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2020 Team Preview: EF Education First

photo credit Jordan Clark Haggard
(Image credit: Jordan Clark Haggard)

Who?

The US team's additional 'alternative racing' programme – tapping into the zeitgeist and taking part in gravel-racing events across the world – has given EF Education First a new dimension, but at the same time, they had one of their most successful seasons in 2019, with consistent results throughout the year on the road – the highlight of which was Alberto Bettiol's victory at the Tour of Flanders.

Manager: Jonathan Vaughters

Squad size: 30

Average age: 26.9

How did they fare in 2019?

Wins: 17

WT ranking: 8th

While it could hardly be called a surprise that the team won the Tour of Flanders in 2019 – past wins have included Paris-Roubaix, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Il Lombardia and multiple Grand Tour stages – it was perhaps Flanders winner Alberto Bettiol's achievement of holding off the cream of the Belgian Classics specialists that made it such a popular victory.

Relatively little expectation is ever heaped on a team that takes not winning in its stride, which simply serves to make EF Education First's big wins in the face of much bigger teams all the sweeter.

The 2019 season nevertheless felt a little as though it was one in which the squad and many of its riders came of age, and that confidence looks set to rub off on the youngsters that were signed in 2019 and who have come on board for 2020.

Key riders

Rigoberto Uran: The Colombian's second place overall at the 2017 Tour de France seems like a long time ago now, but, to be fair to Uran, he had an horrifically unlucky 2019 season, which nevertheless still saw him score seventh place at the Tour. First, a broken collarbone following a crash at Paris-Nice endangered his Tour but he then went on to the Vuelta a España where a crash on stage 6 left him with another broken collarbone, plus a broken shoulder and ribs, and a punctured lung. He remains the team's best Grand Tour rider, and will be hoping for a much more favourable 2020.

Michael Woods: The former runner turned Canadian climbing sensation may still be finding his Grand Tour legs, but he's a real contender in the hardest one-day Classics and very capable of taking stage wins in the mountains. He is also happy to ride in the service of his team when required. Aggressive and hungry for success, another year on the roster alongside familiar faces is only going to count in Woods' favour.

Sergio Higuita: While still young at 22, this Colombian climber looks set to bloom in 2020, which will be his first full season with the team, having only come onto their books in May 2019 – and making an immediate impact by finishing second overall at the Tour of California. Higuita went on to take a solo stage win at the Vuelta a España, and could now quickly develop into Colombia's most exciting talent since the emergence of 2019 Tour de France winner Egan Bernal (Team Ineos).

Michael Woods

Michael Woods celebrates winning Milano-Torino (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Strengths

A well-drilled and professional team that doesn't always take itself too seriously, EF Education First head into the new season with the confidence that comes with having taken some huge wins in 2019, including the Tour of Flanders, Milano-Torino and stages at the Vuelta a España, the Tour de Suisse and Paris-Nice.

They have multiple riders capable of winning in 2020; many other teams could perhaps point to only three, four or five riders that are likely to bring them results, and so this American squad's strength in depth is arguably their greatest advantage.

Add to that their new-for-'19, additional focus on 'alternative racing' events, such as the Dirty Kanza and the Leadville 100, which is set to continue in 2020 – and is no doubt attracting fans and interest from outside the followers of more traditional road racing – and you have a modern, forward-thinking outfit that really can win on all fronts. 

With a truly international cast – and particularly strong Australian and Colombian contingents – EF Education First are the go-anywhere, do-anything have-a-go heroes with a global fan base to match. They have become a professional cycling team done right as we head into the 2020s.

Weaknesses

There are few weaknesses to really speak of at EF Education First; this is a team that really knows its identity, and has taken the time to build a solid squad, and that bore fruit in 2019 as a number of riders came of age and scored big.

If you want to really get picky, perhaps sprinting hasn't been EF Education First's strong suit in the past, although the addition of Norway's Kristoffer Halvorsen from Team Ineos and fast-finishing Danish all-rounder Magnus Cort from Astana may see that change in 2020.

EF Education First lack the firepower of Team Ineos or Jumbo-Visma, but they're nevertheless capable of winning in any discipline and on all terrains in 2020.

Verdict

Jonathan Vaughters continues to lead a diverse band of personalities who somehow together form an extremely well-drilled unit, and who are happy to turn themselves inside out for each other. 

Their out-there, tie-dye-style pink-and-blue Rapha kit, introduced for 2019 and tweaked for 2020, is as wacky as some of their cast of characters, but it all just works. 

The squad's hard work paid off in 2019; expect more of the same in 2020, when they'll again sport both a strong Classics squad and an accomplished climbing group in Grand Tours and stage races.

2020 line-up

Sean Bennett (USA), Alberto Bettiol (Ita), Stefan Bissegger (Swi), Jonathan Caicedo (Ecu), Hugh Carthy (GBr), Simon Clarke (Aus), Magnus Cort (Den), Lawson Craddock (USA), Mitchell Docker (Aus), Ruben Guerreiro (Por), Kristoffer Halvorsen (Nor), Sergio Higuita (Col), Moreno Hofland (Ned), Alex Howes (USA), Tanel Kangert (Est), Jens Keukeleire (Bel), Sebastian Langeveld (Ned), Daniel Martínez (Col), Lachlan Morton (Aus), Logan Owen (USA), Neilson Powless (USA), Jonas Rutsch (Ger), Thomas Scully (NZl), Rigoberto Urán (Col), Julius van den Berg (Ned), Tejay van Garderen (USA), Sep Vanmarcke (Bel), Luis Villalobos (Mex), James Whelan (Aus), Michael Woods (Can).

This article has been corrected to include the team's 'strengths' section, which was missing.