EF Education-EasyPost ‘galvanized’ by 2022 points battle as it blitzes early season
Riders like Neilson Powless, Magnus Cort carry the torch as US-based team rebounds out of tough times in 2022.
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Neilson Powless‘ daring late attack Sunday at Paris-Nice said it all.
EF Education-EasyPost is riding to a different beat in 2023.
From Australia through Europe, riders like Powless, Magnus Cort and Alberto Bettiol came out swinging this season as the U.S.-based team harvested a slew of early victories.
Team director Tom Southam told VeloNews the hot start is a positive byproduct of its tooth and nail scrap for survival through the close of the UCI points cycle last year.
“The team was galvanized by the points situation, and I think a lot of others were too,” Southam said.
“Once the riders realized ‘shit, this is potentially my job that’s going to go,’ they really bonded as a unit and came together to help each other. It all made the team really dig into making sure we succeed. It really pushed us forward to start fresh.”
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Powless led the way for EF Education-EasyPost this winter with big results across the early French calendar.
Currently safe in the eighth in the UCI points table, Jonathan Vaughters’ team is relishing its new momentum.
“It’s not like we’re exerting some huge pressure on the riders, or that what happened before is causing them to race faster. But I think a little bit of the hunger that came out of last year has carried forward,” Southam told VeloNews at the recent UAE Tour.
The team debut of grand tour star Richard Carapaz later this month and the “March madness” of stacked up stage-races and classics could serve a swathe more points for a team that looks reinvented in 2023.
“If you look at a guy like Nielsen winning Japan Cup last year, he’s an exceptional bike rider and was always knocking on the door in the biggest races,” Southam said.
“When he wins the last race of the year like that, it starts a positive trend. And then when you get it to click with one rider, the rest of the team get their heads up and go ‘hang on a minute, I want a piece of that.’”
Win small to win big
EF Education-EasyPost isn’t the only team that rebounded from the relegation dogfight to come out fast in 2023. Movistar and the recently relegated Lotto-Dstny sit alongside the pink-clad crew in the points table mid-pack.
“I think the whole peloton learned from last year,” Southam said. “For teams like us, we always had the confidence, but we just wanted to restart fresh in a new cycle.”
EF team manager Vaughters previously told VeloNews the whacky racing dynamic of last year is in the rearview. Instead, the team is thinking about victories before points tallies this year.
Southam hopes the push from winning at races like Étoile de Bessèges and Volta ao Algarve drives the team all through spring and summer.
The arrival of more WorldTour racing from Paris-Nice through Paris-Roubaix and beyond will see peloton heavyweights like UAE Emirates and Jumbo-Visma pile into the fray and make points harder to come by.
“We’ve got a broader program than last year. That allows us to race more, which allows us to win more, which in theory should allow us to win more bigger races,” Southam said.
“I think you can’t win big races without winning small races – you need to go through the process and build that confidence.”
Wiping the slate
EF Education-EasyPost’s riders are racing to make up lost time from 2022.
A swathe of COVID cases at Tour de Suisse and crashes all through the calendar left riders in the infirmary when they should have been on the road.
“Teams get moments which are good, moments which are bad,” Southam said. “And the bad moments don’t always reflect the quality of the riders.
“Last year was incredibly tough with illness and injury and crashes and sickness. Everybody can use it as an excuse, but genuinely this time last year, we were struggling to put teams in races. Then we had the shadow of the point system looming, which stressed a lot of guys out – and that doesn’t help performance.”
Southam has big ambition for Powless in the Ardennes. Vaughters believes Carapaz is in range of the podium at the Tour de France.
And racers like Esteban Chaves and Marijn van den Berg have grown fresh legs since being freed from the looming shadow of the points system.
“I feel like once the slate was wiped clean and we started again in the new cycle, there was a lot of commitment from riders to really show how good they were, because they didn’t get to show that last year because of all these things that happened,” Southam said.
Prestigious racing through spring will give riders like Powless and Cort the stage to sing loud from.