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EF Education-EasyPost is getting on board with the youth boom and partnering leading U.S. junior squad ONTO.
The newly named EF Education-ONTO devo team will focus on pushing U.S. male talent toward the WorldTour before later expanding its reach internationally and launching a women’s squad.
“I hope that this project shows that a talented kid in Ohio, or Québec, or Los Angeles, who might have seen the Tour de France on Instagram and decided that they want to be a bike racer, that they can get there if they work hard and commit to it,” EF Education-EasyPost team chief Jonathan Vaughters said.
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The South Carolina-based ONTO team is renowned as one of North America’s premiere junior teams. It recently saw Ian and Michael Garrison through its ranks before they went on to race with Quick-Step, L39ion, and Hagens Berman Axeon.
“I feel like it’s more and more important for WorldTour teams to be connected to junior cycling,” Vaughters told VeloNews.
“That was the reason I started saying ‘we need to be present in that space, to understand who the talented riders are, and what the best races are.’ And for me, from an emotional, nostalgic standpoint, launching this project is about going back to how this team started.”
Vaughters’ new commitment to a junior program comes 20 years after he founded the 5280 development team that grew into the Slipstream-Garmin-EF franchise.
Big-name Americans Tejay van Garderen, Alex Howes, and Pete Stetina all learned their trade with 5280 before launching wildly successful WorldTour and gravel careers.
The formation of EF Education-ONTO sees the parent WorldTour team dive direct into the world’s ongoing hunt for the next teen phenom like Remco Evenepoel or Tadej Pogačar, and reinforce USA’s place on the cycling map.
“We want to get more in touch with, and better understand, that whole world of junior racing. That way, if there is an Evenepoel out there – American or not – that we’re aware, that they’re part of our team, and that we can actually nurture that talent,” Vaughters said in a call late last week.
Racers not athletes
The USA has produced a tide of WorldTour talent in the past decade, from Sepp Kuss and Chloé Dygert to Lawson Craddock and Coryn Labecki.
However, young North Americans regularly report challenges learning bike racing basics when adapting to the street furniture and raised elbows of European bike racing.
That’s where Vaughters and ONTO director Rusty Miller plan to make a difference in an era where riders turn pro before their twenties.
“First and foremost, we just want to teach kids how to race bikes,” Vaughters told VeloNews.
“A problem we face in North America is that there would be these immensely physically talented juniors that would come out of the U.S. racing scene that just didn’t understand bike racing in a way that’s so ingrained into Belgian juniors.”
EF Education-ONTO plans to initially focus on the fundamentals and fun of racing before riders become bogged down in watts, calories, and CDA.
From collecting bottles from the team car and positioning going into climbs to soft skills like dealing with failure and success, EF Education-ONTO is looking to give young talent a trip through bike racer university.
“We want to give a real good foundation of what competitive cycling is and how the team tactics work, and how teamwork works. And how you conduct yourself as a bike racer, about the lifestyle choices you make as a bike racer,” Vaughters said.
“We want to teach all these basic skills so that when we have Americans up to the WorldTour they’re more prepared. We want to help create real bike racers, real cyclists – not just athletes.”
The 2023 EF Education-ONTO roster is made up of nine riders, including Michael Barry’s son Ashlin, and George Hincapie’s son Enzo.
The EF senior team’s backers Cannondale, POC, and Vittoria are all involved in a project that will send riders to prestigious junior races in North America, Europe, and Asia.
And after that … the WorldTour?
EF Education-ONTO roster, 2023
Gray Barnett (16), Ashlin Barry (16), Peyton Burckel (16), CJ Burford (18), Miles De Sousa (18), Levi Dykes (18), Enzo Hincapie (15), Ben McConchie (18), Reilly Oberding (18).