Larry Warbasse will start his second year at quintessentially French team AG2R-La Mondiale in 2020 as one of 19 American riders in the WorldTour.
Despite being the third most-populated nation in the world, the USA is only the 11th most-represented nation in cycling’s male top tier. And while 2019 was a dominant year for U.S. junior and women’s cycling, the former national champion doesn’t see a remedy for the low-key elite men’s side of the sport for some time yet.
“In terms of women’s and junior cycling, the Americans are killing it, and that’s awesome, but at the highest levels of men’s road we’re really not, and I think that’s a real shame,” Warbasse told VeloNews. “We have the talents but we’re just letting them flitter away.”
While the U.S. has newly-crowned female world time trial champion Chloe Dygert and junior men’s road race champion Quinn Simmons, no rider has made a massive mark on the WorldTour in recent years. This lack of results and the associated UCI points means the U.S road team has only qualified two elite men’s riders for the Tokyo Olympics.
“For Tokyo, we only qualified two guys for the road race and two in the time trial, and that’s a big change from years’ past,” Warbasse said.
“Not so many years ago, USA was one of the biggest nations in men’s cycling and for a nation of our size and with our resources we shouldn’t be so far down the rankings. I think a big part of it is that there’s no real American WorldTour team.”
In Europe’s cycling heartlands, teams tend to have a strong national identity: Movistar is Spanish, Deceuninck-Quick-Step and Lotto-Soudal are quintessentially Belgian, and Groupama FDJ and Warbasse’s AG2R team are staunchly French.
There are two WorldTour teams that are registered as American: Trek-Segafredo and EF Education First. Both squads boast a distinctly international flair. Trek-Segafredo boasts strong ties to Italy, with an Italian co-sponsor; Italian and Belgian directors; and seven Italian riders on the roster for 2020.
Warbasse points out that American-registered EF Education First is proudly international, with riders from 16 different nations on its 2020 roster. Of the team’s 30 riders for 2020, six are American.
“I wouldn’t think them an ‘American’ American team,” Warbasse says. “It’s not a real go-to place for young Americans.”
For 2020 EF Education First signed rising U.S. rider Neilson Powless.
“The French teams are very French and it’s important them to have French riders and staff, and that’s huge for French cycling,” Warbasse said. “It gives the guys a good place to learn and grow and develop. But Americans have to go to Europe to find opportunities and development.”
For 2020, junior world champion Simmons steps up to WorldTour with Trek-Segafredo, and 21-year-old American time trial champion Ian Garrison enters the top tier of the sport with Deceuninck-Quick-Step. Elsewhere, young talent Brandon McNulty has signed for UAE-Team Emirates, and 25-year-old Sepp Kuss has renewed for a third year with Dutch team Jumbo-Visma.
Warbasse, 29, moved to France in his early 20s when he started his WorldTour career, racing on a multinational roster with BMC Racing. Since then the Michigan native has ridden with Swiss team IAM Cycling and Irish outfit Aqua Blue Sport. He spoke to VeloNews hot off the back of five hours of training on the roads he now calls home in Nice.
“French riders tend to develop in France, but the Americans, we go to different international teams,” he said. “There’s no place for young Americans to go at WorldTour level, where they’re really going to be taken care of and given time to develop and get that investment like they would if they had a team from their own country. And I think until we get that, we’re going to continue to struggle at the elite level.”
With the recent confirmation of Tour of California’s hiatus for 2020, the sport will become even further removed from the U.S. 2019 also saw the retirement of Taylor Phinney and Peter Stetina’s decision to move into full-time gravel racing, removing two veteran Americans from the WorldTour.
“Taylor retired this year, [Andrew] Talansky a few years ago, both before the normal time they would stop,” Warbasse said. “Maybe if they had a better environment to be in through their careers, that they enjoyed more and it wasn’t so difficult, it wouldn’t have been like that.”
“All these European nations take care of their own, but we don’t. There’s no real American team to look after the guys,” Warbasse said.
“I’d love to see that change, if one day we could have a really awesome American team again and invest in the young guys and see them grow, that would be sweet.”