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Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) was intent on riding into a breakaway, and the Trek-Segafredo Tour rookie was astutely marking the moves.
Simmons found himself in elite company with Van Aert and Jakob Fuglsang (Israel Premier Tech) and the trio built up a three-minute-plus lead.
“It’s something special to be in my first break in the Tour to be there with the yellow jersey, and being with someone who is the gold standard where I see myself in four years,” Simmons said. “I am not at his level, but that is a goal for me to reach. You’ve got to see how high the bar is set.”
Simmons got an up close and personal view of how strong Van Aert truly is.
A lack of additional wheels, however, meant that only three riders off the front were not going to be enough.
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‘I have never suffered so much in my life’
Van Aert could sense the peloton closing in, and the yellow jersey charged off alone. A frustrated Simmons couldn’t follow, but he later reflected on his first major Tour breakaway in his young career.
“That was the hardest thing I’ve ever experienced, and during the break, it was two and a half hours of motor pacing,” Simmons said. “It was not by choice. I’ve never been ridden out of the wheel like that before.”
The fight for the break heated up from the gun, with teams trying to slot in riders in what was expected to be the Tour’s first serious chance for a breakaway to stick.
“There were a few times when I thought I was in a good move but it would all come back together, and I had actually given up and went back to get bottles,” Simmons said. “When I came back, I was on Wout’s wheel. In those first 20 minutes trying to build the gap, I have never suffered so much in my life. There wasn’t enough of us, and suddenly there were only three of us.”
Simmons’ parents are arriving in Switzerland, and he reflected on growing up in a household that loved watching the Tour de France each summer.
“We grew up watching the Tour. My dad always had it on TV. When I was really young I was annoyed but then I grew to love it,” Simmons said. “In America, you can watch the stage early, and then you can go out training.”
Simmons vows to ride into more breakaways before the Tour is over. There was a big fight to ride into the break in the Tour’s longest stage, with attacks going off in the opening hour.
“That is the goal. I was looking toward to the second and third week, but when you see how big of a fight it is, there is a good chance,” he said. “I hope to get a few more chances to try to win a stage. That would be the ultimate goal.”