TARRAGONA, Spain (VN) — The Vuelta a España has a new superhero: “Capitán América.” That’s Larry Warbasse, riding in his fifth career grand tour in the U.S. national champion’s jersey.
Every morning when he steps up to the sign-on podium, Vuelta officials yell out “Capitán América” across the loud speakers.
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“It’s a fun new nickname,” Warbasse said. “It’s such a huge honor to come here in such a big race with the U.S. national champion’s jersey. Hopefully I can do it justice.”
The 27-year-old is sporting Stars and Stripes all the way down to his shoes. Shoe sponsor Rapha came up with a unique design to go along with his national jersey.
Lining up in the Vuelta in the U.S. champion’s jersey caps a big season not only for Warbasse, who also won a stage at the Tour de Suisse in June, but also for Aqua Blue Sport.
The first-year Professional Continental team earned a bid to its first grand tour in franchise history, and it hopes to make it count.
“It was a big moment for the team, and everyone was very excited to start the Vuelta,” he said. “The team staff was almost more nervous than the riders were.”
What a difference a year makes.
Just 12 months ago, VeloNews bumped into Warbasse on a morning stroll around a Pyrénéan village in the middle of last year’s Vuelta. With IAM Cycling folding, Warbasse was getting nervous about finding a contract and his future as a professional bike racer. Most riders tie up their futures by July, so anyone still looking for a ride in mid-September is rightly anxious.
Aqua Blue, a new second-division team with big dreams, came calling. It’s the first Irish-based team to race a grand tour, and has ambitions for the WorldTour and the Tour de France. Backers promise at least four years of support as the team gets off the ground this season.
With Warbasse, they found an enthusiastic and experienced rider. After four seasons at the WorldTour level, he had plenty to offer.
“It feels amazing,” he said. “I worked really hard every year since I’ve been a pro, so maybe this is the first year that I am starting to see the fruits of my labor.”
Those results came fast this summer. Always a reliable stage-hunter, Warbasse would consistently sneak into breakaways in his four previous grand tour starts. An eighth in stage 16 in the 2015 Vuelta provided hints of his motor. Seventh overall in last year’s Tour of Poland also revealed his one-week potential.
This summer, the hard work paid off. First, with an emotional stage victory at the Tour de Suisse, and then a week later to win the U.S. title.
“I really love this team,” he said. “We have a great time. I am really enjoying cycling this year, and that translates into results.”
Warbasse promises to keep lighting up the breakaways. In this Vuelta featuring nine uphill finales, he should have more than a few chances.
“We are looking for a stage. That would be gigantic if we could win a stage,” he said. “I will try to infiltrate a move on the right day, and you never know what can happen.”