EF Education-EasyPost Team Talk: A year of two halves but certain progress all the same

American WorldTeam recovered from a disappointing 2022 campaign, but tailed off towards the end of the season

Clock19:55, Sunday 10th December 2023
Ben Healy proved one of the sensations of the season for EF Education-EasyPost

© Sprint Cycling Agency

Ben Healy proved one of the sensations of the season for EF Education-EasyPost

Under the stewardship of Jonathan Vaughters, the Slipstream Sports organisation has been one of the most charismatic WorldTeams since the days of Garmin as the title sponsor. Fifteen years on from their first year as Garmin-Chipotle, EF Education-Easypost remain a popular squad who are often seen to be punching above their financial weight.

The international education provider, Education First, joined the team in 2018 and it was in the following year that the EF Pro Cycling team first developed its unique personality. British clothing manufacturer Rapha became their official kit supplier, which not only added outlandish designs to EF's arsenal, but also the acquisition of Lachlan Morton as part of the team's squad.

Long sponsored by Rapha, the Australian would introduce a new approach to the team known as the alternative racing calendar, in which Morton would combine road racing with entries in a host of off-road adventures - including the GBDuro and the Leadville 100. From then on, Morton has become one of the team's most prized assets, despite stepping back from WorldTour competition.

In his place, EF Education-EasyPost have smartly composed their line-ups over the past few seasons, often giving opportunities to young riders and those looking to prove themselves. At times, however, this has left them short on results and this was particularly apparent in 2022 when the American squad suffered through their worst season since 2018.

In turn, Vaughters made waves across the peloton when EF Education-EasyPost landed the blockbuster signing of Richard Carapaz at the end of 2022. His arrival was joined by that of Andrey Amador, with the close friends expected to slot straight into the squad's plans for the Grand Tours.

Carapaz, a former Giro d'Italia champion and Tour de France podium finisher, was to propel EF Education-EasyPost back into the fight for Grand Tour titles - their last podium came through Hugh Carthy at the 2020 Vuelta a España.

However, things did not quite go as expected for the Ecuadorian and EF Education-EasyPost instead had to look elsewhere for victories in 2023. In the end, it proved to be a season of two halves.

GCN's 2023 review

EF Education-EasyPost started the year in fine fettle, regularly picking up wins throughout the first few months of the season. Former Tour of Flanders Alberto Bettiol winner got the ball rolling in the prologue of the Santos Tour Down Under, before Marijn van den Berg, Neilson Powless and Magnus Cort got in on the act in Spain, France and Portugal, respectively.

A regular flow of wins defined the team in the absence of Richard Carapaz, who was training and recovering in Ecuador following dental issues. At both the Volta ao Algarve and Coppi e Bartali, EF Education-EasyPost walked away with multiple stage victories and the spring also brought the breakthrough of Irish star, Ben Healy.

The 23-year-old had contributed to the win tally at Coppi e Bartali - a race in which EF Education-EasyPost remarkably placed riders in second, third and fourth - but it was at the subsequent GP Industria & Artigianato that Healy took his first one-day race win in EF colours.

In the Ardennes Classics, Healy finished second at both De Brabantse Pijl and the Amstel Gold Race, before taking fourth place in Liège-Bastogne-Liège. It was a period in which the Irishman lit up almost every race he competed in, making a name for himself as one of the peloton's most promising young climbers.

Still only 22 at the time, Healy's dramatic rise came to its crescendo at the Giro d'Italia when he won stage 8 from a 196km-long breakaway. Following on from the Spring Classics, Healy was the aggressor and attacked alone with over 50km to ride. By the end of the stage, Healy had opened up a near-two minute gap to those chasing behind and claimed his first Grand Tour stage victory.

Healy's success at the Giro d'Italia was followed by that of Cort just two stages later, with the Dane taking what would be his last victory for EF Education-EasyPost before a winter move to Uno X Pro Cycling.

The Giro d'Italia, however, would prove to be the highlight of the team's season, with EF struggling to recapture the same vein of form for the rest of the year. There would be victories in the second half, most notably Simon Carr's stage 5 and overall win at the Tour de Langkawi in September, but the team did receive the rub of the green in the last few months of the season.

Stage 5 of the Tour de Pologne proved to be the team's last WorldTour win of the campaign, and at the Tour de France, Neilson Powless' spell in the polka-dot jersey would be their highlight. Carapaz suffered a race-ending crash on the opening stage, which would serve to marr their ambitions.

His campaign was blighted by misfortune and only saw him truly come into his own at the Italian Classics, with podium finishes at both the Giro della Toscana and Tre Valli Varesine.

GCN's rating: 7.5/10

To have taken 26 wins in the year is not to be sniffed at and is actually the most taken in a calendar year by the team since 2011, but quite a few of these came in national championships and the majority of them came in the first half of the season. That being said, a subpar final couple of months isn't the end of the world for a team with budget restraints, and the return to form of Carapaz in Italy will have certainly reassured management ahead of 2024.

