All images reproduced courtesy of AG2R Citroën
One of a growing number of North American pros in the World Tour peloton, Larry Warbasse began his career in Europe in 2012, and has since integrated into life in mainland Europe, learning French and moving to live in Nice.
The 33-year-old Michigan native has recently extended his contract with AG2R Citroën, the team which he has been a part of since 2019, and after a gruelling season on the road I caught up with him a few days into the off-season, to ask him about his road to the pro ranks, the American cycling revival, and what the future holds for him, both on and off the bike.
How is off-season treating you so far?
Yeah, not too bad. I’m happy to be done with the season because it was a really long one for me. I've just been relaxing at home the last couple of days. So that's been nice.
Tell me about your journey to AG2R.
So I started with BMC Racing Team when I turned pro in 2013. I did two years there, then I went to the Swiss team, IAM and did two years there, and then that team folded, and I switched to the Irish team Aqua Blue Sport, and then that team also folded.
After all that bad luck with successive teams folding, AG2R coming in for you must have been really good timing. How did that come about?
I had a really good season in 2017, probably my best ever, with Aqua Blue, and then 2018 was a bit of a rough one for the team, we had a lot of hiccups. We didn't get to go to a Grand Tour, things like that. And the team ended up folding with pretty much no notice.
So in September we all found ourselves without a job for next year, even though I had signed a three-year contract with the team. I started to reach out to other teams, and I sent a message to Romain Bardet and asked for the contact of his team boss Vincent Lavenu. And yeah, I guess he gave Vincent a call. It actually went pretty quick after that.
That's a pretty good contact to have when you need to get into a team.
Oh, yeah, I was very fortunate. I wasn't really expecting that. I was just looking for an email, you know, something like that. But I guess he put in a good word for me. I'm really grateful to him for that.
So how did this season go for you? What were your favourite races?
I wouldn't say I had the greatest season. I ended up having to race a lot. We had a lot of issues in the team, guys were out a lot of times and I ended up having to do quite a few more races than were initially on the schedule.
I would say probably the race I enjoyed the most this year was Paris-Nice. I had a good week there. I got into a couple of breakaways and got to race at home at the end of the week, and that was something I really enjoyed.
I had a good time in the Giro as well. We had a nice team there. We were going really well as a team, and that was really cool. So I guess from a personal perspective, those were the two that I derived the most enjoyment from, but I would say on the whole it wasn't the best season for me, but that's how it goes sometimes.
Do you still feel like you're learning and growing within your role, or do you feel pretty settled?
I feel pretty settled. But it's different every year because you know, we have a lot of different riders and now the team has a lot of young riders, the last couple years they've only signed neo pros, and I guess it gives us guys with a bit more experience a different role, trying to help out the young guys as much as we can and show them the ropes.
Do you feel comfortable in that mentoring role?
You know, I really enjoy sharing my knowledge with the young guys and when they're motivated to learn, that's really cool. We have some good young guys and some strong ones.
Do you feel that with other American riders also? There was a cool picture of all the American riders at the Giro sitting together having a chat. Are you in contact with any of them?
Yeah, for sure. You know, a lot of guys have started to move to Nice in the last couple years, so now we have a nice group here. I help the guys however I can, I think a lot of it actually comes down to things off of the bike; just setting up your life in Europe because that's something that it's really hard to do when you first show up here, you don't really know how anything works. You know, things like Visas, getting a car and apartment, things like that, and so those of us who have been here for a while and are established here, I think we have a lot of wisdom that we can pass out in that regard, and if they're on other teams they have teammates to share the on-the-bike racing stuff with.
American cycling is having a resurgence at the moment. Do you put that down to anything in particular?
I guess my generation were boosted off of the back of ‘the Lance effect’, you know, he brought so much attention and interest into cycling and I think how strong that generation of Americans was got a lot of us young kids who are now my age into cycling. But then there was definitely a low moment for a while where there weren't really that many Americans turning pro.
And now we have so many good young guys, and it's hard to say where that came from. But it's good to see because the US National Team is getting ramped up again, because it was, I think, short on funding for a couple years and and now they're coming back over to Europe a lot and doing a lot of trips, so that's great.
But yeah, I don't really know why there was a down period, and then where the new generation came from, but I'm glad to see it.
You've signed a contract extension just recently, so you obviously feel at home at AG2R? What are the vibes like on the team?
I think it being a French team and one of the longest running teams in the sport it's different. Most of the staff have been there for 10, 15, 20 years. So it’s more of a family atmosphere, because everyone knows each other so well and has been there for so long. And I think actually, we have a really nice ambiance among the riders. We have a really nice group of guys and everyone gets along. I think part of it is a lot of the French guys in the team actually grew up racing together, for Chambery, which was the development team of AG2R in the past. So they spent almost their whole childhood growing up together and racing together. I guess it creates a tight-knit group in the team and luckily, I've been able to integrate into the group as well.
