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NINOVE, Belgium (VN) — Magnus Sheffield has been thrown in at the deep end and he’s loving it.
The American rider made his cobbled classics debut with Ineos Grenadiers at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on Saturday.
He came into the weekend on good form following his first professional win with a stage of the Ruta del Sol last week. Despite a late puncture scuppering his chances of taking home a better result, the 19-year-old Sheffield was well in the mix for much of the race and even took a brief flyer off the front with just under 70 kilometers to go.
“It felt pretty good from the start. I feel like I have pretty good fitness from Ruta, so I knew I was going to come in here with some good fitness,” Sheffield said after the race. “There were some moves going and I think I was just a bit too aggressive there. However, once you commit you have to commit, and I wanted to try and bridge across the gap, but I didn’t quite make it, so I came back.
“Unfortunately, I had an unlucky puncture in the end but tomorrow I’m looking forward to supporting the guys, taking some wind, and making sure we’re going into those corners first.”
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After his earlier efforts, Sheffield finished in a group about 8:30 back on the day’s winner Wout van Aert. Sheffield’s teammates Tom Pidcock and Jhonatan Narváez were up in the lead group when Van Aert made his winning move, but eventually crossed the line with Pidcock in 18th at 27 seconds back and Nerváez a further minute behind.
The result was a bit of a disappointment for the team after putting in a lot of work, but it has left Sheffield and the others hungry for more at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne.
“I think that today the guys were really left with this feeling of being hungry for tomorrow, so I think we’re going to race a lot more aggressively today,” he said. “We did take the race on, but I think that we left it a bit too late. Tomorrow we’re going to take it from the start, and hopefully, it’s not just a group sprint and send some guys solo.
“This is the first time I have raced with a lot of these guys but it felt pretty natural. Today didn’t go quite as well as we’d hoped in the end but this is a young group and I think that we can be really happy with how we raced together and we have another chance tomorrow. I think we can carry this momentum.”
Building up to Paris-Roubaix
Omloop Het Nieuwsblad might be the biggest race that Sheffield has done on Belgian soil outside of the world championships, but the young American is well acquainted with riding on the tough roads of Flanders.
He’s previously ridden Paris-Roubaix and Gent-Wevelgem for juniors and took two stages of the Keizer der Juniores in 2019. Last season, he got a brief experience of it at elite level with Rally Cycling, but this will be his first proper classics campaign as a professional.
“I think it’s a bit different from when we were juniors. Quinn [Simmons] and I were pretty dominant then. When we were doing the recon on Wednesday, we were going through a town and that was the first race I had done in Belgium when I was 15 or 16 when I came over for the first time. For me, Belgium is a pretty special place and I just have nothing but positive memories from that,” Sheffield said. “It all feels pretty familiar from when I was a junior, although we are racing them in slightly different directions and a few more kilometers.
“It’s really about gaining experience on the roads and the cobbles. I’ve ridden a lot of these roads when I was a junior but that was when the races were only 100 kilometers long so it’s a lot different in the aggression of the racing and then also making the most of the team and also doing my part.”
Sheffield doesn’t yet know what his entire classics campaign will look like following the “opening weekend” but he is ready to get stuck in and is looking forward to his monument debut.
“I want to start in these classics and take a lot from learning and gaining the experience because these races it’s not just about having good legs it’s about having the years and knowing the roads and really getting the race experience,” he said. “It was talked about that I really want to push for a good classics campaign, especially Roubaix, so this is part of the lead up to that.”