Introduction

We’re pleased to announce a partnership between First Endurance and AG2R Citroën’s Larry Warbasse, the American stalwart whose 2022 campaign is perhaps most memorable for a series of uncharacteristic calamities.

The first came in the final quarter of Liège-Bastogne-Liège, where he went down in a pile-up involving the likes of Dorian Gordon and perpetual race-favorite Julian Alaphilippe. Gordon and Warbasse both DNF’d, the former with a collarbone and the latter with a rather unfortunate hematoma. The second was at Wallonie, where a broken pelvis dashed any remaining plans for the year, including riding the Vuelta.

“To crash when I did was a pretty big blow for me,” he told us, referring to his second crash, because in the lead-up to the Vuelta, everything was coming up Larry. “I was really confident in my form after spending three weeks at altitude the month before. I really felt I had the legs to get a result there, and I was really excited to go to the race with the form that I had!”

“I already had a tough summer,” he said. In addition to his Liège crash and injury, which caused him to miss the Tour de Romandie, he narrowly missed a chance to start his first Tour while simultaneously getting COVID at the end of the Tour de Suisse. (COVID would continue as a theme for AG2R Citroën, which lost multiple riders at the Vuelta due to positive results.)

“It was a pretty big blow to miss out on those big season goals,” he said. But there is still some racing in 2022, and given the state of his recovery (“It’s going pretty well – I’ve been on the bike for almost two weeks.”), he’s hoping a scan this fall will clear him to return to racing. When asked how soon he might pin on a number, Larry’s answer is typically optimistic: “In a couple of weeks!”

As those weeks ticked by, we took the opportunity to get to know Larry a bit better by asking him about his career, his relationship to the bike, and his goals for next year.

Career & materiel preferences

Larry came up through the US amateur ranks starting in 2006. His last stop in amateurs was with the Hincapie Development Team, which fed naturally into the BMC system, where he first tasted pro-life with the BMC Racing Team as a stagiare in 2012 and graduated full-time to the Euro scene with BMC in 2013.

After spending one year with BMC, Larry moved around a bit (IAM, Aqua Blue Sport) before eventually joining AG2R in 2019. Since then, he’s stayed in the brown bibs, but has gone from Merckx bikes to Factor and now once again rides a BMC – which, according to Larry, is likely where he’d have ended up absent sponsor obligations.

We of course asked him about frameset preference, expecting the standard, sponsor-correct platitudes, but he was surprisingly candid, so we assume he’s not just toeing the sponsorship line when he says this about his current bike: “I would probably find it hard to pick just one bike,” he mused, “but I do love my BMC. I think in terms of aesthetics, paint job, etc. – we have the most beautiful bike in the pro peloton.”

 

Kids these days

Larry’s return to BMC isn’t necessarily a career-defining moment, but it does add some tidy symmetry by connecting back to his neopro roots. Not to age Larry too much, but – as his pro-dometer rolls over into double digits – those roots are distant enough to be considered a different era. Today’s young cyclists are entering a very different world than his generation did, and, he says, the youth are winning more and earlier. In addition to today’s more regimented, more professional amateur programs, Larry credits that trend to two areas of change: the psychology surrounding the idea of a neopro and an evolving approach to nutrition.

“They are definitely more welcomed than we used to be,” he told us, reflecting on the new psychology of neopro-ness. “When I started you sort of had to ‘pay your dues,’ and you were really on the lower rung of the team. You started out at the bottom and had to work your way up through hard work and proving yourself – and often the guys were pretty hard on you.”

In his estimation, that’s changed somewhat: “Now, most people are a bit softer on them, that old school tough love doesn’t fly as much these days! It wasn’t always like that, and I think that’s for the better.”

Though he’s not typically the type to take credit for something like this, it’s impossible not to think that this change in attitude is due at least in part to the changes his generation made to cycling as an institution. Since he’s a journeyman and one of North America’s highest profile figures in the sport, it’s also impossible not to think Larry played a role in that. Case in point: His enthusiasm for younger cyclists who skip the dues that he and his generation had to pay, going straight to the opportunities stage.

