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2022 Team Preview: EF Education-EasyPost

EF Education-Nippo's 2021 Tour de France finishers
EF Education-Nippo's 2021 Tour de France finishers (Image credit: Getty Images)

Who?

  • Manager: Jonathan Vaughters
  • Squad size: 31

Stemming from the 5280 junior team and the continental TIAA-CREF squad from 2005, EF Education-EasyPost have become one of the most recognised teams on the WorldTour circuit. 

Led by team manager and former rider Jonathan Vaughters, the squad continue to punch above their weight when it comes to rider recruitment and results, while the last few seasons have seen the team change strategy and sign a blend of younger riders and those who have slipped through the cracks on rival WorldTour teams. 

The team have a strong Classics core with Alberto Bettiol and Michael Valgren, while Rigoberto Urán and Hugh Carthy lead the line in the Grand Tours. The real strength of the team comes in their depth, and their management includes some of the most respected directors in the sport, with Charly Wegelius, Andreas Klier, and Tom Southam among their ranks.

How did they fare in 2021?

The American-registered team clocked 16 wins across 2021, with success split between nine riders in total. Magnus Cort lit up the Vuelta a España with three stage wins, Michael Valgren resuscitated his career with several key performances in the second half of the year and several others chipped in with memorable moments too.

The young crop of talent, including Stefan Bissegger and Neilson Powless, continued their trajectory towards the top of the sport, while Simon Carr turned heads with several impressive rides during his opening WorldTour season. 

The Classics were a disappointment when it came to victories, and the team were slow out of the blocks with just three wins before June, but they rallied in second half of the year, with the Vuelta being their obvious highlight.  

In the Grand Tours, Urán and Carthy both delivered top-10 results at the Tour de France and Giro d'Italia, respectively, but a podium finish slipped through both riders' fingers despite promising starts. 

Lachlan Morton arguably did more for the team than most of the entire roster with a string of adventure-style rides and off-road events as the team continued to diversify and expand their calendar.

Key riders

Rigoberto Urán: Now 34 and with his best Grand Tour days likely behind him, Urán's position at EF is firmly entrenched as the team's road captain and figurehead. 

There’s little doubt that the veteran rider will remain a competitive force in some areas - he was second at the Tour de Suisse - but given how his last two Tour attempts have panned out it’s unlikely that he can guarantee another top-10 overall in Paris despite his incredible consistency. That said, the Colombian remains an integral part of the team, and his vast experience and knowledge will be key as the squad continue to develop talent for the future. Urán’s best Grand Tour hopes might rest on targeting stage wins and supporting Hugh Carthy in either the Giro or Tour before perhaps retaining some of that consistency for the Vuelta, where a respectable top-10 might be more attainable than it would be in July.

Alberto Bettiol: Bettiol’s Classics campaign wasn’t what he or his team hoped for in 2021 due to illness but his fine Giro d’Italia stage win to Stradella – along with his overall competitiveness in the race – was a timely reminder of the rider’s overall class and ability. 

On his day, the 28-year-old is a world beater, but remaining healthy throughout an entire campaign remains something of an obstacle and he has just ended five months of limited riding and treatment for chronic ulcerative colitis, a serious inflammatory bowel disease.  

If the former Tour of Flanders winner can enjoy an uninterrupted 2022 campaign, then he has every chance of turning those one or two major wins per-year into something far more impressive.

Team EF Education rider Italys Alberto Bettiol celebrates as he crosses the finish line to win the 18th stage of the Giro dItalia 2021 cycling race 231km between Rovereto and Stradella on May 27 2021 Photo by Luca Bettini AFP Photo by LUCA BETTINIAFP via Getty Images

Bettiol has had his health problems but remains a major force (Image credit: Getty Images)

Magnus Cort: The Dane was the team’s most successful rider in 2021 with three Vuelta stages, a consistent Tour de France, and a couple more victories thrown in for good measure. 

Arguably in the prime of his career, EF will be hoping for more of the same from their talismanic all-rounder. His one-day success is relatively thin on the ground, but Cort has become the complete specialist when it comes to picking off stage wins in Grand Tours and week-long stage races. 

He’s yet to start the Giro but given his Vuelta and Tour success over the last few years, that’s unlikely to change any time soon. If he can chip in with another four or five wins in 2022, EF will be well on their way to another stellar year.

Lachlan Morton: The 30-year-old is the heartbeat of the team’s more expansive and expressive form of adventure riding. 

While he hasn’t been registered as a WorldTour rider so far in 2022, the team has confirmed that both Morton and Alex Howes will remain on the team for the upcoming season. Once tipped as a Grand Tour contender, Morton has found his niche in recent years and his solo 'Alt' Tour de France ride in 2021 was testament to both his love of bike riding and the trust EF and their partners put into his philosophy. 

Morton’s a breath of fresh air in WorldTour atmosphere that at times is all too predictable and metronomic. If finding his solo rides more engaging than 50 per cent of WorldTour racing is wrong, then we don’t want to be right.

