Quinn Simmons was in France getting some early reconnaissance work done on a Paris-Roubaix course he has spent a year waiting to get back to. A day later, he was sent from Europe back to Durango.
Instead of preparing for a race known as “The Hell of the North,” the 18-year-old first-year WorldTour pro road cyclist for Trek-Segafredo is enduring a different type of challenge: being off his bicycle with no races currently to prepare for because of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m supposed to be racing a one-day race in France right now. Instead, I’m skiing back home. It’s a little different from the cobbles in the north of France,” Simmons said Thursday in a phone interview with The Durango Herald after a day of backcountry skiing off Coal Bank Pass with his ski mountaineering father, Scott, and his younger brother, Colby. “Now, I’m resetting and starting to think about getting ready for, well, I don’t know what exactly.”
Simmons, last year’s junior world champion who skipped the under-23 ranks for a chance at the elite pro level, had his debut WorldTour season off to a strong start with a couple of top-10 stage finishes at Tour de La Provence in early February in France. He then got a crack at the opening weekend of the one-day races known as “The Classics” with a pair of races in Belgium.
After he returned to France for more one-day events, he got the call that he would be sent home with races across the world being canceled because of coronavirus. That included Paris-Roubaix, where he hoped to get a bit of revenge from his junior days. It’s one of the few races he targeted but didn’t win because of crashes and some team tactics that fell apart.
“I put in a lot of training through the winter to get ready,” Simmons said. “To have it not pay off three days before we are supposed to be doing a race, there’s nothing you can do to change it. You just come home, make the most of it and hope it starts back up sooner than later. I think the big races like Flanders and Roubaix will be in the fall. It will be a little different, but I do see us getting to race them this year.”
Colby Simmons, in his first full year with the LUX Cycling Development Team at the junior level, also was gearing up to race with the USA Cycling junior national team in Europe after a strong start with his LUX team at the Tour of the Southern Highlands in Georgia. When word got out American cyclists would be sent home, the two came back to Durango together along with their mother, Holly, who had arrived hoping to watch her sons race.
“I was having lots of fun over there with Quinn training and being ready for the races I was going to do with USA Cycling,” Colby said. “Overnight, it all changed. We did two local races with LUX and were planning on doing a couple of more of those before doing bigger ones with the U.S. national team. It’s a bummer to get over there, ready to the best you can and then get over there all for your hard work to go to nothing. Now, it’s waiting to see what happens.”
When Quinn got home, he didn’t even want to take his bike out. He said it was hard to be motivated to train not knowing what race would be next. Instead, with fresh snow falling in the San Juan Mountains, he and his father set out for numerous backcountry skiing trips. The pair competed at the ski mountaineering world championships in the same year in 2017, and Quinn even earned a bronze medal.
“The snow is really good, actually,” Quinn said. “Had one of the best days I’ve ever had up on Coal Bank. I was surprised with it for March. I’ve got to ski some stuff in Silverton and Red Mountain. I gotta stay careful and am restricted on what I can do. Skiing is definitely a good distraction, I think. It would be a lot harder right now if I was somewhere else I couldn’t ride or there was nothing to do outside. Here, I’ve got a good distraction and a good week of snow.
“In the short term, I’ll keep enjoying skiing as long as the snow is good. Next week, I’ll get back out and restart training like it’s Nov. 1 again and like I have a whole winter of training ahead. It’s a weird situation.”
Both Simmons boys will target the national championships again this year. Quinn won the time trial and criterium at the junior 17-18 age group last year, while Colby claimed gold in the junior 15-16 age group. Quinn will be able to race under-23 and the elite pro race if he chooses. Colby is in his first year in the 17-18 age group.
All USA Cycling races have been suspended through at least May 3. The pro national championships are June 18-21 in Knoxville, Tennessee. The amateur nationals are June 25-28 in Clay County, Florida.
Quinn had hoped a strong spring would help him gain attention and points toward selection for the USA Cycling team for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. Tuesday, it was announced the Summer Games would be postponed until 2021. For Simmons, that could be a good thing, as he will get more time in his first year racing at the elite pro level to prove he is deserving of selection.
“It will give everyone the chance to show what they can do in races,” Quinn said. “Whether or not it’s better for me, we shall see. At the end of the day, a year without race experience hurts everyone. Now, at least we know what we have to do and will be able to get ready.”
Quinn hopes he could be one of three from Durango to earn Olympic selection from USA Cycling. He believes Sepp Kuss could be a strong contender in road cycling and knows Christopher Blevins is a likely choice on the mountain bike.
“Ideally, me and Sepp would do the road race together. That would be really cool to race together at the Olympics and represent Durango and the U.S.,” Simmons said. “I’d love to help Sepp there, and he’s such a good climber. Then, we’d get to see Chris race the mountain bike, because I see him in that spot already. To think I could be in the mix with those two in Tokyo, that’s really cool to think about.”
Even with hopes of a few spring races, Quinn believes racing won’t resume until June. For now, he’s adjusting to life back home in Durango, getting ready to train with his brother and stepping into his skis – something he never imagined he’d be doing right now.
“It was all normal during opening weekend. A week later, we saw it was getting worse over there,” he said. “But I was never thinking I would have to go home or anything. I’m out on a recovery ride, and all of a sudden I hear everything is canceled. The flight was booked, and I was less than 24 hours from a training ride at Roubaix to taking a plane home. I didn’t see it coming at all.”