Eight months after Larry Warbasse (AG2R La Mondiale) and Conor Dunne (Israel Cycling Academy) defiantly rode the 'NoGo Tour' after their Aqua Blue squad had folded, the two are now racing a 'real' stage race: the 2019 Giro d'Italia.
The reigning Irish road race champion and former US road race champion opted to head for what they dubbed the NoGo Tour, rather than the Ovo Tour of Britain – which Aqua Blue were supposed to be racing, but failed to do so when the team folded. The two-rider NoGo Tour took Dunne and Warbasse over roughly 1,100 kilometres of roads in southern Europe, including Italy, and lasted the same time as the Tour of Britain.
But now the two former AquaBlue riders are back in Italy – this time for some real racing at the Giro d'Italia.
"It's a really good feeling," Dunne told Cyclingnews earlier this week. "Back in September, I didn't believe I'd even get back to racing, and now I'm also doing some of the biggest races on the calendar.
"I'm starting to remember how blooming hard it is, and part of me wishes I was still out there eating pizza with Larry somewhere in Italy," he continued. "But hey, I'm not really complaining at all, and I'll be fighting for every stage. I didn't expect it, but it's so good to have these opportunities."
"Eight months ago, we didn't know where we'd be, so here is a good place to be," Warbasse added. "Starting the Giro has been a really good feeling. We've already caught up a little bit here in Italy, talked some on stage 1, but it's hard to talk much during the race."
In terms of previous three-week experience for the 'No-Go' duo, Warbasse has raced the Giro before, in 2016. However, his main Grand Tour experience is heavily weighted towards the Vuelta a España, which he's done four times. Dunne has also completed the Vuelta, back in 2017, and this year's Giro is his second Grand Tour.
"Compared to the previous Giro, I'm definitely doing better. I came in from the Classics and I think that was a nice preparation, because I've felt pretty good on the early stages," Warbasse said.
Warbasse had something of an eventful first time trial, though. Having ridden the TT, he got lost on the way to the team hotel, ending up getting trapped in a field and needing a rival sports director to make a phone call to bail him out.
"I decided it would be quicker to ride back to the hotel after the time trial. I looked at the map, as I didn't have my cell phone with me, and I thought, 'It's like this,' but it wasn't," Warbasse recounted.
"I missed the turn – I went about seven kilometres past it – then went back, took another wrong turn… I ended up in a farm field, stuck between two gates, but then the Bardiani director saved me. He had to call someone to come to open the gate for me.
"But I eventually found my way back and got 'home'" – the team hotel – "just before dark."
Like Warbasse, Dunne is in good shape, although as he was at his real home, waiting for the birth of his first son, for much of April, so he has not raced as much as the Michigan-born racer prior to the Giro.
"I think I'm doing all right. I'm missing a little bit of sharpness, because I didn't race for the last month," Dunne said. "But I'm coming in fresh. I'm in good shape. I weighed myself on Tuesday and I was on a good weight for how tall I am, so I'll just try to get through these early stages the best I can and then see what I can do over the three weeks."
Whilst delighted to be back racing at the top level after such a rollercoaster autumn, Dunne says that leaving his family behind this May to come to race in Italy was anything but easy to do.
"My son was born on the May 1 – Jesse Daniel Dunne – and it was the best day of my life, and an incredible time before I came here.
"But it was the toughest thing I've ever done, coming away. I knew it was going to be tough before, and then after he was born I realised how hard it was going to be. It's kind of hard to think about, even, but I'm so happy that I'm a father, too."
As for his Israel Cycling Academy team's objectives, "These first 10 days it's all in for Davide Cimolai. He's sprinting well, and can really challenge on the flat days, and when it's a depleted group, he can be up there, too.
"I'm going to really try to help him the best I can, and then later on I'd love like to get in breaks myself. If the legs come around, you never know what could happen," said Dunne.
As for Warbasse, "At AG2R we're looking for stage wins, and then Alexis Vuillermoz, who was 11th the last time he did the Giro, is our GC man. It's really going to be a giant second half of the Giro, so from stage 13 on, there could be a lot of chances."
Afterwards, Warbasse aims to head for the Tour de Suisse, where he won a stage back in 2016. But for the American and Dunne, just taking part in the Giro d'Italia is already a major high point of their seasons.