Work ethic, focus and self-belief: how Quinn Simmons is planning to get back on top

The American rider has had a rocky few years in the WorldTour but, with the Olympics on the horizon, he’s planning for a big 2024

“I get a bit flicked because maybe five years ago, what I've done, you'd be looking at me as a super good young rider. And now I'm mediocre at best. But it is what it is. I don't have the talent level of riders like Remco [Evenepoel], but I have a super high work ethic that can make up for what I lack in talent.”

Quinn Simmons judges himself more harshly than perhaps any other onlooker who has followed the young American rider’s career. He might describe himself as “mediocre at best,” but anyone who watched Simmons ride away from the peloton at the 2019 Junior World Championships on a wet and windy day in Yorkshire, and go on to win the race solo by almost one minute, would argue that he has talent in abundance. Simmons, however, like many young riders do, has suffered from a weight of expectation since that day he won a rainbow jersey, something that has impacted his transition into WorldTour racing.

“The pressure probably has always come more from myself,” Simmons says, speaking a few days before his first race of the 2024 season, the Tour Down Under. “Obviously, you want to perform straight away. The external pressure, I'll be honest, I never really feel it. I push myself more than anyone else pushes me and whether that's good or bad, it's just how it is.”

Simmons' honesty and directness in his answers is something that has, in the past, been mistaken for arrogance, but the American rider believes that having his sort of confidence is warranted if you’ve done the work for it. It only takes a look at a couple of Simmons’ monster Strava rides from this winter to see that he’s not a rider who struggles with putting the necessary training hours in to succeed. 

Image: Zac Williams/SWpix

“I think a lot of my confidence comes in my preparation – if it's a race that’s a big goal and I’ve really managed to train and do everything super well to be at my best level possible,” Simmons says. “Sometimes you have to fake it if you don't have the perfect run in but if you know that you did your food right, the training right, you slept in the altitude tent, did all this extra crap and you didn't do anything for fun for three weeks, you did the work so you better be confident in it.”

Where things go wrong, based on the 22-year-old’s logic, however, is when the training hasn’t gone to plan but the races must still be raced – whether that’s for reasons in his own control or not. Simmons explains that he struggles with the mental aspect of competing when he knows he’s not at his very best.

“I’m so bad at racing when I'm not in top shape. That's definitely a weakness of mine. I can do pretty nice things on the bike when I'm good, but I've struggled a bit with the consistency and something I want to work on this year is that when I'm at 95%, I can still perform,” Simmons says. “It's my job to perform all year, not just three times a year, so it's a big goal both for me and for my coach to work on.”

Looking back at the 2023 season, Simmons says that it “pretty much sucked.” It’s a harsh analysis of the year, but is reflective of how the season’s events changed the American rider’s view of the sport. The season started off well in Argentina and Simmons performed respectably at Strade Bianche, but when the tragedy of Gino Mäder’s death at the Tour de Suisse struck, it had a huge impact on how Simmons felt about bike racing altogether. He was just behind Mäder when the crash occurred on that fateful day in Switzerland, something that led him to struggle with confidence and racing altogether.

“That's still something that's with me. Even in descents in training now, it’s still quite hard,” Simmons says. “At the races I did at the end of last year, I wasn’t even part of the race as I wasn’t at the level to be there, so I don’t know how it’s going to continue to affect me, we’ll just have to see.”

Simmons during stage five of the 2023 Tour de France (Image: Alex Whitehead/SWpix)

Two weeks after he left Switzerland, Simmons won the US National Championships Road Race title, a victory that he dedicated to Mäder. Taking the stars and stripes jersey to the Tour de France after that win was a lifelong dream completed for Simmons, but his crash on stage five, which left him with severe concussion, quickly put an end to any chances of Simmons’ 2023 season finishing on a high.

“It was a career goal of mine to have the National jersey one time and to wear it at the Tour was amazing, but from the crash at the Tour onwards, we can just write off that part of the year, nothing good happened,” Simmons says. “I grew up playing hockey and skiing so I've had concussions before but never that bad. I don't think I quite took it seriously enough at the start because I stayed in the race which was a bit stupid.