Lachlan Morton arrives on Mont Ventoux for first of two climbs

Morton's adventures have created huge value for the team and their sponsors (Image credit: Rapha)

Stefan Bissegger: Several teams were sniffing around Bissegger during 2021 but kudos to EF’s management for keeping hold of the vastly talented 23-year-old. The Swiss rider is the real deal in time trials, and it feels like only a matter of time before he really announces himself with a marquee win on the biggest stage. 

That’s not to play down his breakthrough 2021 campaign that included stage wins in Paris-Nice and the Tour de Suisse, but his fifth-place finish in the time trial at the end of his Grand Tour debut in July only provided further evidence of his growing prowess against the clock. He will be challenging for rainbow jerseys in the next couple of years, while his win in Switzerland demonstrated his untapped potential away from time trialing.

Hugh Carthy: Much was expected of Carthy in 2021 after his podium at the Vuelta during the previous year but it never quite came together for the British climber in a season of consistency but few major highlights. He was competitive at almost every race he entered and, set against a difficult backdrop, eighth overall was still a solid ride at the Giro. It was a gutsy performance, and it shouldn’t be forgotten that he was on the podium with just a handful of days to race. 

He wasn’t able to replicate his best form at the Vuelta and soon abandoned but the 27-year-old still leads the line for the team when it comes to Grand Tour ambitions. 

It’s not clear where he will race this season, but the team are likely to back the Preston-born pro for at least one more Grand Tour tilt. 

Vuelta a Burgos 2021 - 43rd Edition - 5th stage - Comunero de Revenga - Lagunas de Neila - 146 km - 07/08/2021 - Hugh John Carthy (GBR - EF Education - Nippo) - photo Luis Angel Gomez/BettiniPhoto©2021

Carthy winning a stage of this year's Vuelta a Burgos (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

Michael Valgren: After a few lean years, Michael Valgren is back. His form in the second half of 2021 was electrifying, with two one-day wins in Italy followed by third place in the road race at the World Championships.

The trick now is turning that form into a consistent Classics campaign that encompasses both the cobbles and the Ardennes. It’s been far too long since we’ve seen Valgren at the pointy end of Spring campaign races but, with Bettiol in the fold and a strong second row, Valgren finds himself central to the squad’s Classics ambitions.

Strengths

After a few years dominated by financial uncertainty there’s a real sense of identity within the 2022 EF roster. The team look far more settled than they were four or five years ago thanks to regular investment from EF, and there’s been a consistent push to recruit young riders and those who have slipped through the cracks and are in search of a second chance. Only eight riders on the roster are 30 or above, while the team have made another batch of canny signings ahead of this season.

Esteban Chaves can still win the odd race, James Shaw looks ready for the WorldTour at his second attempt, Owain Doull brings added value, while Mark Padun and Merhawi Kudus bring depth. Georg Steinhauser looks like a real gem. The Classics contingent should continue to threaten in the Monuments, and it’s the team’s attacking options throughout the season that should create the lasting and most successful impression. It’s a well-balanced team.

Giro della Toscana 2021 6th Edition Pontedera Pontedera 1915 km 15092021 EF Education Nippo photo Luca BettiniBettiniPhoto2021

EF have a well-balanced and likeable roster for 2022 (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

Weaknesses

EF are another team without an out-and-out sprinter, and that effectively means that their win tally is always going to be affected. They have plenty of riders who can win reduced bunch sprints and from small groups, but an out-and-out sprinter often pads a team’s win tally whether they’re WorldTour victories or not.

There’s a slight question mark over the team’s ability to target Grand Tour GC results, but two top-10 results in 2021 was far from shoddy. Losing Sergio Higuita is a blow, but the team moved on after the departure of Dani Martínez in 2020, so it’s a case of next man up on the Vaughters' roster. They don’t have the financial clout in comparison to the biggest teams, but they creatively cover up those gaps.

Verdict

The team have steadily built their way back since almost folding in 2017/18. Their roster then compared to now is virtually unrecognizable – in a good way – and although they’ve kept several veterans, they’ve also become a home for some genuinely exciting young talent. 

This must rank as one of the strongest and certainly most likeable Slipstream squads of all time.

Side note: You may have read about or been affected by the devastating fires that hit Colorado last week. Team staff Alie and Tom Hopper lost their family home as a result and a GoFundme page has been set up to help them rebuild their lives. You can read about it here and donate, if you wish.

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Daniel Benson

 Daniel Benson is the Editor in Chief at both Cyclingnews.com and BikePerfect.com. Based in the UK, he has worked within cycling for almost 15 years, and he joined the Cyclingnews team in 2008 as the site's first UK-based Managing Editor. In that time, he has reported on over a dozen editions of the Tour de France, several World Championships, the Tour Down Under, Spring Classics, and the London 2012 Olympic Games. With the help of the excellent editorial team, he runs the coverage on Cyclingnews and has interviewed leading figures in the sport including UCI Presidents and Tour de France winners.