Magnus Sheffield quickly emerging as top US classics force

Brabantse Pijl victory bodes well for a new generation of budding American classics riders pushing into the frame.

Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images

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Magnus Sheffield rode into the history books and off everyone’s wheel at Brabantse Pijl, becoming the first U.S. rider to win the Belgian classic.

At 19, Sheffield joins elite company of American riders who have won one-day races across Europe, and is the first since Tyler Farrar won Scheldeprijs in 2010 to win one of the northern classics.

Just days shy of his 20th birthday, he jumped out of an elite group filled with Ineos Grenadiers teammates to solo home to victory.

“Today and this season just shows the amount of work I’ve put in the last couple of years and it’s now paying off,” Sheffield said at the line. “I didn’t have that much pressure today and so it doesn’t feel like too much a relief. I was already pretty happy with the season and I was looking at these classics this spring to build for the future, so to be already be able to pull off a win is spectacular.”

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Spectacular is a good word to describe Sheffield and his quick ascension inside the mighty Ineos Grenadiers machine.

He won his first pro race at Ruta del Sol in February when he jumped off the front of a reduced bunch coming into an uphill finale in what was a demonstration of the pure power he can deliver.

Throughout his first rumble in the spring classics, Sheffield’s been delivering huge watts to help his teammates in a series of impressive performances.

On Wednesday, he did not hesitate when the door opened up, and he powered home to a personal breakout victory as well as an American cycling milestone.

Magnus Sheffield is part of a new generation of US classics riders

Sheffield celebrates as he comes across the finish line. (Photo: JASPER JACOBS/BELGA/AFP via Getty Images)

After his debut at Tour of Flanders, Sheffield was already expressing his enthusiasm for the northern classics, and wasn’t hiding his ambitions about someday returning to the Belgian races to win.

Success came a lot faster than even Sheffield could have imagined. On Wednesday, Ineos Grenadiers put three riders into the elite move along with Tom Pidcock and Ben Turner, two other young riders who are pumping fresh energy into the British super-team.

“The plan was to race aggressively on the front foot,” Sheffield said. “We wanted numbers in the breakaway, especially in the final. The circuit was really difficult, with a lot of corners, and it was difficult to control. Guys were attacking and we always had guys following it.”

Sheffield’s quick rise will be a boon for U.S. cycling fans, who are still waiting for a rider to emerge as a true contender in the northern classics.

Sheffield is part of a new generation of riders who seem poised to shine on the rough and tumble roads of northern Europe.

Quinn Simmons (Trek-Segafredo) was hoping for a breakout season this spring on the cobbles, but the former world junior road champion fell ill, and missed both the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix after a promising spring campaign in Italy.

Another rider showing promise in the one-days is Neilson Powless (EF Education-EasyPost), who won the prestigious Clásica San Sebastián last year, another one of the major one-day races in Europe. Powless also rocketed to fifth in the 2021 elite men’s road world championships, matching the best U.S. result by an elite male since Chann McRae in 1999.

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It’s been a long wait since the likes of George Hincapie were knocking on the door of the monuments at races like Flanders and Roubaix nearly 20 years ago.

Flash forward to Wednesday, and Sheffield was racing more like a cagy veteran than a WorldTour rookie barely three months into his debut season.

Along with his Ineos teammates, Sheffield was astutely marking the right moves, and when he found himself alone at the front of the race, he poured everything into the pedals. Soon enough, he was all alone at the finish line, celebrating his breakout victory with teammates and staffers.

After the podium ceremony and some media appointments, Sheffield was given a rousing welcome by teammates and staffers inside the Ineos bus, with the Bruce Springsteen song “Born in the U.S.A.” blaring on the loudspeakers.

“It wasn’t until the last 5km that I was able to slip away,” he said. “My teammates were able to sit on, and I was able to push until the finish.”

Sheffield is revealing a true winner’s instinct for racing as well as maturity beyond his years. Ineos Grenadiers found a real gem when they convinced him to leave his contract with a U.S. team and join the WorldTour powerhouse this season.

Sheffield, who turns 20 next week, is quickly paying back the confidence.

“It shows the amount of work we put into the team camps during the off-season and the team is very ambitious,” he told CyclingProNet. “This isn’t the Tour de France, and the team is being more broad in our strengths. And we also have a very young group, and a really strong classics team.

“We’ve shown the success in the last couple of weeks, and we continue to build on that. You saw that today as well,” he said. “It gives me a lot of confidence for Sunday at Paris-Roubaix.”

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.