“When I hit the ground straightaway, I knew I was probably done and any other race I wouldn’t have got back on the bike. But I was sitting on the ground and I looked down at my national jersey at the Tour and I got back on my bike, smart or not. Maybe if I hadn’t done that I still could have raced the Worlds and other nice races, but it is what it is.”

Spending time away from the peloton to recover from his concussion was something that Simmons explains he seriously struggled with. He adds that from a young age he’s been an active person, growing up in a family where sport was a crucial part of his lifestyle. When that was taken away from him, it was hard to cope for the American.

“I'm not a person who's entertained by many things other than exercising. In my off-season, I ski, I run, I play hockey but when, suddenly, you really can't do anything, you just sit on the couch and get miserable,” Simmons says.

While his comeback to racing after his concussion last year was tough (Simmons competed twice after the Tour and didn’t finish either race), he adds that the winter months were a chance to reset and go back to his roots, training in the place he loves most, at home in Colorado. 

“It's a small town in the mountains and I can do my training super well. There's no distractions, there's no stoplights. You just go and do the work,” he explains.Image: Zac Williams/SWpix

The motivation to be in his best form for the 2024 season largely comes from Simmons’ desire to perform well at Strade Bianche again – a race where he has finished in seventh and 12th place in the past two years – and his dream of representing the United States at the Paris Olympics. While, in the past, selection for the US national team hasn’t been as difficult, Simmons explains there are now five riders who are in contention for just three spots on the team.

“Two really good riders will be sitting out,” Simmons says. “But in the end, I’d prefer that it's three really good guys who get to go, rather than me just going for the sake of it. If I miss it, I miss it. I do love representing my country though, it’s nice to go there and be back with American staff, my old coach and sports directors.”

Before the Olympics roll round in August, however, Simmons has other goals on the horizon with the Ardennes Classics and Strade Bianche. While he has, in the past, been thought of as a rider who can excel on the cobbles of the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, Simmons explains that having a potential De Ronde winner like Mads Pedersen in his team means that he needs to look for opportunities for his own success elsewhere. Image: Zac Williams/SWpix

“For me, a race like Amstel, if I come into it at the right weight with the right preparations I can be quite good,” Simmons says. “Also now in our team with how well Mads rides and the riders we’ve brought in, there’s not really a space for me if I want to go for a result in the Classics. We discussed with the team that it’s better for me and them that I can go to Amstel with Mattias [Skjelmose] and then we have two options to pay with. Especially because I like to attack and move early, so I can be the one to do that, rather than just doing drag racing in the Classics.”

When it comes to Strade Bianche, as a former mountain biker, Simmons’ love for the white roads of Tuscany is understandable. He explains that he misses mountain biking and would like to go and race a World Cup one day, as well as have a shot at winning Leadville, a premier mountain bike race in the US.

“For now, I'm struggling enough to do well on the road. I don't need to add in a second thing, but maybe in the future,” Simmons laughs. “I think the biggest thing for me is I race well when I have good motivation, I really enjoy riding at Strade Bianche and I love the gravel. It’s such nice scenery, it's a course that is probably a bit over the limit for someone my weight now with how well these climbers race it, but it's one that I think, maybe with the right conditions on the right day, I can do something.”

Simmons’ outlook on his career has certainly changed since he was a junior world champion signing his first WorldTour contract, and it seems as if the American rider's ambition has been somewhat stilted over the last few years when he hasn’t been winning bike races. As he points out himself, Simmons’ first three years with Lidl-Trek haven’t been poor by any stretch, but being so good at such a young age has somewhat skewed people’s expectations of him. Having a small taste of success again appears to be exactly what Simmons needs to get back on track.

“Maybe I won't ever win a Grand Tour and maybe I will never win a Monument, but I know I can have a super nice career, and there's still big goals that are attainable in the future,” Simmons says. “Maybe it's not this year but I believe they'll come. The second I don't believe they'll come is when I quit cycling, because cycling is too hard to do if you don’t think you can win.”

Cover image: Zac Williams/SWpix

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