Quinn Simmons in at the deep end but not out of his depth in debut WorldTour season
It’s a case of ‘business as usual’ for Quinn Simmons as he races his first season in the WorldTour. There’s just a little more training to do, and a little more racing to be had.
The 18-year-old Durangan started his first season with Trek-Segafredo this year, having moved straight up from the junior ranks. To say he’s taken to it like a duck to water would be an understatement. As far as he’s concerned, life is the same as it was last year, just a little, bigger.
“The only difference to what I always did is that I’m just doing a bit more of it, racing a bit longer, and getting paid to do it,” Simmons told VeloNews.
America’s junior world champion has been racing with Trek-Segafredo since January, when he made his debut at a Trofeo Felanitx in Mallorca. Since then, he’s gotten two stage races and a handful of one-dayers under his belt, including the ‘Opening Weekend’ of the classics, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. So much for being eased in gently.
Race cancelations due to coronavirus may have put Simmons’ season goal Paris-Roubaix on hold, but a start at the Opening Weekend has proven he’s got the motor and the mindset to be up there with the best. Although he didn’t finish either of the attritional, wind-swept, mud-spattered races last month, the 18-year-old was far from out of his depth. Bumping around the pack with classics heavyweights such as Philippe Gilbert, Greg van Avermaet, and Alexander Kristoff wasn’t an intimidating experience – it was just another day in the office.
“It was first a super cool experience,” Simmons said. “But as much as it was an experience, I still had work to do and I wasn’t just there to spectate. I did my best to help the team out early.”
“Yeah, it was cool to be riding through the group and to look over and see guys like Gilbert, Greg and [Bob] Jungels and all those kinds of stars. But when it’s time to position your guys into the cobbles or whatever, you find yourself bumping elbows and knocking shoulders with some dude who you’ve been a massive fan of growing up and, you know, it’s your job not to let them in and to fight.”
Omloop Het Nieuwsblad – won by teammate Jasper Stuyven – played out in typical Belgian weather. Simmons’ first WorldTour race was greeted by driving winds and icy rain, adding further challenge on top of the cobbled course and stacked start list.
“With Omloop, none of these races are easy ever, but with the rain and wind and the course it was a pretty big introduction for me,” Simmons said. “We got everything wrapped up in one. We had crosswinds and rain from the start, and a really hard course.”
Simmons has the confidence to muscle around with legends of the sport such as Gilbert and van Avermaet, and the engine to match. And the long hours of training, monastic existence, and pure dedication to the sport required of a pro cyclist is no problem either.
“I’ve spent a lot of time in Europe before, and am used to training hard and serious, but to be away from home and the whole winter in Belgium is kinda different,” he said.
Simmons has now relocated to Belgium to live and train in classics heartland Oudenaarde, living on his own as he commits himself to his job. Having spent long periods in the Netherlands living and training with the U.S. junior team in the past two years, the step to full time living in Europe was just a simple extension of what Simmons already knew.
The solid base of dedicated European training and racing through 2018 and 2019 honed Simmons to the form that shot him into the worlds’ conscience last year, when he won Gent-Wevelgem juniors and then the junior world road championships. He was guided there by legendary coach Jim Miller, who recently returned to the national set-up having taken the united states to 14 Olympic medals in his previous run with the team.
“For sure, now there’s more coaches and it’s more detailed this year,” Simmons said. “But always last year working with Jim, he was always really good at taking care of everything and helping me get really focussed. He really helped me push myself.”
“I’ve always been proud of how hard I can take myself in training, and working towards a goal is the part of racing that I really like. So that discipline of being a ‘pro’ already started last year, but now I just ride a little more, do a little more strength, and the diet matters a little more – that’s it.”
The one area Simmons knows he needs to develop is the nuances and tricks of WorldTour racecraft. Through the junior ranks, he could fall back on his pure horsepower to simply ride away from others, blowing people off his wheel with pure watts. Once the big fish, Simmons now finds himself the minnow.
“The strength of the peloton is pretty crazy,” he said. “I can be on the front, thinking I’m a pretty strong bike rider pulling as hard as I can. But then there’s eight other dudes next to you doing the exact same thing, and then 80 more of them behind ready to go again. That’s definitely been the biggest change for me this year and something I’ll need to adapt to.”
At the time of speaking, Paris-Roubaix had been the stone at the center of Simmons’ season. However, following the news Tuesday that the race was postponed to an as-yet unconfirmed date, the Trek-Segafredo bosses have gone back to the drawing board, attempting to re-design riders’ seasons becoming more and more blighted by cancellations. Simmons’s other goal for the year, Gent-Wevelgem, had already been shuttered.
When racing does resume, Simmons knows what he wants to do.
“I think the goal for now is to be there in the final of some races to help someone play for the win. Getting through them and being there at the end is my goal. I know I’m strong enough to do it, but it’s the tactics and understanding that are lacking. So, that’s the plan for this first year and then re-focus for next year.”
With his team boasting classics hitters Stuyven, Edward Theuns, Ryan Mullen and world champion Mads Pedersen, Simmons acknowledges he will have a wealth of knowledge and experience to draw from.
Though Simmons’ first year at the top has already hit a hurdle with coronavirus curtailing the spring classics, as he points out, time is on his side. With his bushy beard, stocky frame, mature outlook and pure horsepower allowing him to pass for someone 10 years his senior, it can be easy to forget his youth.
“I mean, I’m still 18, I got lots of years to dial things in. There’s plenty of racing in me to come down the line.”
Get used to the name Quinn Simmons now, as you’ll be hearing it a lot when racing resumes – whenever that may be.