Durango’s own Quinn Simmons became the first American to ever win the famed Gent-Wevelgem junior men’s road race Sunday.
The 17-year-old finished the nearly 75-mile route from Ypres to Wevelgem in 2 hours, 53 minutes, 50 seconds, which was seven seconds ahead of Great Britain’s Lewis Askey and 27 seconds ahead of third-place Samuel Watson, also of Great Britain. The win came at the first stop of the International Cycling Union (UCI) Junior Nation’s Cup
“It’s cool to see the national team colors on the top of the podium,” Simmons said in a phone interview with The Durango Herald. “It hasn’t happened much in one-day races for us. Everyone was so good; I don’t think we’ve ever had a team this good here for the classics, so it’s really exciting.”
Simmons was able to master the cobblestones and win despite an early crash that shredded one of his shoes. He continued pedaling without a shoe before he was able to get back to a team car for a replacement. He quickly got back into the peloton that didn’t break down until the second of two climbs up Kemmelberg, a 512-foot hill outside Flanders. Simmons credited the team tactics and his USA Cycling teammates for a perfect race.
“It worked basically exactly to plan,” Simmons said. “We had guys cover basically everything early, made sure we had someone in every move. We were together until about 30 (kilometers) to go. The last time over the Kemmel, we drilled it pretty hard and it split down to 30 guys with three of us in it. Then I attacked with a British guy with 15K to go and went solo at 2K to go.”
The finish line celebration was reminiscent of his finish March 17 in California at the Redlands Bicycle Classic when he won the last of four stages. He also won the green sprinters jersey and the red climber’s jersey at the pro race. As Simmons crossed the line, he took his hands off the handlebars, pounded his chest and raised his arms above his head in celebration.
“It’s adrenaline and a lot of relief, too,” Simmons said. “You put so much pressure on one day. This is one of my big targets for the year, and so those five seconds make the whole winter of training worth it.”
A year ago, Simmons traveled to Europe with the USA Cycling junior national road team for the first time. He was third in his debut at Gent-Wevelgem and backed it up with a third-place finish at Ster van Ziud Limburg, a four-stage race in Belgium. He also finished seventh at Paris-Roubaix despite a crash and a flat tire.
Simmons, son of Holly and Scott Simmons, claimed the junior road race national title in his first season racing the road in 2018, and it came only a week after he swept the short-track and cross-country mountain bike junior national titles.
This year, Simmons put the mountain bike away and focused solely on the road. Looking to build on his success from a year ago and catch the eye of one of the European teams, Simmons felt the pressure to perform Sunday in Belgium.
“There’s so much luck involved racing over here,” he said. “Last year, coming third, there’s pressure to do better than that, especially with that being the first year here last year. But, overall, we just rode really well as a team and had a plan going in and made it work. A crash or a flat tire can happen at any time, but when you know you have good form, good equipment and a good team, things seem to work.”
Five of the six USA Cycling junior riders are from the LUX Cycling Development Team, including Simmons, That chemistry has the team working in unison.
Next is Paris-Roubaix on April 14, and Simmons aims for another top result on a route again filled with tricky cobblestones. Askey was the winner at Paris-Roubaix a year ago, and now Simmons knows he has what it takes to finish in front of the defending champ.
“Last year, I learned to always keep riding,” he said. “Last year, I was way off the back at one point, but you keep riding and hopefully everything comes together. The only thing you can really do is come in with the best equipment and make sure you’re in good position coming in. It’s the only thing you can control, so you gotta take care of that.”