Always a fun one, and no introduction is needed as to why I’m ready to get to these guys. EF always have some story to tell. It’s usually more about survival than big wins, but you can’t count them out. The past season saw them lose a fair number of points to injury and illness, principally to Magnus Cort Nielsen and Michael Valgren, with the latter stepping back to the development team this year as he recovers from a crash. But with better luck and an influx of star power, 2023 won’t be dull.
1. What is the direction?
I’m not being smart-alecky here, I am just asking if EF Education have a direction? I think the answer is yes: they are forever the Tampa Bay Rays of cycling. We never seem to have reliable data, but some estimates have EF toward the bottom of the World Tour in budget size, possibly as little as one quarter of what INEOS has to work with. Cycling doesn’t have a salary cap, but some teams do, and for them it’s all about exploiting market inefficiencies.
Vaughters is just as excited about bringing in hot young talents as the next Directeur Sportif, but it’s a pretty inefficient way to spend a tight budget. Meanwhile, the emphasis on youth means that the number of older veteran riders available exceeds the demand. In recent years their biggest signings mave been Magnus Cort Nielsen, Michael Valgren, Stevie Chaves, and now Richard Carapaz. They bought low on their classics guys like Alberto Bettiol, Sep Vanmarcke and Thor Hushovd. It’s not a sexy plan, but it’s a realistic one, and it’s been known to work.
2. Can they break through anywhere?
The weird part about being opportunistic is that it requires your team to evolve its identity far more frequently than a cycling team should. Are you into the classics? Cool, but if you want to win you need 4-5 guys, working together and developing relationships, trust, etc. That usually takes a few years. Grand tour focused squads, even more so. As usual, rich teams have an easier time building this sort of inner strength. It’s expensive to be poor.
But it’s also cycling, and the upside of adding older stars is that they kinda know what they’re doing no matter who else is around. Carapaz, then, joins a new group of guys, along with his long-running teammate Andrey Amador, as part of a squad that can win a grand tour — because it already has. Amador was by Carapaz’ side at Movistar during his 2019 Giro win, and maybe if INEOS had sent Amador to Italy last spring Carapaz would have gotten around Jai Hindley for another win. Alright, maybe not, but this year the Ecuadorian will have an actual countryman, Jonathan Caicedo, plus other climbers and TT ace Stefan Bissegger for grand tour support — supposedly the Tour de France and Vuelta a España are on the menu. That’s some tough sledding, but Vaughters has never been shy with team goals.
[OK, it might actually wreck their whole plan for bringing in Carapaz, if he’s like 7th at the Tour and just generating zero buzz. But I don’t dislike his chances at the Vuelta, and he’s probably ready to move on from the Giro.]
3. Are They Still America’s Team?
This is debatable. First off, how do we decide on this? US registration and number of wins, or is it US riders that tip the scales? In the former case, Trek-Segafredo clearly hold this coveted title, but in the latter case, it’s a battle between Quinn Simmons and Neilson Powless to deliver the honors to their respective squads.
Powless gives EF a major advantage, in my book. He has two classics to his name, soloing home at the Japan Cup last fall and taking a dramatic San Sebastian win two seasons ago. He made loud noises at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, taking 8th place, and even louder ones at the Tour de France, where over stages 5 and 6 he threatened to grab the Yellow Jersey. Simmons is five years younger, a huge talent, and just getting started, so for now at least, I’ll go with Powless and his nose for the line. Also, however long the Simmonses have been in America, at least one branch of the Powless family has that beat by 10,000 years. Has to count for something here, right?
So... do EF send him to Flanders? Powless has always slotted into the climbers’ races, and with his LBL finish they’ll probably want to stay the course. But he belongs in De Ronde at some point. Two of his biggest rides that didn’t end with a victory were his fifth place in the Vlaamse Worlds and fourth on the Arenberg cobbles day of the Tour. On the team website he talks about wanting to ride offroad more (gravel?). He’s a natural for the stones! Give the man a chance!
4. Seriously, Can We Just Move On to the Kits?
No. We have to talk about young talent first. Twenty-two-year-olds Sean Quinn, an American sprinter, and Ben Healy, an all-rounder Irishman with a big TT on him, will be guys to watch, but the youngest rider on the entire team is probably the biggest coming attraction.
Oh wait, Georg Steinhauser is a few months younger than Andrea Piccolo? Well, he bested his new teammate in the 2021 Piccolo Giro di Lombardia, so maybe he’s the real deal. But Piccolo finished 11th in the grown-up Lombardia, plus second in the Japan Cup behind Powless, third in the Coppa Agostini, 10th in the Bretagne Classic, and otherwise spent the summer scooping up points, following a presumably torturous move from Astana, then Gazprom-Rusvelo, then Androni, all in the span of just over a year. To keep winning like that is impressive. At age 21? Che cazzo!!
5. OK, Fine, Here Are the Kits
EF Education have been on a 15 year run of putting out kits that don’t exactly reflect the same old cycling fashions. Anything but... most of the time. Recall, they started out as Team Slipstream, without a title sponsor and free of outside input of the type that might ask, “are we sure we want to use argyle?” That and some stuff about doping helped them make their mark. Then they were Garmin for a while, but as the sport grew they had to make some moves to keep up, merging with Cervélo Test team and then later with Drapac, both of whom brought in designers of their own. Their look has varied probably more than any other team with 15 years’ worth of kits.
2023: The Four Pinks
Wow! Uhh... I kinda like the idea anyway, after several editions featuring just one shade of pink. If you’ve ever stared at Ad Reinhardt paintings long enough, this sort of thing makes perfect sense. Not sure why the Giro hasn’t thought of this, given their century of experimentation with shades of pink. This is new but is quickly growing on me.
2022: More pink, and cartoon animals
There’s a fine line between lightheartedness and a desperate plea for help. Just ask the guy who painted Tom Boonen’s ill-fated Ferrari.
And then for several years just a lot of pink. Here is 2018, a relative outlier in its judicious use of the color.
2018: Pink and Green, together at last?
Where have I seen this look before?
Oh right! The 80s! Make it stop... Time to journey back to earlier color schemes.
2017: The Drapac Green
I think the green migrated over from Drapac in the merger that happened in 2016? But knowing Vaughters, he was always looking for an excuse to go there. If you look closely you can see that this is when they brought back the argyle style, after a year of just boring lime green everywhere.
2014: Garmin-Sharp Blue
Pre-Drapac, last of the Garmin kits, and maybe the most conservative. Was this the year that like 3⁄4 of the teams in the peloton just had blue and white kits?
2011: Do you wear black?
Yet another merger — actually the first big one if you’re going chronologically. The Cervélo Test Team brought along the God of Thunder and some brilliant luck. And a lot of black. Probably saved a few bucks with greyscale printing, amirite?
2010: The Classic Garmin
Not trying to put too big a thumb on the scale; I tossed in a couple other versions of this theme below. But this one got on TV a lot. I am super biased in favor of everything in 2010, particularly that time when an American won a cobbled classic right in front of my face. But you do you.
2008: Whiter Garmin Chipotle
If you want a lighter version of things, this is very nicely balanced.
2007: Hello Slipstream
Baby blue argyle debut. Also if you know why Danny Pate had rainbow stripes, I am all ears.
Slipstream Fashions peaked with...
This poll is closed
2023: All the pinks!
2022: Pink and Friends
2021: Pink but let’s not go crazy
2018: The preppy cocktail
2017: Drapac Green
2014: Bluest Edition
2011: Black is back
2010 Classic Argyle
2008: Whiter argyle
2007: The Birth of Argyle