Ins & Outs

EF Education-EasyPost have been very active in the transfer market for 2024, picking up most of their incomings not long after the window opened on August 1. Their two latest recruits, Yuhi Todome and Rui Costa, have rounded out their roster, but the summer saw the American outfit pick up a plethora of young talent.

Read more:

The team has squarely turned their eyes to the British Isles to unearth young gems in the form of Lukas Nerurkar (Trinity Racing), Jack Rootkin-Gray (Saint Piran), Archie Ryan (Jumbo-Visma Development Team) and Darren Rafferty (Hagens Berman Axeon).

Read more: EF Education-EasyPost sign Irish talent Darren Rafferty

Big hopes will be placed in Rafferty especially, with the 20-year-old winning Giro della Valle d'Aosta and coming runner-up at the Giro Next Gen in his final year with Axel Merckx's squad.

Elsewhere, the team has recalled Michael Valgren to the WorldTeam after a year spent recovering from a crash with the EF Education-NIPPO Development Team. He will be joined by new teammates Harry Sweeny (Lotto Dstny), Jardi Christiaan van der Lee (Willebrord Wil Vooruit) and Markel Beloki (MMR Cycling Academy) in 2024.

In terms of outgoings, the team will bid a fond farewell to Magnus Cort, who fancies a new challenge with Scandinavian outfit, Uno X. Julius van den Berg will be moving to Team dsm-firmenich PostNL, whilst Jens Keukeleire has retired and both Jonathan Caicedo and Diego Camargo have made the switch to Mexican outfit, Petrolike.

Where EF Education-EasyPost's wins will come in 2024

There are no two ways about it, Richard Carapaz is the team's flagship rider for 2024. The Ecuadorian national champion showed signs at the end of the year that his run of bad luck may be over, and at the top of his game, there is confidence within the team that Carapaz can compete for glory once more in the Grand Tours, as team boss Vaughters told GCN at the team's training camp.

Read more: Richard Carapaz: I’m starting from zero but the Tour de France is my ambition

Of course, it won't all be about Carapaz in 2024 and as Vaughters acknowledged, there are plenty of other members of the squad who must be given the opportunity to chase their own targets. Indeed, Neilson Powless, Ben Healy and Simon Carr are all talented climbers in their own rights, who should be expected to add multiple victories apiece.

Whilst their returns have diminished in recent years, so too should Esteban Chaves, Hugh Carthy and Rigoberto Urán. The latter will be riding his final year as a professional before retirement and will be hoping to go out with a bang, whilst Carthy and Chaves are both in contract years, so should be more than motivated to return to their winning ways of old.

Read more: Rigoberto Urán will go out with a bang and not a whimper, says Jonathan Vaughters

New signing Rui Costa has certainly proven with Intermarché-Circus-Wanty that he simply ages like a fine wine and can continue to win stages in the Grand Tours. As a team that likes to put on a show, EF Education-EasyPost seems like the perfect place for Costa to spend the last period of his career, but don't expect the former world champion to be the most cooperative of breakaway compatriots. The old fox continues to teach the youngsters of the peloton a new trick or two.

EF Education-EasyPost would be delighted to see some of their other fresh recruits pick up wins in 2024, but there will be no pressure on them to succeed straightaway. Instead, the team can turn to established pros like Alberto Bettiol, Stefan Bissegger and Marijn van den Berg to chip in with the occasional victory next season.

EF Education-EasyPost's next breakout rider

EF Education-EasyPost have 11 riders aged 24 or under heading into 2024, which should be applauded. The American team regularly gives opportunities to young riders that possibly would not be afforded to them elsewhere. Within this environment, we have seen the likes of Ben Healy, Marijn van den Berg and Simon Carr flourish in recent years.

As such, the team's new signings for 2024 should certainly be full of optimism and will no doubt have taken this into the equation when choosing who to sign for ahead of next season. We could have picked any number of them as our tip to be the breakout rider of 2024, but it is Darren Rafferty who is perhaps the most promising at the time of writing.

The 20-year-old Irishman is a talented climber who enjoyed a stellar 2023 campaign and was rewarded with the attention of long-term suitors, EF Education-EasyPost. A versatile rider, Rafferty has not only impressed in stage races, but one-day races as well.

The Hagens Berman Axeon rider finished fifth at Liège-Bastogne-Liège U23 in April and won Strade Bianche di Romagna last season.

At the Giro della Valle d'Aosta, Rafferty beat the likes of Alexy Faure Prost (soon-to-be Intermarché-Circus-Wanty) and Isaac del Toro (soon-to-be UAE Team Emirates) to the title, and we wouldn't be surprised to see the youngster find himself on the podium of one of the non-WorldTour stage races in 2024.

This is a talent to be watched, of that there is no doubt.

What do you think about EF Education-EasyPost's 2023 campaign? And do you expect Richard Carapaz to compete for a Grand Tour win in 2024? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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