Larry Warbasse describes his first season with AG2R La Mondiale as "average" but, despite a rough few months to begin with, there was more than enough in the late-season to give him optimism for 2020.
Warbasse only signed a one-year contract with the French team after the sudden collapse of Aqua Blue Sport last autumn, but he did enough to earn himself another 12 months.
In fact, the nod for an extension came shortly after what he describes as "the low point" of his season: the Giro d’Italia, where he struggled through the final week to make it to Milan in 52nd place.
"I came into the race feeling good and was super strong on the first nine days, and then I don’t know what happened," Warbasse told Cyclingnews at AG2R’s recent pre-season get-together.
"I was maybe a bit heavier than usual, so when the proper mountains came, I struggled. It was a combination of everything. Because you’re not riding well, you’re just suffering, at the same time as trying to function in a foreign language. A Grand Tour is already a large accumulation of fatigue so I was just exhausted in the final week."
That language barrier proved much higher than it seemed 12 months ago, when Warbasse arrived at the first training camp full of enthusiasm after an intensive French language course in Nice. Getting to know new teammates in a relaxed environment was a world away from communicating effectively in the pressure cooker of elite sport, it turned out.
"My French was decent, but it took me a while to get comfortable speaking it with ease, and that was mentally fatiguing," he said.
"I didn’t realise how much of an effect mental fatigue could have. You’re training and racing hard, and then having to think really hard the whole day just to be able to communicate."
Another reason Warbasse struggled in the first half of the season was that he made significant changes to his training, doing more volume instead of intensity work and also incorporating low-carb riding.
"Me and my coach thought we’d mix it up. I’d wanted to try something like that, but it didn’t work as well for me as doing fewer hours and more intensity and efforts. Half-way through the year we decided to make the change back."
After a month off in July, Warbasse’s season finally clicked into gear in August. It did so in the most unexpected of places.
"It was kind of funny, I got put into BinckBank at the last minute, which is not exactly my normal style of racing, and we just had a really good group, had a tonne of fun, and Oli [Naesen] ended up winning the last stage and was second overall. That was really cool to be a part of," he said.
Warbasse then helped Benoit Cosnefroy win the Tour du Limousin before finishing 13th overall at the Tour of Britain and finishing his season at GP Beghelli, Tre Valli Varesine, and Il Lombardia.
"I was definitely in some of the best form I’ve ever had in the last races of the year," he said.
"It was a long year – I did 82 race days – but by the end I was probably in my best mental and physical state. It was frustrating, in a way. I’d have liked to have done some more races. I wish I’d hit that form at a different time of the year."
Warbasse knows, however, that it’s better late than never, and he hopes he can simply pick up where he left off when January rolls around.
His 2020 campaign will begin at the Tour Down Under in Australia, and he’s plotting a return to the Giro d’Italia, though this time with considerably more responsibility since team leader Romain Bardet is targeting the Italian Grand Tour.
"Being a helper for Romain, over a variety of terrain, was one of the things I felt I could do best coming to the team," Warbasse said. "I knew him from before, and he also has an apartment just outside Nice so we train together sometimes. Doing a Grand Tour with him would be super cool."
The overarching ambition, however, is simply to replicate what he did from August to October.
"I just want to ride at my potential – at the level I know I’m capable of," Warbasse said.
"If I can continue where I left off at the end of last year, that would be really big for me. I found a good way of working, living, eating, and everything – it was a really sustainable lifestyle. If I can continue that, I can have a really good year in 2020. I just want to have the best year I can have."