In 2019, EF Education First Pro Cycling has one the most international, youthful rosters in the professional peloton. That, coupled with the team’s history of innovation and EF Education First’s pioneering approach, yields a squad that’s open-minded, daring, and imaginative. It’s a squad that’s easy to root for.
“It’s not a traditional cycling team with one leader for this race or that race,” says team manager and CEO Jonathan Vaughters. “It’s not built that way. It’s about trying to get a large group of people to all realize their own potential and give opportunities to one another in the races and really have a team spirit, as opposed to being about any one individual.”
That, to Vaughters’ mind, has always been his team’s strength—its openness to new ideas, and its openness to riders and staff from all over the world. “
“Cultural diversity leads to diversity of thinking. If you have more ideas available, then it’s easier to discern which is the best idea. I think we have a big advantage over a lot of teams, because we do encourage a diversity of thought,” Vaughters says.
What’s that actually mean when looking for riders for the team? It means underdogs. Misfits. Riders with something to prove. JV looks for riders other teams may have missed, or riders who didn’t fit in the traditional, one-size-fits-all approach to cycling.
“Cultural diversity leads to diversity of thinking. If you have more ideas available, then it’s easier to discern which is the best idea. I think we have a big advantage over a lot of teams, because we do encourage a diversity of thought.”
– Jonathan Vaughters
“It is much more difficult to choose outsiders who are going to perform at a really high level than it is to just buy high-priced riders who you know are going to perform well, because they have a proven track record,” Vaughters says.
A FEW NEWCOMERS IN ‘19
The team’s 2019 signings include Jonathan Caicedo, a 25-year-old Ecuadorian who won the Tour of Colombia, and Tejay van Garderen, a gifted American, who finished fifth twice at the Tour de France relatively young but has had trouble replicating his early success. They’re riders with talent, potential, and drive.
“Talent doesn’t go away,” Vaughters says. “For me, one of the biggest lessons is that if you have faith in talent, then you need to stick with that faith. Even when it’s not yet getting you the results you want, you have to stay with the faith.”
Such long-term thinking has proven very successful for the team in the past.
Consider Rigoberto Uran.
“Everyone knew Rigoberto Uran had a lot of talent,” Vaughters says, “but then he had a few bad years, and nobody really had much faith in him to perform at the top level again. So we took him, and then he’s on the podium at the Tour de France.”
Consider Sebastian Langeveld.
“There were a number of years there when he wasn’t really at a great level in the classics,” says Vaughters, “and then all of a sudden he’s on the podium at Paris-Roubaix.”
And how about Mike Woods?
His first athletic career involved running the mile in under four minutes. He didn’t start bike racing until he was in his mid-20s. And last year, he won a stage of the Vuelta and finished on the podium at the world championships.
A TEAM WITH PERSONALITY.
Talent alone isn’t enough, though. EF Education First looks for thinkers, for independent, free spirits.
“We look for really intelligent guys who are independent thinkers, who don’t need someone holding their hand all the time telling them what to do,” Vaughters says. “We bring a bunch of very independent thinkers together on the same team, which can be a little bit difficult, because everyone wants to do it their own way, but then we have a really strong, centralized culture that everyone, after a little while on the team, starts to understand. If you want to be part of this team, you need to really embrace the culture. It’s the culture of being free-spirited.”
That free-spirited culture inspires everything that EF Education First Pro Cycling does, from its embrace of sports science to its willingness to take on coaches and riders from all over the world to its enthusiasm for grassroots events.
Vaughters is confident that it will help the team succeed at the world’s toughest bike races, from the spring classics to the grand tours, and above all at the Tour de France.
He is looking forward to seeing how well Sep Vanmarcke can do with a calmer and more confident approach at the classics. He believes Moreno Hofland can again compete with the best sprinters and that Dani Martinez will have a breakthrough year and leave his mark on the grand tours.
But more than anything Vaughters hopes that EF Education First Pro Cycling’s forward-thinking, outward-looking way of doing things will be a source of inspiration for bike riders and fans of bike racing all over the world.