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Warbasse: US travel ban scare overblown for pro cyclists

Larry Warbasse in his AG2R La Mondiale jersey
(Image credit: Vincent Curutchet)

Larry Warbasse (AG2R La Mondiale), one of a handful of Americans who travelled to Europe before the council of the European Union published its recommendations for the reopening of its member states' borders on July 1, says that professional cyclists should not be overly concerned about not getting in as long as they have a long-stay visa. Warbasse is at an altitude camp preparing for the season to resume with Strade Bianche on August 1.

The 30-year-old said that the woes of Ian Garrison (Deceuninck-Quickstep), who was stopped from flying from Atlanta to Amsterdam this week, had more to do with his lack of a visa or residency card.

"As professional cyclists, we probably spend more time here than the three months out of every six months which is what the tourist visa allows. Since I moved to Nice I've always had a visa," Warbasse told Cyclingnews. "It's a hassle to get - it's really not easy - but we can see now it's very important to get because it enables us to live here legally. Because we have a long-stay visa, we're allowed to come back in. I called the French Embassy in the US before I left and they affirmed that to me. It wasn't a problem for me."

The travel varies from country to country but the measures to stop the coronavirus from resurging in Europe are targeted mostly at US tourists, requiring biweekly reviews of the 14-day infection rate average. The EU will continue to block travellers from the US as long as the rates are above the European average.

Warbasse was at the UAE Tour when COVID-19 first touched the pro peloton when the race was halted after stage 5 and the entire race entourage blockaded in the hotel after two staff fell ill with the virus. It was a foreshadowing of what was to come.

"I think that put any of us who were there on extremely high alert for what was to come," he says. "We knew this was going to be a lot bigger than we thought. It was pretty scary just because we didn't know what was going to happen, whether we were going to be stuck there for a couple weeks in our rooms or what. That was a bit of a stressful time and when we came back the week after, I was riding with some of the guys who were also there and we all felt like we'd all been through something together. It was interesting."

The incident highlights both the dangers of the virus infiltrating the race entourage but also the importance of a swift and comprehensive response.

"Looking back on it, I was extremely impressed they managed to test 600 people within 24 hours notice which is insane," Warbasse says. "Early on maybe my entire state of Michigan could do 600 tests in one day. To like see the response they had, it was actually extremely impressive. I think if we were to go back there and the same situation were to happen again, everyone would just stay in their rooms. But we didn't know at the time what we were supposed to do and we didn't really know much about the virus."

Even after the UAE Tour, Warbasse had been preparing for the Giro d'Italia in May, heading from that race to an altitude camp, when the US President abruptly announced a ban on travel to the US from Europe before there were clear guidelines communicated as to who the ban would apply to. So like most of his fellow US citizens, Warbasse bought a ticket on the next plane back to Michigan just in case.

"I live alone and I didn't really want to be stuck inside my apartment by myself for however many months, I didn't know how long it was going to last. So I just thought it'd be better to be with my family during that time. And then there was the added benefit of also being able to ride my bike outside. I have zero regrets. I think I played it perfectly but it was also just luck."

Heading back to Europe, Warbasse says, was uneventful - his long flight was not full and the passengers were spaced out enough. As a pro cyclist, he says he's used to avoiding germs. "I think we're all super clean freaks and overly hygienic normally, so that just has only been magnified the last few months."

Warbasse said he's been impressed with the support he has gotten from AG2R throughout the race stoppage. When asked about the rumours that Romain Bardet is being courted by Sunweb, he said he had no inside information but hoped Bardet would make the decision that is right for him.

"I like Romain, so I hope he's on the team. He's been at this team for a long time, and I think this team has helped him become the rider that he's become. I think Romain has helped the team become what it is. They've both done a lot for each other.

During the pandemic, he says, there was never any question of getting paid, unlike some teams who were forced to take pay cuts. "I was really grateful at how they handled the situation and I think it made a lot of guys on our team realize that we're really fortunate to be on our team."

Safely ensconced back in the pre-season preparations, Warbasse says he is starting up again in the Italian one-day races: Strade Bianche, Milano-Torino, Milan-San Remo, Il Lombardia, before racing the Bretagne Classic, Tour Poitou-Charentes, and Tirreno-Adriatico before the Giro d'Italia.

His main goal is to impress his team and earn a new contract but winning a race is also high on the priority list. He said he doesn't have many reservations of getting back to racing amid a global pandemic that has killed half a million people.

"If we all follow the protocols and everything they put in place. I think it should be fine. Obviously, there's a risk involved but you know, there are a lot of risks involved in professional cycling in general. We have to be aware of the risk and approach the restarting in the right way. Hopefully, we can get tested before we go to races or enter into these specific bubbles. I think it's maybe less risky than going to the grocery store."

As a former US national champion, Warbasse said he was disappointed that USA Cycling was forced to cancel the road championships this year. "It's a big disappointment because it's a pretty special race for all of us. I really enjoy going there every year and trying again. I'd really like to win the jersey again in my career and maybe in the time trial as well. So a lost year kind of sucks  but then again, it would have been tough for Alex Howes if he only got to wear his jersey in three races."

Warbasse was not named to USA Cycling's long team for the Olympic Games, but the door remains open for a rider who has an exceptional performance to be added to the list of riders considered for the men's road team's two spots for the road race and time trial.

"There are still chances if you light the world on fire," he says. "I'm going to be doing everything I can to show myself and be the best rider I can be. It would be a huge goal of mine if I could make it to Tokyo, but I'm also realistic so we'll see what happens."