Magnus Sheffield is unique. Hailing from Pittsford, New York and with a dual American-Norwegian nationality, Sheffield didn’t grow up on two wheels like many professional cyclists do. Instead, he dedicated his youth to Alpine skiing, a sport which he took seriously until he was 16-years-old. Road cycling came later, and Sheffield was spotted for his talent when he secured an impressive third place at the Junior Road World Championships in 2019.
A contract with the Ineos Grenadiers was offered up for the 2022 season, and with it a move across the pond from the States to Europe – Sheffield now bases himself in Andorra between races.
“There's no easy transition,” Sheffield says from his home where he is recovering after a tough edition of Milan-Sanremo. “As a junior I raced in Europe. I really only just started getting into the world of cycling and understanding what the racing was all about and what the lifestyle was, but I hadn't actually lived full time here.”
“As an American, it is challenging because I think my perspective on cycling is quite different from people from Western Europe. After the race, I go immediately to the airport and then to wherever I'm based. Whereas someone that grew up in Belgium or France, their family likely is there or their friends and they could take the train or bus back to their village.”
Sheffield explains that he truly feels the uniqueness of his life and profession compared to his peers when he goes back home to Pittsford.
Sheffield during the 2023 Tirreno Adriatico (Image: Zac Williams/SWpix)
“I have a bit of a disassociation of how cycling relates back to my personal life. I have the cycling aspect and then my personal life and there's quite a big gap between them. When I go back to the US, it just feels a bit funny when I talk to my friends because they have such a lack of understanding. No matter how much I try to explain how it all works, they think the Tour de France is like a criterium in Paris and it's a one day race.”
Stiil, the 20-year-old notes that Ineos Grenadiers have been supportive with this transition and that being around teammates has helped with being away from home. “Being around more experienced riders that I’ve been able to race with has been really helpful and it’s helped me progress quite a bit quicker than I could ever even anticipate,” Sheffield says.
The word progression is perhaps even an understatement for Sheffield’s performances during his first year with Ineos in 2022. He took a stage win at the Vuelta a Andalucia Ruta Ciclista Del Sol at the start of the season and a few months later he won the Belgian semi-Classic De Brabantse Pijl, beating the likes of Remco Evenepoel and Michael Matthews.
“I knew my form was quite good that day, it was really bad weather,” Sheffield says of his victory. “The plan was to attack earlier in the race to then try to set up Tom [Pidcock] later on but then it happened to be that I was on a really good day.”
“I think throughout the Classics [last year], I just got more and more confident. That particular day was really special in that everything happened to go right. I think that's what's unique with the Classics. Compared to a Grand Tour, where you have a three week race and it can all be over by stage one or just in the first week with a crash or illness, the nice thing with the Classics is that a new race is another opportunity. But that being said, it doesn't make them any easier to win.”
Sheffield after winning Brabantse-Pijl in 2022 (Image: Zac Williams/SWpix)
Sheffield argues that a key element to the success of the Ineos Grenadiers in their Classics campaign is the depth they have within their team, giving them options when it comes to the crucial part of races. For the American himself, it also gives him an opportunity to learn from the more experienced riders in the team.
“We have an incredibly deep team. We typically have one or two leaders for each race and to be able to support the leaders is just as important. After last year, I got to have a few opportunities where I was able to be the protected rider, but I think with these Classics, it's also really key to learn how to win the race,” Sheffield says. “I'm still quite young compared to a lot of my teammates so it's key for me to remember that it takes years to fully understand the nuances, the pinch points and the high stress moments, but also the moments in the race where you can really take a breath and relax.”
Having a number of riders who could win races is also something that Sheffield thinks will give the Ineos Grenadiers an advantage this season. It’s true that when Tom Pidcock was out with concussion recently, Filippo Ganna picked up the mantle smoothly as the team’s leader at Milan-Sanremo last weekend, for example, finishing in second place.
“When you have one leader and something happens, whether it's sickness or a crash, it has downsides. If you look at a team maybe like UAE Team Emirates, they have Tadej Pogačar who could be the leader in every race he goes to. In that sense, it's actually advantageous for us to have options.”
The American rider explains that he expects a key challenge in his personal career to be balancing all his ambitions on the bike. Sheffield can ride a strong time trial, he can climb and perform well in the Classics. In the future, he may be required to specialise in one discipline in order to gain results.
Sheffield during the 2023 Tirreno Adriatico (Image: Zac Williams/SWpix)
“I do think I am quite well suited for the Classic races but I also enjoy the stage racing and also focusing on the time trial,” he explains. “I think the Classics will probably be a focus until the end of my career but I also don't want that to be the only focus and I think that's what's going to be the most challenging aspect of my career, managing all the different races. What's unique with cycling is it's not like there's one race every weekend on a Sunday, like there is in F1, or football. There's multiple races that overlap and different priorities.”
Balancing his cycling calendar is one thing, but Sheffield also doesn’t rule out a return to competitive skiing in the future, either.
“Why not? I think it depends how successful my cycling career is,” he jokes when I ask him when he can see his return to the snow. “I've skied since I could walk and it's a big passion of mine. Whether it's competitively or leisurely, I definitely will pick up the skis again once I hang up the bike. I think it’s important to have something to look forward to after my career.”
At only 20-years-old, Sheffield doesn’t need to be too worried about his next steps when his cycling career ends yet, though, and as for the near future, the next few months consist of a busy block of racing, including a title defence at Brabantse Pijl in a few weeks time.
“The program is quite flexible because of the ambitions that I have with doing the Classics, the Ardennes then also the stage races later on in the season. But at the moment, the plan is to do Gent-Wevelgem this weekend and then Dwars door Vlaanderen and the Tour of Flanders,” Sheffield says.
“After that, I have a reset but I hope to do Paris-Roubaix, Brabantse Pijl and then I’d like to do Flèche or Liège, one or the other. It just depends on how the Classics go. It has already been a long season starting in Australia, so I think I just have to be flexible."
Cover image: Zac Williams/SWpix