Who do you prefer to work with or ride with in the team?
I enjoy racing with Benoît Cosnefroy; I really enjoy working with our leaders and he's a really good leader and a really good guy to work for so he's someone I really enjoy. And for me also being able to race with Ben [O’Connor]. Because we can speak English together and that's also nice. So say I would say I really enjoy working for those two guys.
Do you think the French guys feel more pressure as a result of national expectation?
In pro cycling in general there's a lot of pressure, you know, in our team, we didn't have the best season as a team. We weren't exactly where we would have liked to be in the ranking and I think it puts a lot of pressure on the management and the directors, which obviously then is also put on the riders, but I guess that's high performance sport.
I think every team has quite a lot of pressure. It's just the nature of the sport and the whole sport is getting more intense in general, the performance level is just higher and higher every year and with that comes higher expectations and more pressure. So, I would say there's probably not a team out there that isn't subject to that pressure. It's something that you learn to deal with over the years.
When you were growing up in the States was moving to Europe to be on the World Tour always the goal?
Actually when I was younger, I just did cycling for fun. I never really thought about doing it professionally. I didn't see that as a realistic possibility.
I had been racing for the national team since I was 17 years old, but it was maybe when I was about 19 that I thought ‘actually, maybe this is something that could really be possible for me and it's something that I'd really enjoy and would really like to do.’
Were you inspired by the riders around at the time?
I would say from probably when I was about 18 or 19 years old, I really started to follow the sport closely. I guess there were riders that I liked, but I wouldn't say I had any real heroes. When I was 23, I was big fan of Phillippe Gilbert, because he was really crushing it at the time and I thought he was a really cool racer. And I was really lucky to be able to be teammates with him when I when I turned pro.
That must been a cool experience!
Yeah, definitely. I was really lucky and fortunate to be teammates with a lot of the guys that I watched growing up.
You came to the World Tour aged 22; we're seeing many riders turning pro much earlier than that these days. What are your thoughts on that shift?
I turned World Tour at the end of my under-23, so when I turned pro that was the normal timeline. I would say now the difference is that all these guys are turning pro at 18, 19 years old, and I think it's a totally different situation because you get guys who haven't really experienced a whole lot in life in general yet turning pro.
You're a bit more developed as a human when you're 22 or 23, you've already spent some time out of the house, whereas some of these guys, it's like, they're still living with mom and dad, and they haven't really gone too far away from home yet.
I feel fortunate to be able to do it the way that I did. I think the way cycling’s going now, it's changing and there's not going to be too many guys that get the chance to wait until 22 or 23 to turn pro. I don't know if that means that guys are going to finish earlier or how it's going to go but yeah, it's definitely been changing in the last ten years.
So what does off-season hold for you?
We'll go on a little vacation. When I'm here at home, I enjoy paddleboarding, going for walks with the dogs and hanging out with friends. Go out to some dinners and in general, just relax. Try to really refresh the mind as well as the body.
Have you any idea yet what next season holds? Do you have ambitions about races you'd really like to ride?
I won't really know until November when we'll have a team meeting, where they go over plans for the season. I would definitely say next year, my biggest goal would be to try to go to the Tour de France. That's one of the only races I haven't done in my career yet. And for me, that's a really important one to do before the end of my career, and next year it finishes in Nice, so for me, that would be extra special. It even passes my front door. So if I could be there at the start line for that, that would be probably my biggest objective.
I saw your documentary with Conor [Dunne] on GCN. Is that something you could see yourself doing more of?
Definitely in the future, I wouldn't mind getting more involved in the media side of the sport. It's something I enjoy, and I think it's something I'm not too bad at. I worked with the Cycling Podcast a bit the last year or two and that's something I've enjoyed as well. So I think doing a bit on that side would be cool as well. Once I'm done riding.
You’ll feel right at home with a Netflix crew following you around. Do you think that it will revive interest in the sport in the States?
Yeah, I really hope so. When the series came out this year, there was some interest in it for a very brief period of time, but then it seems like it wavered, so I hope that maybe after there's like two or three seasons that more people get into it because I think Drive to Survive and the Formula One interest came after two or three years of the series. I thought it was quite well done, and pretty interesting. So I hope we'll get that sort of effect for our sport as well.
And Sepp winning the Vuelta has got to have had a positive impact on home soil also?
I hope it has, he deserves to be the star that he is. And I think it almost goes a bit unnoticed sometimes in the US and he's such an amazing athlete and rider, so I hope that he gets the recognition and attention that he deserves in the States because to do what he did is just really incredible.