This season, EF Education First riders will explore the boundaries of the sport across the world with the aim of competing, meeting new fans, collecting stories along the roads (and trails), and pioneering a new approach to the race season. The team has committed to the concept of alternative racing developed with our partner Rapha, who led a major research project into the future of the sport and believe that only through racing new events with new people can cycling reach new audiences.
The calendar of events was constructed by the team, Rapha, and Cannondale to reflect the diverse styles of racing and riding, matched to the unique personalities of the EF Education First squad. It will see a mix of gravel, mountain bike, long distance, cyclocross, and other events, demanding riders race in unconventional apparel and with a broad quiver of bicycles. It’s our aim to attract new fans, new participants, and new interest in our sport.
From the Flint Hills of Kansas to the towering peaks above Leadville, Colorado, to the wandering trails of Yorkshire and the stunning Taroko Gorge in Taiwan, the team is looking forward to lining up in new corners of the world.
Through our storytelling content partnership with Rapha, we will also take fans inside these alternative events, showcasing our travels far and wide. It’s a chance to check out new places, from the historic old main street in Emporia, Kansas, to the shimmering lights of Taiwan. It’s also a chance to hear from different riders. From those hoping to win Leadville to the person who hopes to finish the GBDURO — a 2,000 kilometer trek from the south of England to the north of Scotland — we’re here to explore new frontiers and hear new stories.
“This is a chance for us to survey where cycling is, and where it’s heading,” said the team CEO Jonathan Vaughters. “Most importantly, it’ll be fun to see the team in a new setting, and be able to interact with all kinds of people who see cycling differently than professional racers. That’s always been a huge issue in the sport — how our team experiences cycling on race day is different from how 99.9 percent of riders experience riding a bike. This is about us getting closer to that feeling — the simple feeling of riding a bike somewhere new. Another plus: some of our EF colleagues will join us on the adventures, too.”
“We can go and show up in different events that regularly a WorldTour team has no interest in, but that I think the majority of the cycling audience is starting to have a really big interest in — gravel events, ultra-endurance events, some mountain bike races,” Morton said. “I think we can have a much bigger impact on the sport… It’s not about the results, it’s about the sport and an exploration about where the sport is going. It’s not about turning Dirty Kanza into a WorldTour race, or going and smashing the record at Leadville. That’s not the point. It’s more about looking at the season as a whole and it being an exploration of the sport. And then having the ability to share that with anyone who is willing to watch. In that way, the hope is you get people more interested in all levels of the sport. If we do it right, it’s a win-win for everyone.”
“I think we can have a much bigger impact on the sport… It’s not about the results, it’s about the sport and an exploration about where the sport is going.”
The races represent the changing aspects of road cycling — riders are more willing to take whatever bike they’re on off road, to seek new routes through terrain they’ve ridden for years.
“Rapha’s partnership with EF Education First Pro Cycling launched with a mutual ambition to change the presentation and appeal of professional cycling,” said Simon Mottram, Founder and CEO of Rapha. “Like many Rapha customers, I am finding myself increasingly riding on more varied terrain, whether winter cross rides or summer gravel adventures and it will be interesting to see how some of the World’s best pro racers cope with the different demands of these races. We are all excited at the prospect and Rapha will be there along the way to capture every moment of it.”
The team will work with Cannondale on the right tools for the job, from the flint roads of Kansas to the Jeep paths above Leadville. We’ve got something special for GBDURO up our sleeves, but for now that’s a secret.
“EF Education First has always approached the sport with a unique perspective that has allowed the personalities of the team to stand in balance with exciting racing and results,” said Jonathan Geran, Global Director of Sports Marketing for Cannondale. “Expanding their horizons to new adventures alongside riders who participate in the growing landscape of ‘non-traditional’ events is a great way to bring more riders into these stories. Letting EF riders out in the wild on bikes like the versatile SuperX or Scalpel-Si, equipment that we would not expect to see under WorldTour pros, aligns with the evolution of our connection with EF and lets these guys share stories of a different kind.”
The rosters for races have yet to be confirmed, but American Taylor Phinney, for one, is excited to be part of the new direction.
“I love the idea of stepping outside the norm, stepping outside the calendar that’s been the same forever. I’ve been a pro for nine years and I’ve done something close to the same races every season, so to have something different is exciting. It brings a new energy,” Phinney said. “I think we’re in for a bit of a shock in terms of what it takes to finish some of these events. I’m excited to expand the horizons and perspectives a bit.”
‘We will not come rescue you. You are responsible for you.’ Emporia, Kansas 38.4039° N, 96.1817° W June 1
The racer’s manual sums the Dirty Kanza up nicely. “We will not come rescue you,” it states in bold letters. “You are responsible for you.” More than 2,000 people will line up for the 200-mile odyssey that runs over the Flint Hills in Kansas. The gravel roads are rolling and littered with eroded flint rocks, making the miles slow and demanding, of both riders and their machines. There is very little support but a whole lot of camaraderie among racers. It’s a test unlike any other this season.
From south to north. Way north. Land’s End → John O’Groats 50°04’4.20″ N -5°42’34.79″ W June 22
Making its way from the south of England to the far north of Scotland, the GBDURO is a long tour through two countries, with stops for picnics and beers along the way. It’s a self-supported bikepacking race from Land’s End to John O’Groats that taps a mix of roads, gravel, and singletrack over its 2,000 kilometers. It explores some of the country’s industrial past and its wide-open spaces. The race is split into four stages, and the lowest total time wins. We like the simple ethos on the website: “No Prizes. No Support.”
‘The race across the Sky’ Leadville, Colorado 39.2508° N, 106.2925° W August 10
A double-barrel shotgun shatters the cold morning in Leadville, Colorado. Some 2,000 racers begin to stream from the old mining town toward the mountains beyond town for what is by all accounts one of the world’s toughest mountain bike races. Leadville is largely contested on old mining roads made up of dirt and rock, and the high point of the race is known as Columbine — an old mine at 12,000 feet above sea level. Joe Dombrowski raced here in 2017, coming in second place, and we’re thrilled to tackle the challenges on offer in Leadville yet again.
Five unrideable miles — start running. 54.1218° N, 2.2929° W September 15
Looking up, the line of riders pushing their bikes up the steep hillsides snakes out of sight, and there’s about as much running in this one as a 10k. Perfect. When one thinks of a ‘cross race, course tape and fast laps come to mind, but not here — this is a long day out in the wilderness. The Three Peaks is a much-loved cyclocross challenge in Yorkshire, England that bills itself as the hardest cyclocross race in the world. That’s probably true, since most ‘cross races don’t tackle three peaks: Ingleborough, Whernside, and Pen-y-ghent. The crowd is thick with riders of all kinds, from the fleet to those simply hoping to finish. Maybe the guys should start running?
The world’s longest uphill road race 24.0423° N, 121.6228° E October 25
From sea-level to more than two miles above it, the Taiwan KOM Challenge is one of the longest, most beautiful climbs in the world. A large peloton starts together on the beach, the city a backdrop, and slowly makes its way up the dramatic Taroko Gorge. Through dark tunnels and up and over shockingly green mountains, riders pedal to the summit, up and up to the roof of the island.