ADELAIDE, Australia (VN) — During the course of his first WorldTour stage race of 2023, Magnus Sheffield is proving one tough nut to crack.
The 20-year-old WorldTour sophomore crashed on the first road stage at the Santos Tour Down Under, then got into a high-profile finish-line tussle with Australian star Michael Matthews.
And all the while he’s endured Aussie heat, climbs, and crosswinds.
Now the Ineos Grenadiers rider paces into Sunday’s finale poised in fourth overall, and he’s vowing to swing for the fences.
“We are going to go all-in. We have nothing to lose,” Sheffield said Saturday. “We have a few cards to play. This race isn’t over by any means.”
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Sheffield is powering into his second WorldTour season hot on the heels of his impressive debut in 2022 that included three major wins.
Sheffield already confirmed to VeloNews this week that a grand tour is on the docket for 2023, possibly a start in the Tour de France or the Vuelta a España.
The Santos Tour Down Under is proving that Sheffield is tough beyond his years.
On Friday, he couldn’t quite follow the most searing accelerations over the Corkscrew climb, but he chased in with the lead group to defend his podium hopes.
Sheffield safely negotiated the brutal crosswinds Saturday to defend the best young rider’s jersey, and will start Sunday’s finale up Mount Lofty at 45 seconds back in fourth place overall, just 30s seconds off the podium.
“I want to defend the white jersey, but I also feel like we are still in it for the overall,” Sheffield said. “It is still a really hard tomorrow with Mount Lofty, I felt good on the climb yesterday and I felt even better today. I hope I will feel that much better tomorrow.”
— INEOS Grenadiers (@INEOSGrenadiers) January 21, 2023
Sheffield’s right elbow and knee are still covered in bandages from the high-speed crash he suffered at the line in Wednesday’s sprint stage. He revealed that he almost didn’t start the next day.
After racing to second in the opening prologue, Sheffield gritted through some hard stages with stitches in his knee, and pedals into Sunday’s finale with everything in play.
He’s also proving that he won’t be intimidated by the peloton’s biggest stars.
Sheffield and Jayco-AlUla’s Michael Matthews were spotted in a heated exchange at the finish line on Thursday, with the Australian star accusing Sheffield of bumping into him and knocking off his chain.
Sheffield handled the incident with maturity, but also stood his ground to prove he cannot be bullied.
On Saturday, he demonstrated he can handle the pressure of the winds and echelons after Jayco-AlUla tried to blow up the race to isolate and attack race leader Jay Vine (UAE Emirates).
“It was super hectic out there, the guys rode super well,” Sheffield said. “It felt like a Belgian classic out there with a ton of echelons, but it was a ton of fun out there today.
“I felt a lot better today than I did a couple of days ago, especially the stitches I have in my knee.”
Sheffield is using the Santos Tour Down Under and the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race to lay the foundation for an ambitious spring classics program.
Last season, he became the first American to win the men’s Brabantse Pijl, and this year, he’s putting the northern classics at the center of his calendar.
A big performance at the Santos Tour Down Under bodes well for the road ahead.
“It gives me a lot of confidence, but it’s still frustrating to not be able to follow the guys up Corkscrew yesterday,” Sheffield said Saturday. “I had to go at my own pace, but I am still quite young, and it’s still only January.
“I have a lot of big ambitions this season, especially at the classics. So I have to remind myself it’s going to be a long season, and I do want to be up there, but I have to be patient.”