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Larry Warbasse: ‘If I turned pro now, I wouldn’t be able to do it’

US pro says cycling's ever-increasing demands leave little room for younger riders to develop at a steadier pace.

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Larry Warbasse, entering his second decade as a pro in 2022, is now an established presence in the WorldTour with Ag2r-Citroën.

The 31-year-old, however, did it the old-fashioned way.

The Michigan native raced locally, joined a club team, punched above his weight on the U.S. national team, and finally got a chance to race as a pro at the ripe age of 23.

These days, young riders are jumping straight from their teens into the WorldTour. In 2020, Quinn Simmons turned pro at 18 and bounced right into the WorldTour. Last year, Marco Brenner, of Germany and also 18 years old, signed a WorldTour deal with Team DSM.

Looking back now, Warbasse admits it was a very different peloton more than a decade ago when he was slowly learning what it took to become a professional.

“We’ve got two young guys joining our team this year, and when I look back at where I was at their age, if I turned pro now, I wouldn’t be able to do it,” Warbasse told VeloNews. “Every year is faster, and every year we’re learning so much about training, nutrition, science, everything.”

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That long apprenticeship that riders like Warbasse and just about every other pro coming through the ranks used to count on is quickly becoming a thing of the past.

Younger riders are talent-spotted earlier, coached at a high level at a younger age, and often start training like a pro when still in their early teens.

By the time a rider is in their late teens, they’re being picked up by top WorldTour teams, and thrown into the peloton.

“These younger guys are performing so well because they’re already almost like pros when they’re still amateurs,” Warbasse said in a telephone call. “There’s a lot more information available now and more training tools.”

Of course, turning professional at a young age is nothing new. Greg LeMond and Eddy Merckx were also winning races at the top level in their teens.

What’s different now is that younger and younger riders are B-lining straight to the top of the sport. It’s not just a handful of hyper-talented riders like Remco Evenepoel, but a steadily growing number across the peloton.

Youth is in.

In fact, Warbasse echoed comments that many in the peloton keep saying: their power numbers are improving, yet so are everyone else’s.

It’s a race to the top, no matter what the age or experience.

“I am doing the best numbers of my career, but everyone is going faster, too,” Warbasse said. “I stay in the same place.”

‘We didn’t know what we were doing’

AL MARJAN ISLAND, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - FEBRUARY 24: Larry Warbasse of The United States and AG2R Citroën Team & Alexey Lutsenko of Kazakhstan and Team Astana-Premier Tech during the 3rd UAE Tour 2021, Stage 4 a 204km stage from Al Marjan Island to Al Marjan Island / #UAETour / on February 24, 2021 in Al Marjan Island, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by )
Larry Warbasse, shown here at the UAE Tour, enters 2022 with big goals. (photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

Of course, the downside of that equation is that younger riders are now under increasing pressure to perform early to confirm their place in the WorldTour. There’s a decreasing amount of space and time for a rider to slowly build experience and depth, and ultimately deliver results.

Looking back over his career, Warbasse also pointed to nutrition and diet as one of the most significant evolutions within elite professional cycling.

“We didn’t know what we were doing,” Warbasse said of nutrition from more than a decade ago. “Now we’re eating five times as much in the races as we did when I turned pro. Today everyone pays attention to what they’re eating and how much we’re fueling. That’s made a huge difference.”

Warbasse points to Chris Froome’s famous raid over the Colle delle Finestre to win the 2018 Giro d’Italia as an example of how fueling changed during racing.

Froome famously ate and drank a huge amount before and during the stage, something that proved key to keeping his energy levels high through the intense, 80km solo attack in the Italian Alps.

Also read: How Chris Froome blew up the Giro d’Italia

It’s no surprise that Froome is also a big promotor of the use of glucose monitors, a new technology that is being adopted by many elite pro teams.

Warbasse also said training workloads have dramatically changed, meaning that the top riders are showing up at targeted races with the fitness and depth to win. The use of power meters and highly detailed training programs means little is left to chance.

“Before everyone assumed you had to race to get into shape,” Warbasse said. “Now the training is so much more specific and everyone’s training faster, because you can do exactly what you need to do.

“It’s all those things coming together,” he said. “That’s really making the level to keep going up and up.”

Building for a big year in 2022

Larry Warbasse, left, and ex-pro Conor Dunne traced a route across five of Spain’s Canary Islands in the fall of 2021. (Photo: Larry Warbasse)

In 2022, Warbasse enters a decisive moment in any pro career: a contract year.

He joined the French outfit in 2019 following the closure of his then-Aqua Blue squad. For the upcoming season, Warbasse hopes to get things back on track after a rough ride in 2021.

“Unfortunately, it was pretty average,” Warbasse said of 2021. “For my personal performance, I didn’t really get any results. That was a bit of a disappointment.

“I started slow, because the year before we finished so late,” he said. “I was mentally fatigued with the COVID case I had in 2020. When I was back home in the U.S. in the first lockdown, my way of coping was to train like a mad man. I went all-in on the training, and the mental and physical fatigue really kind of broke me.”

When VN spoke with Warbasse, a 2022 calendar had yet to be set.

“Going into next year, I want to get off to a good start and get a few results of my own, and then help the team in the bigger races,” he said. “I missed that extra bit of a push in the last part of the race. To win, you have to give 110 percent to perform your best. I missed that bit of mental energy to get to that last step.

“I never really clicked, but at the end of the year, I finally started to come around, and I was able to be part of some of the team’s victories.”

Despite cycling’s big push for youth, Warbasse is still counting on teams needing some core riders with a wealth of experience, depth and wisdom to deliver results and pass on that knowledge to the next generation.

That much won’t change.