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Q&A: BMC’s Larry Warbasse eyeing a grand tour in 2014

BMC Racing's 23-year-old American Larry Warbasse is hoping to race his first grand tour this summer

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When Philippe Gilbert won Wednesday’s Brabantse Pijl, 23-year-old American Larry Warbasse was among the BMC Racing teammates that Gilbert thanked for their hard efforts.

Earlier this year, VeloNews caught up with Warbasse at the Tour de San Luís, in Argentina, where he landed a fourth-place result in the stage 5 time trial.

At the time of the interview, the 6-foot, 147-pound Michigan native was not certain of his race calendar, but he has since tackled Tour Méditerranéen, helping his teammate Steve Cunmmings take the win, as well as Strade Bianche and Volta a Catalunya, where teammate Tejay van Garderen won a climbing stage.

Now immersed in his second year with BMC Racing, after several years splitting his time between the BMC-Hincapie Sportswear Development Team (in the U.S.) and the USA Cycling under-23 national team (in Europe), Warbasse is hoping to become a more prominent face in the peloton, both by assisting the team through mountainous days in stage races, and securing some results for himself as well.

After moving to Nice, France, for the new year, Warbasse is hoping that 2014 will also bring him a first start at a grand tour. He recently learned that he’d be racing Brabantse Pijl, Flèche Wallonne, Tour de Romandie, and the Amgen Tour of California. In 2013, he raced the USA Pro Challenge, but this August, he’s hoping for a start at the Vuelta a España.

VeloNews: You were on the squad for BMC’s Tour of Qatar squad in 2013. That’s a hell of a way to start off your pro career.
Larry Warbasse: Yeah, it was awesome. It was kind of like a trial by fire with all the crosswinds. When I told everyone my first race was Qatar, they just laughed. But it was really good, we had a really good time — great squad, great group of guys. It helped with the cohesion.

VN: You also have guys like [Garmin-Sharp’s] Phil Gaimon, whose first year at the WorldTour level is coming at 28. What do you think such a wide spectrum of ages for starting out as a pro?
LW: To even be able to go WorldTour at that age is really hard. There are a lot of guys who are 25 or 26 and they’re really good, but they don’t even get looked at because they aren’t young.

VN: When did you first start racing?
LW: I started mountain-bike racing when I was 13 and I switched to road when I was 15 or 16. I started racing with the national team when I was 17 and stayed with them until I was 22 — first with a junior national team, and then a U23 national team.

VN: You put in a strong time trial [at San Luís.] What kind of racer do you see yourself as?
LW: I’m more of a GC kind of guy. Right now it’s more helping out in the mountains, and I can ride a good time trial. Usually I can climb pretty well, but unfortunately that didn’t come out [in San Luís], but I hope to show that in the next bit of races. In some of the races last year I was up there on the climbs. In Colorado [at the USA Pro Challenge], I was helping Tejay. I was also climbing pretty well at the Tour of Utah. I had a rough season last year — just adapting to life in Europe and everything like that. I lived in Italy, and I [moved] to Nice, France this year with Joe Dombrowski. With Taylor Phinney there, too, I think it will be easy to build a younger American community, which is necessary.

VN: What race are you most hoping to do this year?
LW: Hopefully I’ll do my first grand tour. Whether it’s the Giro or the Vuelta, I’m not sure. That’s the main goal. I think one of the options would be to come back to Tour of California after a few WorldTour races. [Warbasse has since confirmed that he will race the Tour of California, rather than the Giro.]

VN: Is there any race you did last year at the WorldTour level, or just any race that you thought you could do well in, that would suit your characteristics?
LW: A lot of the WorldTour stage races seem to fit my characteristics. I think one day I’ll be able to do well in them. Last year I struggled a bit, but it was a really good experience. I did Catalunya and the [Critérium du] Dauphiné, and I really, really suffered at Dauphiné. It was probably my worst time of the year — I was a bit over-trained and just struggled through every single day. I learned a lot there and it really helped me turn around the second half of the season. One day I’d love to do well at those races, and, some day, Paris-Nice. This year I’d like to be good at helping whoever our leaders are over multiple days in the mountains, and maybe have a good time trial for myself — or even an opportunity for a stage win. I just want to feel like I’m more part of the race this year. A lot of times last year I was barely in. In the second half of last year I started becoming part of the race, and that really helps raise the confidence.

VN: You left school with two semesters left to chase the bike racing dream?
LW: I never planned on being a cyclist. My parents were pretty big into academics, so I wanted to be a doctor, and then go into business. Cycling was just kind of a hobby, I guess. I went to the University of Michigan, as it has a really good business program. I worked really hard, it’s a three-year program. I studied so hard, and still tried to train, running myself into the ground every day. The only thing I looked forward to was going to sleep, because it was the only time I wasn’t stressed. When I went to race with the national team in Europe, I just realized I loved what I was doing. Every day I was looking forward to waking up, couldn’t wait to get on my bike. I just lived for the sport. And it hit me: Why would I do something I didn’t like at all, when I could do something I loved? So right then and there, I decided to become a pro cyclist.

VN: What was your best result as a U23 rider?
LW: I was very consistent. In 2011 I had a couple of podiums, third in a stage in Nation’s Cup in Tuscany, fifth in the U23 Liége. And then seventh in some big stage races, fifth in the Tour of Berlin. I started talking to BMC and they decided I should do another year as a U23, so I went back to school in the fall of 2011, and then went to Europe, raced, and signed with BMC. And that was that.

VN: You said your parents were very into academia. Did they support your becoming a pro cyclist?
LW: My junior year of college I took a semester off to see if I could do the cycling thing, and my parents flipped out. I told them I wasn’t asking for their permission, but for their support. They said they would support emotionally, but not financially. I ended up moving to Greenville [South Carolina] to train with George Hincapie in the winter of 2010-2011. I went over with the national team in March, and had quite a few good results. … I’ve been under the radar a bit, just because I’ve mostly raced in Europe; I’ve never done any [National Racing Calendar] stuff. So I’ve taken a different path than the other guys. Now my parents think it’s cool, they came over to Europe [in 2013] to see me, and see Catalunya, so they came to the last stage, in the heart of Barcelona. I was in the breakaway and I saw them and said, “Guys!” and waved. They thought it was awesome. It was pretty cool they saw me race, and where I lived, and how I was doing everything. They thought it was cool.

Addie Levinsky contributed to this story.