After a stunning start to his three-race Europe trip, Quinn Simmons returned home to Durango satisfied but wanting more after disappointment at the race he had targeted for a full year.
The 17-year-old road cyclist was the first American to ever win the junior men’s Gent-Wevelgem race March 31 in Belgium. He then had two weeks to prepare for one of road cycling’s most famed one-day races, Paris-Roubaix. It was a race he placed seventh in a year earlier despite a crash and a flat tire, and this year he had a podium in mind. It wasn’t to be, as his team’s race tactics fell apart on a day the peloton faced a heavy headwind. He went on to finish 20th.
Disappointed and a bit angry, Simmons channeled his emotions into the four-stage Ster van Zuid-Limburg race in the Netherlands. Simmons finished second, one second behind his teammate Michael Garrison, in the time trial. Magnus Sheffield gave the USA Cycling juniors squad a podium sweep with a third-place result. Simmons was able to win the fourth-and-final stage, as he completed the 74-mile ride in 2 hours, 50 minutes, 13 seconds to finish 20 seconds ahead of Belgium’s Arnaud de Lie for the stage victory. USA Cycling claimed the team victory in Holland.
“That definitely ends the trip on a good note,” Simmons said. “It’s good motivation when you come back because the win is still fresh in the mind, but it doesn’t make up for missing out on Roubaix.
“It was good to get something out of a stage race. I wasn’t a (general classification) guy for us there. The way the tactics worked out, the last day the team said I was finally allowed to race for the win. I had one day to win and got it, so that was nice.”
Simmons hoped his early spring trip to Europe would gain the attention of international pro teams. His Gent-Wevelgem win went a long way toward that goal.
“That’s been a pretty big deal, really. That will really help take the pressure off the rest of the year and is also a big step in the direction to finding a good team for next year,” Simmons said. “It was one of two Nation Cup one-day races of the year. We don’t have a big pro schedule with 10 big classics to win; there’s only two for the juniors, so to win one was big.”
Still, the sting of seeing the pre-race plan fall apart at Paris-Roubaix is hard for the young rider to swallow. He doesn’t know when he will get another shot at Roubaix. While there is an under-23 race, it will be up to his future team to decide which events he can race, and he may not make it back until he reaches the elite level.
“Roubaix, I’m using that disappointment as motivation for the rest of the year and going into the world championships in Yorkshire later this year,” he said. “Roubaix was my biggest goal of spring. This year, we had that unique, block headwind all day. For the juniors, that kind of slows the race down because there’s not enough firepower like pro races where big teams put guys on the front to keep the speed high. The slower race works worse for me and keeps more people in contention.
“We had a plan going in to have guys ride the front, keep it relatively together but to try to make it hard enough through the cobble sectors. One of our guys went up the road in one of the last couple sectors and blew it up. That put myself and other guys on the team riding defensively trying to shut down moves. Being the most-marked rider, everyone sat in the group watching what I was doing. I could only cover so many things, and a couple guys slipped away. With gour guys away and all the other teams following me around with only 10 (kilometers) to go to the line, we didn’t have the chase to catch the guys.”
Simmons said he learned some lessons of junior racing and is eager to get on with a pro team next season and work within the framework of the team dynamics. He will go back to Europe with the USA Cycling team for a pair of stage races before he will return home to try to defend his junior road race national championship. Now, the world championships in September are his biggest focus.
“I’ve learned a lot going to Europe and am more comfortable there now,” Simmons said. “I’m not scared and now I can just focus on the racing and not getting used to somewhere new.”