Ineos Grenadiers on Magnus Sheffield: ‘We don’t know what his limits are’

How Ineos Grenadiers talent scouted Magnus Sheffield, and how far the super-team thinks the budding U.S. star can go.

Photo: JASPER JACOBS/BELGA/AFP via Getty Images

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There’s no question that American WorldTour rookie Magnus Sheffield is among the revelations of the 2022 spring classics campaign.

Racing like a veteran, the 19-year-old with Ineos Grenadiers lit up the spring calendar, and hit the perfect note to win Brabantse Pijl.

Sheffield might have come as a surprise to just about everyone in the peloton. Just ask Remco Evenepoel, who said he had no idea who Sheffield was when he beat him at Brabantse Pijl.

It certainly wasn’t a surprise for anyone inside the Ineos Grenadiers bus.

Ineos Grenadiers sport director Dario Cioni tells VeloNews the team had the U.S. rider in their sights for more than two years.

“I was sure he was going to have a good year but I didn’t expect him to win one and even two races so early. The level is so high these days, it is very hard to win any race,” Cioni told VeloNews. “Brabantse Pijl is a real race. It just confirms the progress he’s made. He also rode some very good races in the classics as a support rider.

“At Amstel Gold, he broke a wheel at a bad moment, but got back on and pushed on to get back to the front group. That’s not easy, so that was impressive for a guy who is 19.”

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Cioni admits he was somewhat surprised to see Sheffield win two races in the first few months of his professional career — first a stage at Ruta del Sol and later at Brabantse Pijl — but he wasn’t shocked.

For Cioni, who works closely with Sheffield since he joined the team, Sheffield was a diamond in the rough.

“I had access to his power files, and we analyzed it, and it looked very good for someone his age,” Cioni said. “He was already at a level to some of our top riders.”

Cioni started following Sheffield after he broke into the limelight with third at the 2019 junior world championships behind compatriot and winner Quinn Simmons.

After Paris-Roubaix, Sheffield is staying busy. He raced the Nation’s Cup track cycling event on April 23-24 in Glasgow in the individual pursuit, and will race his first WorldTour stage race at Tour de Romandie in Switzerland.

But where did Sheffield come from, and how did he get on the radar of the richest team in the WorldTour peloton?

Cioni reached out in early 2020 and developed a rapport that led to his 2022 contract and WorldTour debut.

“I’ve been in contact with Magnus for more than two years through his junior team. He lost a racing year due to COVID in 2020, and I got in contact with him that previous winter,” Cioni told VeloNews. “I stayed in touch with him and we spoke through Zoom calls. He was impressive for his age.”

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Back in the winter of 2020 before the pandemic shut down the calendar, Ineos Grenadiers was actually reaching out to Sheffield to join what the team had hoped would be a U23 development squad.

Those plans fizzled, however, but Cioni was impressed with the power files and how mature Sheffield seemed to be even if he was still a teenager.

“He’s very organized and very self-sufficient,” Cioni said. “He knows what he wants and this really helps us as a team. You could see straight away he was special. For example, he organized everything by himself for the 2021 world championships.”

The news broke last fall in Bruge that Sheffield was set to join Ineos Grenadiers for 2022. Sheffield worked out of a deal with the then-Rally Cycling team to leave early in order to join the WorldTour faster than he could have ever imagined.

And he produced results faster than just about everyone imagined.

Cioni on Sheffield: ‘We don’t what his limits are’

Sheffield celebrates with Ben Turner after his win at Brabantse Pijl. (Photo: JASPER JACOBS/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images)

Following his impressive classics debut, many are wondering if Sheffield could become the pure classics rider that U.S. fans have always waited for.

Cioni says it’s too early to tell. In fact, the team isn’t even sure what his limits and potential really is.

“We still need to discover a lot more about Magnus,” Cioni said. “He’s already proven he can be a classics rider, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he can also do well in stage racing.

“We know he can time trial, and being able to time trial well opens up a lot of possibilities. And from his numbers, we also know he can climb well.”

In fact, Cioni said it was Sheffield’s insistence that he races a spring calendar heavy on classics because he wanted to race Tour of Flanders.

In a detail that is telling of Sheffield’s character, Cioni explained how he paid attention when the team did a recon of the cobblestones to be used in the Tour de France, and he also knew some of the Belgian roads from his days racing as a junior in northern Europe.

“Another thing that is impressive is when we are previewing a race-course, he is really aware, and pays close attention,” Cioni said. “When we went to France, you could see he has a very good memory, and would listen when someone said if you need to be on the right side of the road or the left side.

“Off the bike, is really relaxed. On the bike, he really has an instinct of knowing where he needs to be,” Cioni said. “He’s also driven, and he is good at taking opportunities.

“He knows how to be in the right place at the right moment, and that doesn’t happen by chance,” he continued. “For someone at his age, he is very smart tactically. He also says things in the team meetings. It’s good to have an opinion.”

After crushing the cobbles, including a debut on the Paris-Roubaix-winning squad, what about a grand tour debut this season?

It’s not on the books, but Cioni isn’t ruling it out, either.

“We want to give him a WorldTour stage race experience this year, and then he will go home for nationals,” Cioni said. “A grand tour? Let’s see. I wouldn’t say no 100 percent. I also do not see it as a ‘must’ as there are other races he can do, and we can leave a grand tour for next year.”

So just how big can Sheffield be?

Cioni said it’s too early to tell, but from what he’s seen so far, he said don’t be surprised if Sheffield keeps surprising.

“We will know in a few years if he will be a big star,” Cioni said. “He is already a very promising star, and I am quite sure we haven’t seen everything yet.”

At 19, he cannot legally drink alcohol in the United States, but no one’s checking ID’s from the winner’s podium in Belgium. (Photo: JASPER JACOBS/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images)

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