Larry Warbasse spent much of the off-season brushing up on his French. He’ll need it for 2019 with his new team Ag2r La Mondiale.

Warbasse will be a first for Ag2r, one of France’s longest-running teams dating back to the 1990s. The Michigander will be the first American rider in team history.

Team boss Vincent Lavenu stressed, however, he didn’t sign Warbasse for his passport.

“The first time I noticed Larry was when he won that stage at the [2017] Tour de Suisse, the way he held off the pack in the final climb was impressive,” Lavenu said. “I thought, he’s a talented guy and I will keep on eye on him to see if he needs a team someday.”

The chance came sooner than expected. Late this summer, Warbasse’s Aqua Blue team unexpectedly went up in flames before the 2018 calendar finished up. That left dozens of pros scrambling for jobs at one of the worst possible times of the year.

Warbasse’s friendship with star Ag2r rider Romain Bardet helped open the door. Bardet put in a good word with Lavenu and Warbasse was able to get in touch with the veteran French manager. With time running out, Warbasse took matters into his own hands.

“It was crunch time and I went straight to contact several teams myself. I know Romain and I asked him if the team needed a climber and helper,” Warbasse said. “Romain put me in touch with Vincent [Lavenu, Ag2r director] and things moved pretty fast.”

The 28-year-old was on his famous “No-Go Tour” last summer with Aqua Blue teammate Conor Dunne across the Alps when the door cracked open with Ag2r La Mondiale.

Warbasse exchanged some messages with Lavenu and then went to meet him face-to-face in the team’s offices in France. The rapport developed quickly and easily. Before he knew it, Warbasse was looking to book immersion classes this fall to hone his French ahead of the 2019 season.

“The opportunity to take a closer look at Larry came up with Aqua Blue,” Lavenu said. “I first spoke with his agent, and then directly with Larry. I quickly noticed that not only was he a great rider but an interesting person as well.”

The pieces came together both for Warbasse and Lavenu. Unlike some of the other French teams, Lavenu has always had a more international expression to his team lineups. There were nearly a dozen nationalities on the team’s 2018 squad. Next year it will add an American to its roster.

“It was a good fit,” Lavenu said. “We wanted to sign Anglophone riders as well. He is the first American in the history of our team.”

For Warbasse, Ag2r La Mondiale will be his fourth team since turning pro with BMC Racing. He then moved to IAM Cycling and later, Aqua Blue.

“I’m very excited to be joining Ag2r,” Warbasse said. “I am going to be a fresh-faced newbie. We haven’t spoken about calendar or anything, but I will go anywhere the team wants me to. I am going to take it with both hands and run with it.”