Carapaz signing reshapes EF Education’s outlook

On Friday, VeloNews writer Daniel Benson told the story that Richard Carapaz has signed with EF Education-EasyPost for 2023, a major development for the longtime club currently on course to be/remain the best racing team by stages of America, and giving them a legitimate (if barely assured) shot to win the Tour de France.

The move is, in some ways, classic Vaughters opportunism – a good quality to have for a team that doesn’t rank in the top ten of World Tour team budgets and has had to merge at times to survive. EF doesn’t just recruit talent where they see fit. But over the years, they’ve had a knack for finding ways to make it work. For a while they seemed focused on bringing in overlooked gems and have Canadian Ryder Hesjedal’s Giro d’Italia trophy to show for it. They’ve certainly grown their share of young riders, and while it’s become both more expensive to start and more expensive to retain them when they succeed, their current roster still includes some very talented neo-pros and guys coming in in their prime with growing resumes.

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EF Veteran Shots

Then there’s the team’s biggest swings: catching the best runners out of tough situations that are clearly worth betting on. They’ve done it several times already. They nabbed Thor Hushovd for a year after the Cervélo meltdown and got a phenomenal rebounding season from the then 33-year-old Norwegian. Yes, he was the world champion, so he was already bouncing back before he got on board. But for Garmin-Cervélo, he helped the team win the TTT in stage 2 of the 2011 Tour, put himself in yellow, and after handing it over to the climbers (well, Thomas Voeckler anyway) picked up two other pretty cool stage wins, a solo effort out of the Col d’Aubisque and a memorable sprint over fellow countryman Edvald Boasson Hagen in Pau. The team also exploited Hushovd’s pedigree for a stalemate with Fabian Cancellara at Paris-Roubaix, allowing Johan Van Summeren to win his biggest classics trophy. Or at least the heaviest.

Their best signing has to be Rigoberto Uran, another guy whose arrow might have pointed down in the eyes of other teams, coming off seasons with Quick Step and Sky where he had little impact on the Tour and finished second twice at the Giro. Uran didn’t make waves per se, in the era of kids over ten years his junior, but his second-place finish in the 2017 Tour was the team’s highlight and he quietly finished in the top ten since. Alberto Bettiol was dropped from BMC and quickly won the Ronde van Vlaanderen. Michael Woods and Magnus Cort Nielsen delivered on their pre-EF promise by riding for Vaughters. Many teams have similar success stories with proven veterans, but EF has gone a little over budget in this regard, I think.

76th Tour of Spain 2021 - Stage 9

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What is Carapaz thinking?

The move makes perfect sense for Carapaz, based on my not particularly knowledgeable reading of tea leaves. Maybe when it becomes official he’ll let us know what he thinks, but that’s weeks away. So for now we know.

At INEOS it’s always a numbers game, and they didn’t seem to favor the Ecuadorian. Despite a third-place finish in the 2021 Tour and an Olympic gold medal soon after, INEOS sent Carapaz to the Giro and left him there even when Egan Bernal fell out of sight with his horror crash. The team will ride with Daniel Martinez and former winner Geraint Thomas instead, the former with only one previous appearance (28th overall) and the latter not on anyone’s list of potential winners, despite the history. Maybe Carapaz finishing over 7′ behind last year caused INEOS to adjust their expectations (down) for him which is fine but you have to think he wants another chance at the Ride on a second Giro trophy.

108th Tour de France 2021 - Stage 9

Carapaz and Mas
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Johnny Long of CyclingTips wrote last week that one of the suitors for Carapaz, as well as re-signing with INEOS, would be Movistar, and when the EF signing story broke it came as a surprise. But with these options, that may not be the case. Like I said, INEOS is full of guys they seem to like as much or more than the Olympian, even with Ritchie Porte retired. Movistar would be a legitimate option, but who knows what he thinks of them after leaving the team three years ago, and anyway they have Enric Mas and other young guys coming.

Assuming Carapaz made some good plays at INEOS, maybe now is the time to prioritize opportunities over money (as long as the money drop isn’t too big), and at EF, he is guaranteed to be selected for the Tour de France for as long as he wants. His arrow isn’t pointing down but it’s not pointing exactly up either, even if you want to attribute his Giro loss to a bad day, then at 29, Carapaz needs to seize his moment.

85th Tour de Suisse 2022 - Stage 1

Helpless on the prowl
Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images

This should work well for him and for EF. To support it, it should be able to count on strong climbers. Hugh Carthy, at 27, looks like his ceiling will be that of a Giro/Vuelta possibility, which usually translates to being one of the best support riders on the Tour. Neilson Powless has already played that role well on his Jumbo debut, and while he may have grand tour ambitions of his own – having finished fourth in the Tour de Suisse today – Powless could benefit from some Tour swings in a secondary role. Ruben Guerrero and Esteban Chaves would also make top-notch servants if they didn’t quite plead to pursue their own ambitions instead. And finally, since we all know that Uran will never retire, might as well add it here too, right?

They’re a solid team, should EF go all-in on the 2023 Tour (and assuming they don’t lose any of those riders). And I have to think they will. Since that second place in the Tour by Uran, the team has only Carthy’s third place in the Vuelta as a major result in the general classification of the grand tour. They pocket the top ten with incredible consistency, but while those are good for morale, they don’t do much for the sponsors. Bringing in the Olympic champion and throwing himself squarely into the fight for the yellow, it moves the needle. EF needs eyeballs, and Carapaz will provide them.

Of course, their biggest problem will be the same as anyone with Tour ambitions – the fact that the race might be unwinnable until Tadej Pogacar gets bored of winning it. But that’s a problem for another day.

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