Two months ago, Quinn Simmons would have been thrilled to see a seventh-place finish at the Paris-Roubaix Juniors road cycling race. After showing supreme form with two third-place finishes in Belgium, he had larger aspirations.
Simmons, a 17-year-old cyclist from Durango, rode for Team USA at the race in France last weekend. On the 69-mile route, the young star saw plenty of adversity. He was riding in second place after the first section of cobble stones, as he used his mountain bike prowess to navigate the tricky, bumpy section of road. But the race leader crashed, and Simmons went down with him.
Still, Simmons chased back into the front before a flat tire again set him back. After waiting for the team car to get a repair, he chased even harder to bridge the gap back to the front. Fatigued, he went on to finish in seventh place.
Great Britain’s Lewis Askey won the race in 2 hours, 40 minutes, 57 seconds. Simmons finished 2:15 back as the top American in the field. It was his third consecutive road race in Europe in which he was the top American, as he backed up third-place results at the Gent-Wevelgem juniors race and the Ster van Ziud Limburg four-stage race in Belgium.
“I think a few days from now I’ll appreciate what happened at Roubaix a little more,” Simmons said in a phone interview with The Durango Herald. “Seventh for me, if I had been told that a few months ago, I would have been thrilled, but just the emotion of being there and knowing I had the legs for something better, it’s hard.
“I was happy to bridge back up. It’s still my first year on a road bike, so I’m really excited to try and go back.”
Paris-Roubaix was only Simmons’ fourth true road race. He opened the season with a win at the Valley of the Sun stage race in Phoenix, which landed him a spot on the USA Cycling national team and allowed him to throw more road races onto his schedule. Already the junior mountain bike cross-country national champion and a bronze medalist at the world championships in ski mountaineering, Simmons has gained attention in the road cycling arena on a global stage, and plenty of riders are taking notice.
“I’m super impressed,” said Durango cyclist Christopher Blevins, a 20-year-old who rides mountain and road bikes for professional teams to go along with under-23 cyclocross and cross-country mountain bike national titles. “The first time I met Quinn and rode with him was on an A-group ride with our Tuesday night’s worlds group rides in town. I’ve always kind of been the young guy in town chasing after Howard (Grotts), and then Quinn has been chasing me.
“It’s really cool to see what he’s doing. I know he has a ton of heart and talent, but for him to put it together so quickly in Europe is beyond impressive.”
Simmons admitted he had no idea what to expect from his first road trip to Europe. Now, he has his eyes set on competing in more races, including the world championships.
“Going into Gentz, we didn’t even have a team plan,” he said. “My sole goal was to not crash and learn as much as I could in the peloton. I had no idea how the legs were or anything. Then at Gentz, I was only in the group for like 10 minutes before we had a big break early in. Going into the stage race, I still didn’t know what to expect, but I knew I was able to ride with the really fast guys, and riding with them kept me super motivated.”
He also felt his mountain bike skills paid off in the road races.
“The amount of base training I had done coming into the year, at the end of days kids were lagging a lot more than I was,” Simmons said.
“My legs were coming around for race speed, and I recovered and even got stronger every day. Riding all those cobbles, I feel like my mountain bike skills prepared me well compared to other pure roadies. I stayed smooth and saved energy while going fast.”
Simmons flew Monday from the Netherlands to Los Angeles and will compete this week in the UCI mountain bike race at Bonelli Park. He has a quick turnaround to get readjusted to the mountain bike, but a dry winter in Durango allowed him to train all offseason, and a two-week training with his Lux Cycling Development Team in California will have him ready for the change.
“I missed Fontana mountain bike last week and am already 90 points behind where I could be,” he said. “I’m excited to be back with my team, and I like racing my mountain bike. It will be a lot less stressful for me having got those bigger races out of the way. The level of competition in Europe makes everything in the U.S. feel more manageable. We still have a good field for the junior race at Bonelli. Being my first year, I’ll have to start last row in the cross-country, but I’ll use my road skills to move up quickly.”
After racing the 17-18 UCI junior race Saturday, Simmons plans on racing the pro short-track Sunday. After that, he plans to chase a few more UCI points in Montana and Utah, though his eye will continue to wander toward more road races.
“As far as going to Canada and Europe for (mountain bike) points, I’m not sure how that fits in the road schedule,” he said. “Knowing what I can maybe do on the road bike, I might want to go to road worlds now, which complicates things.
“I definitely still have big mountain bike goals for sure. It’s harder to balance now because I really want to do both even more.”