Larry Warbasse and his stage-hunting quest at the Giro d’Italia

Larry Warbasse hopes to join elite club of U.S. stage-winners at the Giro d'Italia.

Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

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Larry Warbasse knows he can do it, and he knows there are plenty of opportunities to do it.

The quest? A stage victory at the Giro d’Italia.

“Winning a stage — that’s still the goal,” Warbasse told VeloNews. “I am feeling pretty good, and I am still getting better. Some years I’ve come in hot into a grand tour, and the form goes down during the race. This year, I am steadily improving. I’m hoping it will turn out well for the Giro.”

Only 10 U.S. riders won a stage at the Giro, and that’s company Warbasse is keen to join.

Warbasse, 30, headlines a solid Giro-bound squad at Ag2r-Citroën, and will have a short journey from his European base along the French Riviera up to Torino along the edge of the Italian Alps for the “big start” next week.

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Warbasse is rubbing his hands in delight as he studies the Giro road book, which he sees as loaded with opportunities for stage-hunters and breakaway artists.

“There could be 10, 12 stages ideal for a breakaway in the Giro,” he said in a telephone interview. “Even on the days when the GC riders are slugging it out, a breakaway can still fight for the stage victory. I think there will be a lot of breaks in the Giro this year.”

In what will be his eighth grand tour career start, Warbasse packs the perfect blend of experience, base strength, racing savvy and team ambition to put him in pole position for a stage win.

Last year, Warbasse came as close as he’s been to grand tour success when he hit fifth in stage 9 in Roccarosa.

His strong legs also nudged him into GC range, and midway through the race, team brass urged him to chase a strong overall placing. That meant he had to swap out daring, all-in tactics to win a stage in exchange for more measured and calibrated racing in the second half.

Warbasse rode into Milano in also a career-best 17th overall, and those results only fuel his confidence coming into the Italian grand tour.

“The team wanted me up in the top-20, and I did that, so it was nice to see what I was capable of in a really hard Giro,” he said. “But trying to be up there every day, fighting for a good place in the overall, that really detracts from the ability to go for the stage wins.”

Freedom to chase stage wins

FEICHTEN IM KAUNERTAL, AUSTRIA - APRIL 20: Larry Warbasse of United States and Ag2R Citroen Team at start in Innsbruck city during the 44th Tour of the Alps 2021, Stage 2 a 121,5km stage from Innsbruck to Feichten im Kaunertal 1291m / @Tourof_TheAlps / #TouroftheAlps / on April 20, 2021 in Feichten im Kaunertal, Austria. (Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images)
Larry Warbasse honed his form at the Tour of the Alps this month. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

After his successful GC experiment in 2020, Warbasse is relishing the chance to return to full-on stage-hunting mode

Unless a rider is someone like Simon Yates or Tadej Pogačar and packs the ability to challenge for the final podium and win a few stages along the way, most riders need to choose which one it’s going to be.

For Warbasse, the choice is clear — a stage victory.

“During a race like the Giro, you need to recover when you can, and go all-in when you have to,” he said. “It’s a huge fight to get into the right move, but if you’re in the fight for the GC, you’re not going to waste energy doing that. For the GC, it’s about consistency, and going as hard as you can at the end of every stage. When you’re hunting for stages, it’s more a balance. Some days you can sit up and rest a bit, and when you’re in the break, it’s all-in to win.”

There is a fine art of even riding into a breakaway, and Warbasse now has the experience to read a race and follow the right wheels.

“The fight just to get into the breaks can be brutal,” he said. “For me, the big goal would be to win a stage.”

And what about the peloton’s King of the Breakaway, Thomas De Gendt?

“I am not afraid of him. When he is on his day, he’s insane, but he has bad days, too,” Warbasse said about De Gendt. “No one can be incredible every single day. It’s important to have a good group that’s working together.”

The success rate of winning out of a breakaway can be slim, but Warbasse fully embraces the challenge.

First, you have to have the legs and nose to ride into the move that sticks. The fight for the break can drag on for 40km. A rider can follow six moves that get caught, only to miss a rotation and watch in exasperation as the seventh surge becomes the one that snaps the elastic.

Then there needs to be a committed group of riders willing to work together to make it to the line. Warbasse and other stage-hunters need to read the road book, and pick the stages when a break makes the most sense. If it’s a sprinter’s stage or the first hilltop finale with time bonuses when the GC is still wide open, it might not be the best day to burn the matches.

Also read: Warbasse extends through 2022

And finally, have the legs to finish it off for the victory.

Warbasse — who was nicknamed “Capitán América” by the Spanish media when he raced in the US national champion’s jersey — is ready to solve the puzzle.

“You have to be smart and follow the right moves,” he said. “You have to be good with the timing. Then it’s a full battle to the line. Then you have to be the strongest.”

Warbasse has been in dozens and dozens of breakaways during his professional career. He’s come up twice a winner — with the US road title in 2017 and a breakaway stage win at the Tour de Suisse the same year — and he’s done everything right to ride into the Giro with top form.

Now it’s a question of the stars aligning at the Giro d’Italia.

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