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EF Education-Nippo rethink Tour de France strategy after Urán's rise in form

ANDERMATT SWITZERLAND JUNE 13 Rigoberto Uran Uran of Colombia and Team EF Education Nippo Richard Carapaz of Ecuador and Team INEOS Grenadiers yellow leader jersey Michael Woods of Canada and Team Israel StartUp Nation in breakaway during the 84th Tour de Suisse 2021 Stage 8 a 1595km stage from Andermatt to Andermatt Gotthardpass 2106m Cobblestones UCIworldtour tds tourdesuisse on June 13 2021 in Andermatt Switzerland Photo by Tim de WaeleGetty Images
Rigoberto Urán (EF-Education Nippo) in action during the final stage of the Tour de Suisse (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Rigoberto Urán's stage win and second overall placing at the Tour de Suisse has caused a rethink in EF-Education Nippo's strategy for the Tour de France with the American team now weighing up whether to put more of their resourses into a possible GC challenge or spread their efforts in bid to win stages.

Urán, 34, finished second behind overall winner Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) in Switzerland and won Saturday's mountain time trial to Andermatt. It was the first time the Colombian had finished inside the top 10 in a week long WorldTour race since the 2018 edition of Tirreno-Adriatico.

With the Tour de France less than two weeks away, boss Jonathan Vaughters has admitted that his leader's performance has given food for thought.

"I don't want to say that we're redoing our strategy for the Tour but we're definitely taking a second look at it, that's for sure," Vaughters told Cyclingnews.

Urán came into the Tour de Suisse with somewhat questionable form. Illness had affected his spring, he spent time in the USA when he became a father, and his results at the Étoile de Bessèges (37th) and the Volta a Catalunya (52nd) were nothing to write home about.

However, with three top 10 placings in the Tour on his palmarès – including second place behind Chris Froome in 2017 – the Colombian is EF Education-Nippo's best hope for a GC challenge.

"We didn't really know where he was performance-wise because he's had a lot going on this spring," Vaughters said. 

"His wife wanted to give birth to their daughter in the US so he was in Florida for quite a long time and then he did Catalunya but immediately got COVID right after.

"That left him locked up in his apartment for two weeks and then he went back to Colombia. Rigo just hasn't raced much this year, so there were a lot of unknowns going into Suisse.

"I think that a lot of us were surprised by performance. I was talking to his coach this week, Michele Bartoli and even he was trying to figure out how all the pieces came together so well considering the limitations Rigoberto had. He was getting stronger every day at the Tour de Suisse so that only looks good for the Tour de France."

The team's eight-rider roster is unlikely to change because of Uran's result with Sergio Higuita, Neilson Powless and debutant Stefan Bissegger all set to make the final selection.

However, Urán's impressive rise in form means that Vaughters will meet with Charly Wegelius ahead of the Tour to discuss the dynamics within the squad and their ambitions.

"Honestly I need to sit down with Charly and discuss because do we take a more defensive stance at the Tour de France or do we let guys play their hands," said Vaughters. 

"When Rigo finished second in the Tour de France he was certainly our protected rider, but we Taylor Phinney and Nate Brown in breakaways.

"We weren't just putting the whole team Rigo and protecting him, like we did with Hugh Carthy at the Giro. There were times when we did just ride to protect Rigo, like in 2018, and it didn't work out so well.

"To be honest everything has been thrown up in the air a little bit. Our Tour selection isn't going to change. We'll still take the same riders but how we utilize everyone, is one that Charly and I have a long chat about because Suisse has changed our thinking.

"It's a squad that can win stages or be really effective in keeping Rigoberto out of trouble on the flats or in the mountains," 

Vaughters also hinted that the team would also announce a non-title non-endemic sponsor on the eve of the Tour de France.

Teams are due to arrive in Brest, on the western Brittany coast on Wednesday June 23 for the Grand Depart, with the Tour de France starting on Saturday' June 26 with a road race stage to nearby Landernau.  

Daniel Benson

Editor in Chief - Cyclingnews.