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- Consistency pays off for Martínez at the Dauphiné
- Van Garderen: Skipping early races ‘could pay dividends’ for EF Pro Cycling at the Tour
- Michael Woods ‘surprised’ by Tour de France snub
Hot off the back of a timely victory at the Critérium du Dauphiné with Martínez, EF Pro Cycling has the wind at its sails and the firepower to crack the top-five on GC. Whether team manager Jonathan Vaughters does navigate one of his riders into classification contention or not, his line up of explosive, attacking riders is likely to animate the mountainous Tour in one way or another.
“We bring a strong group with general classification ambitions as well as riders who can look at stages opportunistically, given race situations,” read a team statement. “We travel to Nice with seasoned Tour riders and several Tour rookies. We’re a balance of experience and opportunity. And we’re absolutely ready to go.”
The team includes three debutants in Higuita, Hugh Carthy, and American Nielsen Powless. The 23-year-old Californian will have the mentoring presence of Tour veteran and countryman Tejay van Garderen at his side as he makes his ninth start at the race.
Rigberto Urán, Sergio Higuita, Dani Martínez, Jens Keukeleire, Tejay van Garderen, Neilson Powless, Hugh Carthy, Alberto Bettiol.
Top of EF Pro Cycling’s team sheet is a dynamic Colombian trio of Urán, Higuita, and Martínez.
While all three are equally capable of posing a challenge to the top end of the GC, it’s 24-year-old Martínez, hot off a win at the Critérium du Dauphiné, that is arguably the team’s most likely chance at squaring off against the likes of Egan Bernal and Primož Roglič.
Having ridden consistently through the Dauphiné to pounce on the yellow jersey left vacant by Roglič’s abandon, Martínez delivered on the promise shown late last year and this winter with second-place finishes at both the Tour of Guangxi and Tour Colombia.
Similarly youthful Tour rookie Higuita packs the explosiveness and climbing chops to make a big impact at this year’s mountainous race.
Having had a relatively under-the-radar run through the Dauphiné, the likelihood of Higuita riding as an out-and-out classification rider may be a stretch of the imagination, but having powered to a breakout solo victory at the Vuelta a España last summer, the 23-year-old is a true wildcard that could animate several stages through the race.
Urán will be lining up for his seventh Tour and counters Martínez and Higuita’s youthful vigor with wisdom and experience. Having had little racing since crashing out of the Vuelta last year, the veteran showed flashes of form at the Dauphiné, but failed to make the selection when the hammer was down.
With uncertainty still swirling over his racing legs, the 33-year-old is keeping his options open, saying “it’s all about taking it day-by-day, and hoping that we’re going to have a good one.”
Alongside Urán, Tour veteran van Garderen brings experience to the baby-faced team. Having ridden high to fifth places in both the 2012 and 2014 Tours, the Coloradan has had a rollercoaster ride through his past nine grand tours, failing to finish five, with 10th place the best of those he has since completed.
The 32-year-old acknowledges he’s not at this year’s Tour to challenge for yellow, but predominantly to mentor and guide the rookies.
“It’ll be my ninth start in the Tour, and every time I line up it always brings such huge satisfaction,” van Garderen said. “Hopefully I can give a little bit of my experience and help these guys along and just do whatever I can to help the team.”
Powless will be making his Tour debut this weekend. Having impressed in the Jumbo-Visma engine room at last year’s Vuelta, his first grand tour with his new team is what he describes as an “incredible opportunity.”
“That I finally get the chance to realize my dream and race the Tour de France, and racing the Tour de France on an American team is a super special feeling,” he said. “I think that everyone is really ready to race for 21 days and I’m certainly prepared to do whatever I can to help the team.”
Rounding out the team is Alberto Bettiol, Belgian rouleur Jens Keukeleire, and British rookie Carthy.
Despite this year being his first Tour de France, 26-year-old Carthy already has five grand tours on his palmarés, including an 11th-place finish at the Giro last year. The Brit brings a massive climbing clout to the team that could prove invaluable for his Colombian leaders.
Bettiol is yet another of the team’s wildcards. Capable of monument-winning flashes of brilliance, the Italian classics star could snatch one of the race’s grippy stages. Bettiol and Keukeleire add heft to EF’s team of spindly climbers with the Belgian set to be the team’s workhorse when the road isn’t tilting upward.
The notable omission from the team is star climber Michael Woods. On the comeback trail from a fractured femur and with an impending move to Israel Start-Up Nation at the end of the season, the Canadian’s place on the squad was always in question, though he did describe his omission as a “surprise” earlier this week.
Expect EF Pro Cycling to bring the unexpected to this year’s Tour de France. Equally likely of being toward the top of GC or snatching handfuls of stages, there’s a lot the team could add to the drama of the race.
While the American squad has three options for a run at the overall, Martínez is the most likely candidate. Though his Dauphiné victory came courtesy of race-leader Roglič abandoning before the final stage, the Colombian held his own through the race’s mountaintop battles and showed the balance of composure and racecraft to snatch the win from Thibaut Pinot with a well-timed move in the final stage.
While the Colombian was given something of a helping hand by Roglič’s abandon at the Dauphiné, he’ll be given no gifts in the pressure pot of the Tour. To maximize his chances, EF Pro Cycling could be best off fully rallying behind him and throwing the weight of Higuita and Urán into support duties rather than letting the trio race as equals.
Having skipped out of many pre-Tour races to shelter its riders from coronavirus risks as long as possible, EF Pro Cycling’s climbing crew could come into the decisive third week of the race with an extra kick compared to its rivals. So far this summer, the team’s climbers have only raced at the five-stage Dauphiné, while other Tour teams have been revving their engines at a procession of smaller early-August French races.
“It could pay dividends coming into the third week of the Tour de France when we might be a little bit more fresh,” van Garderen told VeloNews of the team’s strategy.
However, with GC battles looming from as early as the opening week of the race, EF Pro Cycling is going to have to be sure it’s actually in the position to win come the final salvo of mountain tests in the Alps and not shed time early on.
“We’re not the powerhouse team, but we find talent and we race with conviction,” Vaughters said after guiding his team to victory at the Dauphiné.
EF Pro Cycling may not be top of everyone’s watchlist when the race rolls out of Nice on Saturday, but their wildcard team has got the potential to disrupt and animate the race in many ways.