“It used to be thought you had to have some years of experience before you could really make your mark. What’s cool is, today, they can get results right from the gun, because now people believe that young guys can win too.”

Citing the likes of Tadej Pogačar and Remco Evenepoel, Larry celebrates today’s talented youth and the more egalitarian atmosphere. “Other young riders see their success and realize that anything is possible,” he enthused. “That is really cool. Perhaps a bit like cycling’s version of Roger Bannister and the four-minute mile. Anything is possible from riders of any age today.”

With those immediate opportunities come immediate expectations, though – one of few negatives Larry sees in today’s approach to up-and-comers. “This is one place it gets tough,” he noted. “Today’s Neos are expected to come in and get results from the gun. When I turned pro, results in your first two years were almost seen as a bonus! I remember the few top 5s and top 10s I had as a neo were all viewed almost as breakthroughs or great results.” Rather than breakthrough performances and showing promise, neopros are now more likely to be judged against their more experienced peers, which Larry sees as a detriment to slow starters who may otherwise mature into strong pros. “If they aren’t getting results from the gun, it’s hard to get a second contract.”

The big generational changes aren’t just limited to opportunities. “Another way the younger riders are benefiting today is nutrition,” he said, noting the speed with which the understanding of sports nutrition and athletic performance has evolved in the past decade. “When I started as a pro, everyone thought endurance came with age. We never ate enough in training or in races. Now, we realize that so many of our events are glycogen limited, so fueling is of the utmost importance.”

For Larry, the story of nutrition does, of course, benefit all cyclists, but it especially benefits the youth by eliminating the learning-through-failure aspect of competition that the neos of yore experienced. “Maybe before, it took years of bonking and fading to develop an adequate fat burning ability to make it through 250km races,” he elaborated, “but now we know we can just eat upwards of 100g/h of carbs and be much stronger at the finish for it!” (Click here for a guide on increased carb loads from Dr. Bucci and Dr. Feliciano.)

Elder wisdom

All the same, Larry doesn’t think neos are necessarily fully formed pros. One crucial lack is the intimate familiarity of daily WorldTour life – both in and out of races – that not even the most quasi-professional amateur program can impart. An obvious impact on neopros might be that they become too reliant on structure rather than smarts – akin the apocryphal Coppi quote, “Age and treachery will overcome youth and skill.” Though in true Larry fashion, he sees experience as a pro not as accumulating the tools of a self-serving saboteur, but as learning how to be a more effective collaborator.

“The new situation of neopros makes it difficult to learn things like how to be a good teammate, for example,” he told us. “If you are expected to get personal results early, sometimes you’ll miss the lessons of how to help a leader in certain circumstances, so it’s a bit of a double edged sword.” Every young champion has the equivalent of a Michael Rogers, Bernard Eisel, or Luke Rowe – road captains who teach them the art of the wheel. But Larry notes that, “with the growing majority of the peloton being really young, there aren’t a whole ton of more veteran riders to teach the young guys or mentor them.”

Some notable veterans like Peter Sagan have highlighted this trend by voicing concerns about the ever-younger peloton’s crumbling decorum, but Larry is more circumspect. “Perhaps with the push for immediate results, it’s hard to develop ‘slowly.’ But even if they develop more rapidly in terms of results, I think the riders can still pick up the lessons along the way, as long as they keep an open mind.”

When asked if he thought he could thrive as a neopro in a win-now/learn-as-you-go scenario, Larry isn’t certain. “I say to the young guys of today that I’m not sure if I would have made it as a pro if I were to get here now. Most of them disagree with me, and I think it is probably true that you just adapt to the environment you are in. Their environment is perhaps just more progressive than the one I came up in!”

