a mountain refuge halfway up Mount Etna in Sicily. 

What am I doing here? No, I’m not on vacation. Nor am I here to catch a glimpse of the volcano, even if it’s quite the sight to see.

I’m here to chase gains and put the finishing touches on my preparation for the upcoming Giro d’Italia. This April, I have had the good fortune of joining three of my teammates on the Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale Team at a 17-day altitude camp to get ready for the first Grand Tour of the season. 

Something that was once reserved solely for team leaders has quickly become recognized as an obligatory addition to our training to get ready for the biggest races of the year. I’ve been doing altitude training since I was an under-23 rider, with varying results, but over time I have learned how to best manage the training while in thin air, and to nearly always leave in good form.


While it might not be a surprise to many American endurance athletes, many of whom live in Colorado or the homebase of First Endurance in Utah, for those of us living at sea level, spending time at altitude before important races can lead to a big boost in performance. You just have to get it right. 

Surprisingly, much of the data over the years has had difficulty showing consistently positive results from altitude exposure, but from my personal experience, I can say I always seem to have my best form in the weeks following an altitude camp – in fact, nearly every result I have had as a professional has followed an altitude camp. But why the disconnect between the research and reality? I believe the reason for this is pretty multi-faceted.

First of all, everyone responds differently to different altitudes.

At our camp here, we have Ben O’Connor, who lives in Andorra at around 4,500ft, while the other three of us live between zero and 1,000. We measure our oxygen saturation each morning and evening, and Ben is nearly always a few percent higher than the rest of us. That’s because he is already semi-adapted, so the rest of us must take our own training a bit slower the first week until we are more adapted.

From there I find it is extremely important to pay attention to your intensity over the course of the day. We spend the first four days never going above endurance pace, before starting to work our way into intervals. I pay attention to my heart rate even more than I look at my power, as it allows me to have a bit more of an internal gauge of my intensity. 

On the days we do our efforts and intervals, I do the intervals to the prescribed wattages (often lower than sea level, depending on what altitude we do them at), but after that, I really keep my intensity in check. On the ride back up the mountain each day, I cap my heart rate at 125-130 bpm. (I have a super-low heart rate even for a pro, so it’s probably similar to 145-150 bpm for the others.) If the other guys go faster, I let them go.

I read somewhere the other day that one of the most important aspects of training is being able to decipher between “could” and “should.” It’s not that I’m not capable of riding faster, but if you want to get the biggest benefit from training up high, sometimes you have to let the others – as well as your ego – go. And sometimes it’s a lonely 20km ride to the top.


So what do our normal days look like in camp? It’s around a 7:30-8:00am wake up for a 9-10:00am training start, depending on the length of the session. On our training days, we usually ride between 4 and 6 hours, with one 7-hour day with over 15,000ft of climbing thrown in for good measure. 

Right after waking up, I make sure to take my MultiV-PRO first thing after getting out of bed, which I find especially beneficial at altitude because it contains a solid daily dose of iron – something that is proven to catalyze positive altitude adaptations.

I then start a rice cooker, full of oats and a banana, which I prepared the night before, so I have hot oatmeal every morning. While the food at our hotel is great, Sicilian breakfast is more like pistachio-filled croissants and cookies rather than something suited to professional cyclists. At least the Italian espressos aren’t too bad! I have my two espresso doppios and then I am ready for the day’s training!

One especially important aspect to training at altitude is the greater reliance on carbohydrates compared to sea-level. It means we really pay attention to our fueling on the bike – so I am very conscious to consume plenty of EFS-PRO and Liquid Shots throughout the day to keep my carb intake and hydration levels on point.

Since we have been pretty focused throughout this camp, we haven’t stopped for coffee many times, but the two times we have, we made sure to partake in some of the culinary delights of Sicily and a few things I forgo at breakfast – ricotta cream-filled pastries and pistachio granitas, which is a sort of Italian ice – alongside numerous Italian espressos!


Upon returning from training, we slam a recovery drink (my personal favorite is Cappuccino Ultragen), and then I take my daily dose of OptygenHP to help me adapt to the stress of altitude before showering and heading down to lunch.

The difficulty of being in a place with such incredible food is trying to avoid some of the richer, heavier options after training; but luckily, we convinced the team nutritionist to include pizzas in the program on the bigger training days! Often lunch has been a rice/risotto with grilled chicken and salad, as well as one of the hotel’s many desserts – our favorite is a homemade panna cotta with a pistachio on top – not too decadent but satisfies the sweet tooth just the same.

After that, it’s relaxing in the room with my feet up, watching whatever bike race is on the TV, and then on most days a massage before heading down for dinner. Our last meal of the day is often pasta (the pasta here is SO good; it never gets old), a meat or fish which varies each night (although still a lot of grilled chicken), and usually some fruit for dessert.

That is essentially our daily schedule – just put it on repeat.


Altitude training is effective, but it can be boring; however, being in diverse locations with new roads and a different culture like here in Sicily actually makes it pretty interesting. Hopefully our time here pays off with some nice results! We head straight from camp to the 5-day Tour of the Alps in northern Italy and Austria before 10 days at home recovering and getting ready for the big one – the Giro d’Italia. 

I’ll keep you posted along the way!


May 02, 2024 — First Endurance

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