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Jonathan Vaughters rang in the new decade with a bold prediction: EF-Education First will win the Tour de France this decade.
Really, that’s what he said. Look for yourself:
Our first reaction was something along the lines of, “Good luck.” But hey, chapeau to Vaughters for being bold. He’s always talking about how cycling should be more like other major team sports, so it’s nice to see him join a long line of legendary baseball players guaranteeing World Series wins and American footballers guaranteeing Super Bowl wins. Throw that hail mary, JV.
But can EF actually pull it off? That’s a tough — maybe impossible — question to answer. Let’s try anyway.
Why EF probably won’t win the Tour in the next 10 years
Let’s start with what is probably the most likely outcome: EF won’t win the Tour in the next 10 years. Really, it’s probably too tall an order for all but one or two teams in the pro peloton. There are some serious obstacles standing in their way.
Most obviously, there’s Ineos, the team that has won seven of the last eight Tours de France. Top to bottom the team is built to win cycling’s main event. This time last year, we might have had a little more optimism for the EFs of the peloton to eventually topple the Ineos machine, with the two Tour winners on the British juggernaut – Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas – both getting deeper into their 30s. Then, Egan Bernal went and proved that he has what it takes to win the Tour at just 22 years old.
The Colombian prodigy should be the Tour favorite for years to come. Even by the end of the decade, Bernal will still be younger than Froome is now.
Even if Bernal somehow burns out early and Ineos doesn’t find some other star to replace him, there’s Jumbo-Visma to contend with. The Dutch WorldTour outfit has emerged as Ineos’s biggest challenger with a trio of potential Grand Tour winners and a strong supporting cast.
Compared to those two juggernauts, EF does not have either the team-wide firepower or the proven champions at the top of the roster. As it stands now, EF has some great stagehunters, a few cagey veterans, a nice Classics lineup, and some fan favorites with off-road acumen. There is talent here (more on that in a moment) but the track record of Grand Tour GC success isn’t quite there and nor is the budget that might see Vaughters’s squad acquire the same collective firepower as Ineos or Jumbo-Visma in the near future.
The teams that have won or at least contended for Tour wins in recent years have generally had larger war chests than the one Vaughters has at his disposal, and that’s a tough hurdle to overcome, relegating EF to dark horse status. And for better or worse, the Tour de France is not the Tour of Flanders, where dark horses can and do win with frequency.
A single well-timed attack, like the one Alberto Bettiol made en route to winning De Ronde last year, will rarely win a yellow jersey. The three weeks of challenges posited by the Tour make it much harder for an outside bet without a dedicated team of star domestiques to pull off the big win.
Why it could actually happen
Now that we’ve outlined the obstacles against EF as a contender for a Tour win, it’s worth giving some real thought to the other side here, because as tall an order as it would be, EF does have reasons to believe in its chances.
There may not be a proven Grand Tour winner on the team, but when he is healthy, Rigoberto Urán is no slouch. While various mishaps have gotten in his way in the Grand Tours recently, the Colombian is a talented all-rounder who counts multiple runner-up finishes in the three-week races on his career palmares. He is coming back from a bad crash at the 2019 Vuelta a España that left him with serious injuries, but Urán told CyclingTips at EF’s December training camp in California that he’s fully focused on returning to form for the Tour. He’s younger than Froome or Thomas too, and so is Tejay van Garderen, by the way.
At the same time, Urán and van Garderen are also experienced veterans that will help youngsters like Sergio Higuita and Daniel Martínez as they look to develop into the GC stars of the future. They’ve both got promise, and they’re also proof that EF is an appealing place for young prospects to sign. Who knows who will join them in the coming years, attracted by an increasingly strong foundation and perhaps even the team’s popularity as a squad not afraid to try new things, a la Dirty Kanza.
There’s a lot to like about this team over the next few seasons, and although it may not be an Ineos or a Jumbo-Visma, EF may not have to be to snatch a surprise Tour win one of these years. The ASO is doing what it can to help, designing Tour routes recently that offer shorter stages, shorter climbs, and fewer time trials – a combination of elements that make it harder for superteams like Ineos to dominate the show. Alaphilippe may not have won the 2019 Tour, but his success was cause for optimism, particularly for teams like EF that have an abundance of aggressive, punchy riders.
Plus, while Ineos did ultimately win yet again in 2019, even the Tour occasionally sees a somewhat surprising winner. We’re not saying a rider you’ve never heard of is going to win yellow in the next few years, but take 2014, for instance. Vincenzo Nibali entered the race as a second-tier favorite, enjoyed a very strong first week, and before anyone knew what was happening, the bookies’ top two choices (Froome and Alberto Contador) were out of the race with injuries. Nibali won handily.
With the right combination of circumstances, it’s possible. Maybe it’s Urán who proves to be the outside bet that snatches the surprise win. Maybe it’s a youngster on the roster now, or perhaps it’s someone who is currently a gravel-riding teenager just now taking an interest in the pink argyle showing up in force to the exploding off-road scene.
It’s probably not the most likely outcome. We’re just saying there’s a chance.