Persistence pays off for new US champion Warbasse

Aqua Blue Sport rider hopes to inspire fans to believe in themselves

Larry Warbasse made internet fame earlier this month when he won a stage in the Tour de Suisse with a brilliant solo attack and then was so overcome with emotions in the post-race interview that he broke into tears on camera. After winning the USA Cycling Professional Road Championships in Knoxville, Tennessee, on Sunday there were only dry eyes and a huge smile as he celebrated a rare victory on home soil.

"This has been the best two weeks of my life," the 26-year-old Aqua Blue Sport rider said after his nationals win, revealing the struggles that led up to his jersey-winning ride. "I had a really great race in Suisse a couple of weeks ago, and I don't know. Yesterday I felt pretty bad in the time trial, and I was pretty disappointed. I told some friends that I guess I work well with disappointment and hopefully, tomorrow would be good.

"Honestly I didn't feel good the whole day, I was suffering the whole time and I don't think I was the strongest, but I think I was the smartest. I can't believe it, I'm so happy."

Warbasse picked a perfect moment to go on the attack in the 176.9km race, going clear with fellow Michigan native Alexey Vermeulen and Neilson Powless (Axeon Hagens Berman) with about 30km to go. Heading into the final kilometre, the trio still had enough of a gap to know they would be sprinting for the win. The thrill of a possible national title would make most riders jittery, but with that WorldTour stage win in the bag, Warbasse had nerves of steel.

"I think [the Tour de Suisse win] came in handy because I was more patient in the final," Warbasse told Cyclingnews. "I wasn't nervous at all. I knew I already had an awesome victory, and that let me be patient, wait, and watch the other guys in the last kilometre. I was able to make my move at the right time. If I didn't win that one, I think I would have been way, way too nervous today."

In addition to carrying calm confidence into the race, Warbasse arrived early enough in the week to scope out the course and make a solid tactical plan for how to attack the race without teammates. At first, he said, he thought he might attack on the main climb up Sherrod Road, but as the race went on, he could tell that everyone was expecting attacks there. Instead, the moves came on the wide open, flat highway before the climb, a steep kilometre-long twisting ascent that served only to disrupt the chasing peloton.

Once away, Warbasse eyed the finish, honing in on a slight rise in the final 500 metres and the slightly downhill stretch to the line as the right place to attack.

"With 2k to go, I put in a dig to see if I could get a gap and they were right on me," Warbasse explained. "I knew we had to keep it rolling, but I had to watch them. Coming into the last corner I kind of sat up and let the other guys go. Alexey's young, and he hit it. Neilson is young too, and he was scared so he was able to follow. I knew I don't have the greatest sprint, and if I got enough of a gap on the downhill I thought I might be able to hold them off. I put my head down and didn't look behind and I was able to do it."

Taking out the national title was a special moment for Warbasse, but even more so because his parents were at the race and were thrilled to witness his achievement.

"It was amazing. It's not too often my parents get to see me race, because I spend most of the year in Europe. Most of the last years I've been over there and have hardly raced in the US. To see how happy they are is really cool."

Now, Warbasse will take a break and then prepare for the Vuelta a España later this summer. He can leave behind his fame for his teary-eyed interview and instead show off his new jersey. But he has no regrets about putting his emotions on display for the world to see.

"If that made people bigger fans of me, that's great. I'm honoured that people can relate to working tirelessly and it never really paying off until one day. I guess if I can be any sort of example to people for not giving up, always believing in yourself even though some really hard times, I'd be happy with that." 

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