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‘Magnus Sheffield is an incredible talent’ says Van Haesebrouck

VeloNews speaks to Sheffield's friend and mentor Franky Van Haesebrouck about the American's first races in Europe.

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KUURNE, Belgium (VN) — Magnus Sheffield (Ineos Grenadiers) raced the Belgian “opening weekend” for the first time in his career and the young American came away with a huge amount of newfound experience.

However, his dramatic rise should not come as a surprise, according to Franky Van Haesebrouck, who worked with Sheffield during his early days in cyclocross.

The 19-year-old rider impressed on Saturday when he attacked the peloton ahead of the Valkenberg climb during Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. No riders joined his move immediately, although former world champion Philippe Gilbert stretched the peloton out on the Valkenberg. A few moments later, Sheffield was caught back but his ride certainly gained him valuable experience.

“I felt really good yesterday,” Sheffield said on Sunday morning before the start of Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. Being alone in front made it hard to make the move successful, though he had few regrets.

“Once you commit you have to go. I didn’t really wanted to look back and wait. I wanted a few more guys to come with me but there was a bit of hesitation to come across. It’s a really good sign that I had really good legs,” Sheffield said.

“It was a really fun day yesterday. It was pretty hectic. It was aggressive all day. It feels really good to be back on the cobbles. It was the first one of the year. It’s a good start,” Sheffield added.

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Regarding the race in Kuurne, he knew that Ineos Grenadiers would only be able to win the race with attacks as they lacked a pure sprinter. “The most important thing will be to put the pressure on the other teams by riding in the front. They’re going to try and block the road and stall the accelerations over the top. You just have to take the race in your hands and ride aggressively.”

Fresh from a stage victory in the Ruta del Sol, and now racing in Belgium at WorldTour level, Sheffield is well aware of the strides that he had made over the last few weeks.

“I definitely do have to remind myself that I’m only 19 and this is my first year in the WorldTour. I already feel pretty comfortable I would say with the other guys racing at this level. It’s not like I’m struggling just to stay in the race. Now It’s more about how I apply my power and how I can use it in the race. It’s more about fine-tuning that part. I do feel very confident but I also do have to remind myself that this is a long road. I’m going to take it step-by-step.

“It’s really unbelievable. There’s nothing like Belgium, especially with these one-day races. The only thing that comes really close to it is the Tour de France. Yesterday the fans had the beers out and also the flares. It was actually quite hard to see in some of the cobbled sectors. It also feels really good with COVID-restrictions being lifted. Having fans at the sidelines again it’s a really cool atmosphere,” Sheffield said.

This wasn’t the first time Sheffield had raced in Belgium. In the junior category, he raced in Belgium too, with support from Franky Van Haesebrouck. The latter worked with Jonathan Page, still the sole American male rider ever to finish on the podium at UCI cyclo-cross world championships. Sheffield rode for the Hot Tubes junior team, where both Jonathan Page and Van Haesebrouck were affiliated.

“Franky is a really good friend. He’s a friend from my junior team,” Sheffield said.

Van Haesebrouck now works for the Blackspoke team. He had fond memories of the first time he got in touch with Sheffield.

“He came over to race in Belgium but didn’t have a bike. I gave him a bike and some gear. He won every single race. Many people know that he finished third at the world championships race in Yorkshire, when Quinn Simmons won. Few people know how much work he did for Simmons during that race. He rode in support and still finished third. He’s an incredible talent and he’s very serious with everything he does. Nothing’s without a purpose. When he raced here he couldn’t believe what he heard when a more flamboyant rider said he would be smashing beers in the off-season. Ineos know very well what he’s capable of and he’s at the right place to focus on every detail. The pressure’s not on his shoulders either,” Van Haesebrouck told VeloNews.

Sheffield raced cyclocross and dominated the field stateside. He traveled to Europe several times to participate at a much higher level. Many US-riders struggle to be competitive at cyclocross in Europe. A fourth-place on New Year’s day in Baal behind a certain Thibau Nys was a highlight. Van Haesebrouck had fond memories.

“Obviously he was very good in cyclocross. He struggled a bit to apply his brutal power at the right moment. Magnus calls me when he’s in the area. I try to help him out with logistics and he can always stay at my place. He came over when he did bike fitting for the junior world hour record,” Van Haesebrouck said.

Van Haesebrouck also worked with Blanka Vas, the huge talent from Hungary.

“I love working with these talents. Then they move on and I let them go. I always hope they end up with the right people who’re not only there to help them when things are going well. It’s mentally hard after a defeat or an off-day to regain the belief that they can win the next race.”