While most of the world was paying attention to a handful of GC riders and stage-hunters, Wednesday’s epic Vuelta a España stage 11 saw plenty of other sub-plots that sometimes go unnoticed.

Look no further than IAM Cycling. The Swiss-based squad doesn’t have a real GC contender, so the team is hunting for stage victories.

Leading the way for team colors up Cortals d’Encamp was Larry Warbasse, who was 28th on the stage at 7:58 behind winner Mikel Landa (Astana). While he was off the winning pace, putting a strong finish on the Vuelta’s hardest stage was an important milestone for the 25-year-old American.

Not only does this Vuelta confirm his progression in his third season at the UCI WorldTour-level, but it also comes with some pressure. Warbasse is also riding to get noticed and to secure a contract for next season.

“I have not signed a contract with anyone next year,” Warbasse said in a phone interview. “For me, one of the goals out of this Vuelta is to show myself, and secure a contract, whether it’s with IAM or another WorldTour team.”

Warbasse knows he’s at an important crossroads in his career. The first major hurdle for any aspiring racer is to secure a pro contract, something he achieved in 2013 in a two-year deal with BMC Racing. The second important challenge is to secure a place in the elite pro peloton. After a move to IAM Cycling for 2015, Warbasse is looking to stay at this level.

The 25-year-old is hoping his consistent progress and improving results won’t be in vain, and he can continue with a WorldTeam for the next several years.

“Every year, I see a big progression,” he said. “The first year [2013], I was really suffering just to hold the wheel. Last year, I was more comfortable, and this year, I am right there in the heat of the race. Sometimes it’s hard to see in the results, but I’ve finally recognized within myself I can be here.”

Warbasse is among a new wave of American riders. Like many of his generation, he is a product of the USA Cycling development program. While attending university, he raced with the U23 program in Europe, bumping shoulders with such riders as Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin), who is now fighting for a podium spot in the Vuelta.

While he doesn’t have the high-profile palmares as compatriots such as Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing), Warbasse has made steady progress. He raced 65 days in his first pro season in 2013, with a fifth in the time trial at Vail at the USA Pro Challenge. He raced 87 days last year, with third in a stage at the Tour de Suisse, eighth in a mountaintop finish at the Tour of Austria, and made his grand tour debut at the Vuelta. This season, he was eighth at Bayern Rundfahrt, and hopes to deliver a big result at the Vuelta, ideally out of a breakaway in the second half of the race.

“I am feeling better than I did last year in my first grand tour, and that’s a good sign,” Warbasse said. “I learned a lot last year. Some days, you just need to take it easy, conserve energy, and use it when it really counts.”

So far in this Vuelta, he rode into a break during Monday’s 10th stage that had nearly 40 riders, so a group that big was never going to stay away. In other hilltop finales, he’s been close to the favorites, an encouraging sign.

“At Cazorla [in stage 6], I was right there with [Chris] Froome and the big guys. With 400m to go, I had a big explosion, and lost some time, but that was a cool moment for me,” he said. “I realized this is something I can do, that I belong here. I really hope to show the legs I have in a breakaway before the Vuelta is over.”

Warbasse should get that chance in the second half of the Vuelta. Wednesday’s brutal stage in Andorra settled the GC picture, so many expect more breakaways in several transition stages all the way to Madrid.

Warbasse — who’s been writing Vuelta race diaries for VeloNews.com — knows that one big ride could make a big difference.

“I am focusing on the Vuelta, and trying to lock down a contract,” he said. “I am hoping to keep the same rate of progression, because in another few years, I can be at a very good level.”