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From junior worlds to the WorldTour: Sheffield, Simmons to rekindle US classics hopes

Quinn Simmons and Magnus Sheffield dominated as juniors. Now they're both in the WorldTour, they could propel the US back into classics contention.

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American classics riders are like buses. You have to wait a while, and then two come at once.

Quinn Simmons and Magnus Sheffield could be American cycling’s speedwagon back to the top of the spring classics.

The two budding cobblestone brawlers are both in the WorldTour next year and are hoping to be the solution to North America’s long drought of top one-day racers.

“There’s been a history of American climbers and stage-racers, but the last guys who could really compete on the flats were way back with [George] Hincapie or [Taylor] Phinney, so it’s nice to see a change and have two of us,” Simmons told VeloNews.

Simmons and Sheffield lit up the junior ranks in 2019, dominating the European scene before punching to one-three on the podium at the grueling Yorkshire worlds.

After two years apart, they’ll be racing on the same roads next season. Simmons is set for his third season with Trek-Segafredo, while Sheffield steps up with his new three-year deal with Ineos Grenadiers.

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Sheffield, 19, hasn’t seen much racing since he and Simmons blasted through the junior calendar in 2019, and doesn’t yet know which way his legs will take him in the elite peloton. But it’s unlikely to be in the same direction as America’s current stable of top climbers and stage-racers like Sepp Kuss, Neilson Powless, and Brandon McNulty.

“I really like the one-day races, the classics, races with cobbles. The cobbles kind of feel natural,” Sheffield told VeloNews in a recent call. “But also I want to continue to focus on developing my time trials because I think that’s a really good weapon to have in my arsenal.”

With a love of the rough stuff and a massive motor that has taken him to a junior individual pursuit record, Sheffield makes for a type of Phinney-in-progress. Phinney’s retirement in 2019 came just as Sheffield was on the rise.

“I looked up to Taylor right as I was getting into cycling,” Sheffield said of the former world time trial champion. “But my only real recollections of him racing were from after he had his big crash [in 2014].”

Despite racing for rival teams, Simmons and Sheffield could rekindle American classics hopes from the embers that Phinney left behind.

“It’s really good to see Magnus join the WorldTour,” Simmons said. “As an American, any riders we can have that are young and talented is really nice to see, but especially someone like him with his characteristics and capabilities. You saw what we did as juniors.”

Sheffield on the sidelines: ‘Like being the kid that gets left out at the playground’

Simmons, Sheffield, and other budding racers like Luke Lamperti camped out in the Netherlands in the U.S. devo house. (Photo: Fred Dreier)

Sheffield endured a long and lonesome wait to be back on a level with Simmons.

The two spent months racing together through their junior years while learning their craft at the U.S. development “BootCamp” in the Netherlands. They’re still friends and continue to train together when they can, recently taking in the thin air of Park City, Utah.

Also read: Sheffield, Simmons slay the one-day scene from U.S. devo camp in Sittard

While Simmons’ rainbow jersey earned him a rapid promotion to the WorldTour in 2020, Sheffield had to wait through a season of Stateside race cancelations. Then when his big break came with a contract with Rally Cycling for 2021, races weren’t handed his way.

“It was frustrating this past season. I didn’t get as many racing opportunities as I thought I would or that were scheduled,” Sheffield said. “It almost felt like two years of COVID for me.”

When competition finally restarted after the pandemic pause last summer, Simmons dived straight into his first WorldTour races. He went on to hit a series of major classics this year, bumping elbows in a stellar lead group at Strade Bianche.

This autumn, the Coloradan saw his first grand tour at the Vuelta a España and rumbled through the one-in-an age wet Paris-Roubaix.

Sheffield was left watching from the sidelines.

“It was like being the kid that gets left out at the playground. Like if you don’t get to play in the football match or whatever it is, sitting on the sidelines,” Sheffield said.

“After COVID [in 2020] there was still racing going on with the professionals. I was watching all the races on TV and then I’d go off on my ride training and it was just really frustrating. Not just because I saw Quinn and he was one of my peers, and it was easy for me to see myself in his shoes, but it was just frustrating as a whole.”

When Ineos Grenadiers came calling this summer, Sheffield snapped up the offer, and that frustration finally had an outlet.

After speaking with VeloNews earlier in December, Sheffield relocated to Girona and has seen his first training camp with Ineos Grenadiers.

Sheffield and Simmons won’t be wearing the same jersey next season. But the similar accent and shared stories will keep their junior stoke alive.

“As an American, you don’t have too many guys in the bunch that you grew up racing with and that you knew super-well,” Simmons said. “So to have another guy joining that I did my whole last junior season with forces us to bring our level up and makes it a bit more fun for everyone.”

The classics are calling, and maybe the U.S. will be rejoining for the ride.