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Quinn Simmons wants to be the first American to win Paris-Roubaix.
At the moment, roughly 24 hours after he won the junior worlds road race, he mostly wants a burger.
I find him at the Harrogate stop of the Five Guys burger chain, one of America’s finest culinary exports. We don’t shake hands because his are covered in ketchup. He’s wearing a Trek-Segafredo rain jacket. Just hours after he won the junior worlds road race on Thursday, the WorldTour team announced it had signed him to a two-year deal. He’ll still be 18 when he lines up at this first WorldTour races next year.
Ten years ago, that would have been unheard of. But big teams are increasingly open to pulling in top youngsters and early ages. Simmons is turning pro just as Remco Evenepoel did, before he even has a chance to get out of the junior ranks. Egan Bernal won the Tour de France at 22. Mathieu van der Poel is superhuman at a comparatively ancient 24.
“A lot of it, I think, is the level of junior racing is so high,” Simmons says. “Everyone is on a good training plan with a solid coach, everyone’s on power meters. The gap’s not as big as it used to be.”
The gap may be smaller, but that’s not the only driver. Teams are more reliant on numbers and less worried about feel. The traditions surrounding rider development are falling away to a flood of data.
For Simmons, that data is reassuring. In May, on his 18th birthday, he tackled the White Rim, a 100-mile trail in Moab. He set the fastest known time, 5:41:17, besting pro mountain biker Payson McElveen. He had a power meter on his bike.
“That file was the first time I’d ever tested myself over a six hour period,” he said. “I sent it in to my coach and he replied within half an hour and said, ‘That’s what it takes to get a top-10 at Roubaix.”
Simmons’ run at the Leadville 100 mountain bike race provided more evidence of his capacity. After flatting multiple times, he spent most of the day chasing, yet still managed to overhaul WorldTour pros Peter Stetina and Lachlan Morton in the closing miles. He finished second, just behind former US national cross country champion Howard Grotts.
“I proved over a couple of occasions that I had the power over long distance to make it work,” Simmons said. “The power file from Leadville, it’s actually really similar to a six-hour classic. They see you can do that, combined with watching a junior race, where you show you have the tactical experience, I think for some kids [going straight to the WorldTour] is an option, and it’s going to become more common.”
Power is one thing; racing is another. That’s been an argument for slowing riders’ advancement through the ranks, but Simmons sees it another way: He’s already behind. “You think about someone like Tom Boonen. He rode Flanders since he was 12, so I already have some catching up to do,” he said. He doesn’t want to be a GC rider, or just a time trialist. He wants to win classics.
“It makes more sense, for me at least, to go straight into the pros and start getting experience in the classics races as early as you can,” he says. “Maybe for a GC rider, going to some smaller u23 races and learning how to be a GC leader makes more sense, but for the classics guys you need to be on those roads racing as early as you can.”
To that end, he plans on living in Oudenaarde, the finish of the Tour of Flanders. The Koppenberg, Paterberg, Kwaremont, and more will be right outside his door. He’ll be close enough to ride Roubaix cobbles regularly, too.
“You’ve seen the success [Trek] had with Degenkolb, and now that he’s leaving there’s a pretty big hole there. Looking long term, I think I could be that person, eventually, if everything goes right.”
And Roubaix. “That’s the dream.”