After several years of instability, Larry Warbasse has found his home, and it’s in France.
Warbasse, 29, will race for Ag2r-La Mondiale in 2020, his second year with the French team and his sixth season living and training in Nice.
After racing with IAM Cycling for two seasons in 2015-16, Warbasse was left without a contract when the team folded. He transferred over to new-found Pro Continental team Aqua Blue Sport in 2017. When they shuttered after their second year, he transferred to Ag2r-La Mondiale, one of the oldest and most established teams in the WorldTour.
Now the Michigan-native has found himself a stable home, he’s ready to build on its solid foundations.
“I wasn’t interested in moving teams for 2020,” Warbasse told VeloNews. “It made a lot of sense for me to stay here [at Ag2r] for longer. It’s hard to change teams and if you don’t stay somewhere a long time, it’s hard to see a lot of progression.”
“The team said after the Giro they wanted to keep me on, but it wasn’t announced ‘til late,” he said. “I’m happy here and I thought it would be a lot easier on my head to stay, after what happened with IAM and Aqua Blue both folding.”
Though 29-year-old Warbasse missed out on selection for the U.S team at the Harrogate worlds this year, he finished the season strong, with a 13th place overall at the Tour of Britain, 13th at Tre Valli Varisene, and top-30 at Il Lombardia.
“By the end of this year I was feeling in really good shape and working well in the team,” he said. “I found myself in the final at a lot of the races. If I can continue on that way, that’d be awesome.”
Warbasse finished the year on an upward curve, but his first season back in the WorldTour after two years in the Pro Continental ranks wasn’t straightforward. At the same time as re-acclimatizing to the elbows of the top-tier peloton, he had to settle himself into a team with no other Americans and very few native English speakers on the roster.
Though English has become the language of the peloton, Ag2r is a team where all communications are in French, the team staff are French, and three-quarters of the riders are French. Warbasse had already spent many years living in Nice before the move, but move to a très French team was a further leap.
“It was a big adjustment at first. I didn’t realize how big it would be when I first signed,” he said. “I assumed it would be easier than it was. I went to a French immersion school during my entire off-season last year, but it was still quite a struggle in the first months. I feel quite at home now though.”
Learning the team culture was the lesser of Warbasse’s challenges however. His former team Aqua Blue had received a healthy quota of invites to WorldTour races, including trips to the Vuelta a Espana and Tour de Suisse, but Warbasse feels two years on the Pro Continental circuit blunted his edge.
“Last year it took the majority of the time to find my feet again,” he said. “On Aqua Blue we weren’t doing that many WorldTour races, but I was doing mostly WorldTour races last year with Ag2r. The style of racing is so different. It took me a while to get used to fighting in the peloton again, I lost some of that aggression and positioning in the past years.”
Now he’s comfortable in the WorldTour whirlwind again, Warbasse is ready to build on his strong late-summer form and play a key role in the team’s major races in 2020. Though his schedule isn’t yet confirmed, Warbasse is set on supporting team captain Romain Bardet during the Frenchman’s first tilt at the Giro d’Italia.
“I’d like to do the Giro with Romain and do as good a job as I can for him there,” he said. “I think that’s a role I can really see myself slotting into well here. I can see myself being a really good helper at the big races.”
For the first time in several years, Warbasse feels he’s found a home. Ag2r is one of the oldest teams in the peloton, and French Insurance firm Ag2r-La Mondiale has backed the team since 1998. Just as the team is solid, so is the roster, with relatively few transfers in or out in past seasons.
“They’re very loyal here,” Warbasse said of the team. “They care about their riders and it’s a lot more human than other teams. You see riders staying here for extended periods or even their whole career. That’s nice to see because so many other teams is like a revolving door, and after my luck with IAM and Aqua Blue, it makes a nice change.”
“Ag2r care about the guys and keep people a long time, that’s rare now. It’s a true ‘team’ rather than a business.”
With Ag2r, Michigan-man Warbasse has finally found his home, and it’s French.