Traverse City: A make or break year; Man delays college to chase cycle racing dreams

By James Cook

Traverse City Record-Eagle

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) -- Larry Warbasse says he doesn't like to stand still.

Boy, has he found the right job.

The Traverse City West grad is making a name for himself on the BMC cycling team.

"I hate being in one spot all the time," Warbasse said. "I like moving all the time. I don't think I could sit at a desk too long. I love being outside and traveling to all these new places. It's just an amazing experience, the whole lifestyle. I've been pretty fortunate to see the world and race a bike."

The 20-year-old is doing well enough that he's putting off one dream -- getting a business degree at the University of Michigan -- to pursue another of cycling glory.

"I just thought I'd try to see how racing worked out without school," Warbasse said. "I thought I'd give it a try, just one time. It's a pretty pivotal year in cycling with my age. It's the kind of year that's make or break, so I thought I'd give it a try."

The results so far have been very encouraging.

In the general classification of the Giro Toscana, Warbasse steadily climbed through the race's five stages. After placing 50th in the opening stage, he improved to 25th, eighth and 19th before taking third in the final stage to cement his seventh overall position.

"I was in a breakaway all day," Warbasse said. "It was me and one other rider out ahead of everyone. It started pouring rain not too far from the finish. We had almost a minute gap with 10K to go and with 5K left. ... It was a really slick corner and my bike went out from under me and he went on to win the race."

Warbasse got up after taking a minute to fix his chain and ended up finishing seventh.

In April's 255-kilometer Liege Bastogne Liege in Belgium, he finished fifth in the U23 division. Then later he helped teammate Gavin Mannion place sixth in the Netherlands' 552-mile Cote Picardie, an event where Warbasse was in the first breakaway, but returned to the peloton after five kilometers.

"I'm hoping to make the jump to the highest level in the next few years," Warbasse said. "Right now I'm on the development team of the BMC team, which is one of the bigger teams in the world. I'm their only development rider, so the goal would hopefully be to make the jump next year up to the big squad."

BMC's top rider is George Hincapie, who assisted Lance Armstrong in each of his seven Tour de France victories.

"I've been training with him a lot lately down here in Greenville (S.C.)," Warbasse said of Hincapie after finishing a training run recently.

"We do a lot of big rides. We do a lot of four-, five-, six-hour rides out in the mountains. Then we'll do motor pacing sometimes doing that. That's where you trail behind a motor scooter to get up more speed and simulate racing."

Aside from being able to train with one of the sport's top racers, Warbasse also has been able to train with the pros and still ride in top amateur races as well.

"I race for a professional team, but I'm not a pro by license," Warbasse said. "So the nice thing is I get a lot of perks the professionals get, but without the license designation, so I can do a lot of the amateur races, which is nice."

With a slim build that spreads 147 pounds over a 6-foot frame, Warbasse's 15-pound bike is about a 10th of his own weight.

"I'm more of an all-around cyclist," Warbasse said. "The smaller guys usually go up hills better. I'm kind of a stage racer."

And it was hills that led Warbasse to the sport in the first place.

A downhill skier much of his younger life, it was a training method for skiing that turned him onto biking.

"I actually got into (cycling) through ski racing," Warbasse said. "I did these Grand Traverse Ski Club mountain bike camps in the summer. And the Iceman race is pretty huge, so I decided to do that one winter, and I really liked it."

He credits Raffi Appel, Bob Braveheart and Jeff Koch with his transition from skiing to cycling, and he stopped skiing for TC West as a junior to take up biking full time.

He said he'd like to participate in Traverse City's Cherry-Roubaix Aug. 12-14 -- a race in which he's placed fourth and second in the last two years -- but thinks he may end up in Europe at that time.

Published: Thu, May 19, 2011