Alternatively, Larry may just be playing the consummate teammate, supporting the youth by telling them how well they’re doing in overcoming such difficult challenges, instilling confidence like a proper road captain. Will today’s youth get there, or is Sagan correct, and cycling has changed? “Obtaining wisdom and depth are absolutely possible,” he said, “but it will just take some time. It’s a relatively recent transition, so I don’t think we have seen how exactly it will play out yet.” Regardless of how it does, somehow we suspect Larry will find the positive aspect.

Wedding crasher

If we had to define Larry in one tendency, it may be his habit of crashing weddings while on a bike. The playfulness, the light-heartedness, the willingness to have fun even while suffering on the bike – quintessential Larry.

The first instance was with former Aqua Blue Sport teammate Conor Dunne, when the two were on a bikepacking trip they dubbed their #NoGoTour. “We had just reached the top of a mountain after a super long climb, and as we were trying to find the descent (the road split in two), we saw this couple taking wedding photos off to the side of the road. I thought it would be funny for us to get a photo with them, so we asked, and they were very gracious.”

That admittedly makes sense in a freewheeling, bikepacking adventure sort of way; however, the second instance was during an actual WorldTour race, which… makes less sense. (But is also very Larry.) “It was very spur-of-the-moment,” Larry admits. “I was in the breakaway and just finished my pull, and when I got on the back, I looked up and saw this couple taking wedding photos (again), I thought it would be funny to wave or make a sign so I sat up and put my arms in the air, and it was perfect timing for the photo!”

In true pro fashion, his breakaway companions were either nonplussed or simply too buried to notice. “I think most of the guys just had their heads down suffering, and I was maybe the only one who saw the photoshoot, so I don’t think they even really realized what happened until after the race,” he said with a laugh.

On riding – and sometimes not riding

Typically, we begin conversations with cyclists by asking them why they ride, but as Larry’s career progresses, he spends a growing amount of time not riding. To Larry, this tendency makes perfect sense, and is actually rooted in the same impulse that got him riding to begin with.

“I think part of the reason I love cycling so much is the freedom it provides you, to get out of the house, to see new places, to explore. In the last year I realized that my passion for that isn’t just exclusive to bike racing,” he said, describing a conscious effort to carve out time for activities like paddleboarding or bikepacking. “There are other methods to exploring, to having fun, and being able to switch off from daily life.”

Daily life for WorldTour veteran Larry Warbasse is, of course, the life of a WorldTour veteran, so switching off from that must entail a different type of getting outside. Specifically, it’s getting outside of the structure of life as a modern pro cyclist – hence outings like the #NoGoTour. At least, that’s what we assumed, but when we asked him, he wasn’t so sure.

“These other activities aren’t so much an act of ‘pushing back’ on the restrictions of pro life, but more an opening up of my mind to the fact that the ‘monk’ lifestyle I lived for many years wasn’t the only way of being a successful pro,” he said. While the European pandemic lockdown partially contributed to this desire to find new ways of “getting outside,” it also reaffirmed everything he loves about being “inside” the life of a cyclist.

“It was throughout the initial phase of the pandemic with the lockdown and everything that I realized how great my job really is. If I were stuck at home with nothing else to do and no need for making money, I would probably just go out and ride my bike with my friends every day – just maybe a little less when it is raining, and maybe a little less hard sometimes.”

Plans for the future

Though 2022 didn’t turn out the way he and the team had hoped, Larry has re-signed with AG2R Citroën for 2023 with the assumption that this year’s misfortunes were just a fluke. “I am really looking forward to maybe crashing and getting sick less,” he said with a good-natured laugh. “I had more sickness and injury this season than the rest of my prior nine seasons as a pro combined! So that was pretty tough to deal with, but that is the nature of the sport sometimes, especially in today’s world with COVID and all.”

As far as concrete goals, 2023 is still pretty open. Larry’s first priority is just “to hopefully getting back to the same form I had this season,” he said. “ If I can finish this season well and start next year on the right foot, I will be happy.”

Though something tells us that, as long as he’s able to spend time on the bike, Larry will be happy, regardless.

September 13, 2022 — Rob Ware
Tags: Athletes

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