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EF Education-EasyPost comes out swinging after ‘humbling’ funding crunch

'We've been given the resources to dig back into high performance:' Team liberated by post-pandemic resurgence from title backer.

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There’s a new world out there for EF Education-EasyPost after its pursestrings were pulled tighter than ever over the past 36 months.

The sponsor-bludgeoning pandemic is over, and the U.S. squad’s funding pipeline has been fully reopened. Richard Carapaz is wearing pink, and the team is able to invest for victory again.

“Travel’s back so we’ve been given the resources and freedom to really dig back into high performance and optimize the performance of all of our riders – we just weren’t able to do that recently,” team boss Jonathan Vaughters told VeloNews.

“It changes things a lot for us. With Richard [Carapaz], better resources, being able to invest, ambitions change,” Vaughters said. “Ambitions are bigger.”

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Team title backer EF Education suffered hard through the COVID crisis.

The Swiss-based educational travel and language business saw activities impacted on a whole different scale to the superstore chains, petrochemical giants, and wealth funds behind the team’s WorldTour rivals.

Those impacts rippled hard through the team wearing EF Education’s name.

“Travel businesses were definitely not loving the pandemic. So we had to run the team in a very lean way. When you do that, you can’t be competitive on the transfer market and you have to do fewer of the extra things that optimize performance,” Vaughters said in a recent call.

“We had to shelve the really big ambitions for a few years and just say, ‘OK, we’ve run a very tight organization before, and that’s what we’re doing again for the next few years.'”

‘It was hard. Humbling’

Bettiol
Bettiol’s victory at the 2019 Tour of Flanders put EF on the upcurve.

The cashflow struggle hit Vaughters and Co. just as the team was on an upcurve.

A marquee victory at the Tour of Flanders from Alberto Bettiol and a swathe more wins from riders like Michael Woods, Sergio Higuita and Daniel Martínez put EF among the world’s best in 2019.

Then came the 2020 lockdowns and shutdowns, and Vaughters was forced to hunker down for “survival mode.” Wage cuts came in, and all the added extras that make a team competitive were out.

“It was hard … humbling,” Vaughters said.

Fast-forward to the open borders and easy travel of 2023, and EF Education-EasyPost is ready to take on the world.

A fresh foray into junior racing keeps a pipeline of talent on tap, and all the added extras are back for the senior squad.

“Now, we aren’t skimping on training camps. We aren’t skimping on nutritional follow-up. We aren’t skimping on hiring coaches or staffing races,” Vaughters said. “We’re really optimizing all of that stuff, as opposed to just trying to thread it through like we had to before.”

The return to a no-stone-unturned approach already paid off.

Bettiol barnstormed into the leader’s jersey of the Tour Down Under on the very first day of the 2023 WorldTour, and new signing Mikkel Honoré walked away from the week with the KoM jersey.

Vaughters will hope it sets the tone for things to come.

Carapaz at the Tour de France: ‘There are options. We’ve just got to explore them’

Carapaz leads EF Education EasyPost into 2023
Carapaz leads EF Education EasyPost into 2023 (Photo: EF Education EasyPost)

The center of EF Education EasyPost’s fully optimized 2023 is Ecuadorian star Carapaz.

A recent tonsillectomy put the Ecuadorian star on a slow start for the season, but Vaughters is already relishing sending the Olympic and Giro d’Italia champion into battle at the Tour de France.

But despite being one of the few riders within range of the Tour dominators Jonas Vingegaard and Tadej Pogačar, the 29-year-old won’t necessarily be racing for yellow in July.

“I don’t want to put him in a box and say ‘this is the goal, this is what we’re doing,’” Vaughters said. “I also think he enjoys more freedom as a rider.”

Carapaz swaggered into the mountains jersey at the recent Vuelta a España and reinforced his status as one of the most exciting climbers in the pro peloton with three thriller stage wins.

It put ideas into the brain of his new boss.

“Riding GC in the Tour de France is something we’ve done before, and it has its merits,” Vaughters said. “But winning the polka dot jersey with Richard in the Tour de France – I know it’s not as many points and whatever – damn, I would love to put that in the 20-year history of this team.

“And the way he raced at the Vuelta, that was exciting. But I’m not going to say that’s the objective.”

And just like the world’s open for expedition and adventure again, Carapaz has all options open to him as he rebuilds from his winter layoff.

“The idea is that he shows up the Tour de France on-point form-wise, and then we will figure out exactly what we’re doing,” Vaughters said. “Whether it’s GC, stages, or the polka dot – there are options out there. We’ve just got to explore them.”