On Friday, VeloNews writer Daniel Benson broke the story that Richard Carapaz has signed with EF Education-EasyPost for 2023, a major development for the long-standing club currently poised to be/remain America’s top stage-racing squad, and give them a legitimate (if hardly 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 does not rank in the top ten of World Tour team budgets and has sometimes had to merge to survive. EF doesn’t just scoop up talent wherever they see fit. But they have had a knack over the years for finding ways to make it work. For a while they seemed focused on bringing in overlooked gems, and have a Giro d’Italia trophy from Canadian Ryder Hesjedal to show for that. They have certainly developed their share of young riders, and while that has gotten both more expensive to start and more expensive to retain them when they succeed, their current roster still includes very talented neo-pros and guys entering their prime with growing resumes.
EF’s Veteran Coups
Then there are the team’s biggest swings: grabbing top riders on their way out of difficult situations who are clearly worth still betting on. They’ve done this a few times before. They grabbed Thor Hushovd for a year out of the Cervélo merger and got a phenomenal bounce-back season from the then-33-year-old Norwegian. Yes, he was the World Champion, so he was already bouncing back before he came aboard. But for Garmin-Cervélo, he helped the team take the TTT in stage 2 of the 2011 Tour, put himself into yellow, and after ceding it to the climbers (well, Thomas Voeckler anyway) went on to two more pretty cool stage wins, a solo effort coming off the Col d’Aubisque and a memorable sprint over his compatriot Edvald Boasson Hagen in Pau. The team also milked Hushovd’s pedigree for a stalemate with Fabian Cancellara in Paris-Roubaix, allowing Johan Van Summeren to win their biggest-ever classics trophy. Or heaviest one at least.
Their best value signing has to be Rigoberto Uran, another guy whose arrow might have been pointing down in the eyes of other teams, coming off seasons with Quick Step and Sky where he made little impact at the Tour and finished second twice at the Giro. Uran hasn’t made waves per se, in the era of kids ten-plus years his junior, but his second place in the 2017 Tour was the team’s high point and he’s quietly finished in the top ten ever since. Alberto Bettiol was peeled off BMC and promptly won the Ronde van Vlaanderen. Michael Woods and Magnus Cort Nielsen delivered on their pre-EF promise while riding for Vaughters. Lots of teams have similar success stories with proven veterans coming on board, but EF have punched above their budget weight a bit in this regard, I think.
What’s Carapaz Thinking?
The move makes all kinds of sense for Carapaz, based on my not especially well informed reading of the tea leaves. Maybe when it becomes official he will let us know what his thinking is, but that is several weeks away. So for now we know this.
At INEOS, it’s always a numbers game, and they didn’t seem to favor the Ecuadorian. Despite third at the 2021 Tour and an Olympic Gold Medal shortly thereafter, INEOS sent Carapaz to the Giro and left him there even when Egan Bernal fell out of the picture with his horror crash. The team will roll with Daniel Martinez and former winner Geraint Thomas instead, the former with just one prior appearance (28th overall) and the latter not on anyone’s list of potential winners, history notwithstanding. Maybe Carapaz finishing over 7’ down last year caused INEOS to adjust their expectations (downward) for him, which is fine, but you have to think he wants another shot at the Tour over a second Giro trophy.
CyclingTips’ Johnny Long wrote last week that one of the suitors for Carapaz, apart from re-signing with INEOS, would be Movistar, and when the EF signing story broke it came as a surprise. But with those options maybe it isn’t. Like I said, INEOS is stocked with guys they seem to like as much or more than the Olympian, even with Ritchie Porte retiring. Movistar would be a legitimate option, though who knows how he feels about them after he walked away from the team three years ago, and anyway they have Enric Mas and other young guys coming up.
Assuming Carapaz made good coin at INEOS, this might be the time to prioritize opportunity over money (as long as the money dropoff isn’t too large), and at EF he is assured of being selected for the Tour de France for as long as he wants. His arrow isn’t pointing down but it’s not exactly pointing up either, even if you want to chalk up his Giro loss to one bad day, so at 29 Carapaz needs to seize his moment.
It should work well for him and for EF. For support he should be able to count on some strong climbers. Hugh Carthy, at 27, seems like his ceiling will be that of a Giro/Vuelta possibility, which usually translates into being a top support rider at the Tour. Neilson Powless has already played this role well in his early Jumbo days, and though he may have his own grand tour ambitions — coming off a hard-luck fourth in the Tour de Suisse today — Powless could benefit from a couple swings at the Tour in a secondary role. Ruben Guerrero and Esteban Chaves would also make top shelf domestiques if they don’t quite make a case for chasing their own ambitions instead. And finally, since we all know Uran is never going to retire, we might as well add him in here too, right?
That’s a strong 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 Tour second place by Uran, the team have just Carthy’s third at the Vuelta as a major result in the grand tour overall standings. They bag top tens with amazing consistency, but while those are good for morale, they don’t do much for sponsors. Bringing in the Olympic champion and getting themselves squarely into the fight for yellow, that moves the needle. EF need eyeballs, and Carapaz will get them some.
Of course, their biggest problem will be the same one everyone else who has Tour ambitions is dealing with — the fact that the race might be unwinnable until Tadej Pogacar gets bored with winning it. But that’s a problem for another day.