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Inside Quinn Simmons’s historic Gent-Wevelgem victory

Quinn Simmons became the first American to win the junior men's race at Gent-Wevelgem.

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WEVELGEM, Belgium (VN) — Perhaps we should call him “Shoeless” Quinn Simmons.

Hours before he raced solo down the streets of Wevelgem, becoming the first American to win the junior men’s race at Gent-Wevelgem, 17-year-old Quinn Simmons found himself on the back foot. Minutes after the peloton left the starting line in Ypres, Simmons crashed and destroyed his cycling shoe.

Such a calamity might derail a novice racer. Simmons, however, maintained his calm, and drifted back to the team car to get new footwear.

“There are probably some funny photos of me out there pedaling with my sock for a few kilometers,” Simmons told VeloNews. “I went back and got my spare shoes and got back in the group. Crazy stuff happens over here.”

The crash marked an odd beginning to what would become a marquee result for Simmons and the USA Cycling junior men’s team. In 2018 Simmons showed his potential at this race, riding into the front group and finishing third.

This year, USA Cycling came in wanting to win. The 161km race from Ypres to Wevelgem, which is called Gent-Wevelgem/Grote Prijs A. Noyelle-Ieper, includes seven punchy climbs up West Flanders’s steep Hellingen, including two ascents of the Kemmelberg.

After several hours of attacks, the men’s field fractured into a group of 30 riders after the second ascent of the Kemmelberg. USA Cycling had three riders in that front move.

Billy Innes, USA Cycling’s junior program manager, said the team’s cohesion set Simmons up to attack.

“The boys stuck to the plan. They set [Simmons] up really well,” Innes said. “I told them at 109km the winds get really heavy, and it’s a perfect place to attack.”

Indeed, the windy stretch of roads is where Simmons made his move. His attack drew out British rider Lewis Askey, who in 2018 won the junior edition of Paris-Roubaix.

The two rode together toward the finish in Wevelgem. Then, with two kilometers remaining, Simmons attacked again. His surge dropped the British rider.

“I knew [Askey] is a really good sprinter and I didn’t want it to come down to a sprint,” Simmons said. “Last year I came into the final in a three-man sprint and I got third. I definitely didn’t want to repeat that scenario.”

The victory marks the latest chapter in the growing book of Simmons’s accolades. Simmons hails from Durango, Colorado, and showed early talents in mountain bike racing. In 2018 Simmons won the U.S. national title in both the junior road race and junior mountain bike race. He turned heads within the U.S. domestic road scene after he won Arizona’s Valley of the Sun professional race while riding for the Lux development team.

In the spring he made his first foray into the European junior teams with USA Cycling.

“I came over here to these races and got my teeth kicked in a lot,” Simmons said. “I learned a lot and I crashed a lot.”

The experience helped focus Simmons on his cycling goals. In 2019 Simmons stopped mountain bike racing and dedicated himself to the road full-time. He spent the winter training long miles, and showed up to his first race, the Redlands Bicycle Classic, on top form. Simmons won the final stage of the four-day stage race.

Simmons plans to race in Europe with the U.S. national team for the foreseeable future. Although he is just 17, Simmons already is charting a career pathway toward pro cycling’s upper echelon—and that means plenty of time spent in Belgium.

“My biggest goal for this season was to get the attention of a European team so I could move over here next year,” Simmons said. “I’d like to be living and racing over here full-time. I’m focused on that, and we’ll see where that goes.”