The time deficit only tells part of Warbasse’s story from the UAE Tour’s fifth stage.
After crossing the line Warbasse ground to an abrupt halt, spluttered with exertion and fatigue, then collapsed onto his top tube and rested his head on the handlebars. He had spent the best part of the last four hours providing the horsepower in the five-man breakaway that enlivened the stage ahead of the dawdling peloton.
“It was just fun to get out there, it was kind of nice just to smash it a bit,” Warbasse told VeloNews after catching his breath. “And you know, even if we didn’t make it to the line, it was like a really good day out.”
While Warbasse’s salt-crusted finish-line face and glazed eyes may not have suggested ‘fun’ to some people, he certainly did get a good day out in the legs. He and Tosh van der Sande (Lotto Soudal) added vital horsepower to a breakaway that formed just 10 kilometers into the stage, while their three breakaways chose to sit on.
“The break was working pretty well,” Warbasse said. “I mean, it was really Tosh and I driving it. And the other guys were kind of like, you know, not riding that much. I mean, they were riding, they just weren’t pulling as hard.”
With Warbasse, van der Sande, and budding British climber James Knox (Deceunick-Quick-Step) in the group, the break had more potential than the typical token escape rabble of a WorldTour race. They held a gap of nearly six minutes for much of the stage before the peloton sliced into the advantage on the run in to the climb.
When the break hit the lower slopes of the summit finish with two minutes on the peloton, there was still a glimmer of hope they could make it all the way.
“I thought there was a chance we could make it to the end,” Warbasse said. “You never know though. It’s like the wind, that was really the thing. But I definitely thought we had a chance.”
Sure enough, a strong wind on the wide, exposed highway climb marked an end to Warbasse’s chances, and he was caught with five kilometers to go, grimacing in a style only Thomas Voeckler could match.
In a race dominated by sprinters and GC favorites, the second mountain stage in the Emirates had been marked on Warbasse’s calendar.
“I think unless you’re a big sprinter or Pogačar or Yates you hardly have a chance to win here, so the only chance is to go in the breakaway,” Warbasse said. “After the last mountain day [on Tuesday, stage 3], I was pretty disappointed because I really suffered in the heat, and I really wanted to do something. It was my goal for the day here to go in the break because I knew it might be the only chance I might have to win a stage and yeah, you never know if you don’t try.”
Though the escape didn’t pay off, it gave Warbasse a well-timed indication of form in advance of his season’s goals for the Ardennes classics and Giro d’Italia this spring.
“It was nice to get out there, turn the legs,” he said. “Get a little bit of work in because the other days we were kind of sitting a lot.”
“Yeah, I mean, my form is not there yet, but I’m going in the right direction,” Warbasse said. “I feel good, but I’m definitely not my best yet.”
Though the Giro may still be over two months away, Warbasse will have earned more than a few vino rosso over dinner tonight.