A world champion of cycling once again calls Durango home.
Quinn Simmons, 18, pulled on a rainbow jersey Thursday in Yorkshire, England. The seven-time national champion rode a perfect race through the rain and claimed victory in the junior men’s road race at the International Cycling Union (UCI) Road World Championships. It was the first time an American junior had won the race since Jeff Evanshine in 1991, and it was the first medal for the U.S. in the event since Mariano Friedick won silver in 1993. Simmons is only the third American to ever win the race, as he joined Greg LeMond, who first won in 1979. The race dates back to 1975.
Adding to a dream day for USA Cycling, Magnus Sheffield, a 17-year-old from New York, sprinted to third. That gave the U.S. two riders on the podium as Simmons clinched his teeth around the gold medal with his new rainbow jersey on his back.
“The goal this year was to become world champion,” Simmons said in a phone interview with The Durango Herald. “It hasn’t quite settled in yet. It’s insane.”
The win for Simmons backed up a fourth-place finish in the individual time trial Monday. He was frustrated with that result on a day when he said he didn’t have the legs to push for a win. He quickly turned his focus to Thursday’s 92-mile road race that featured 7,122 feet of climbing. Simmons was first to the finish line on his Specialized bicycle in 3 hours, 38 minutes, 4 seconds. He was 56 seconds in front of Italy’s Alessio Martinelli. Sheffield won the four-man sprint for third and was 1:33 behind Simmons.
“The plan all along was to keep it together and try to get me and (Sheffield) into the circuits in a small group,” Simmons said. “Everyone on the team did it perfectly. I went a little earlier than we planned on, but it played out how we wanted.
“I think going solo was always the dream for me. I think that’s the coolest way to win.”
After early climbs, the course had ripping descents followed by mostly flat sections that would favor the strengths of Simmons.
Simmons often says he is not a strong climber. He proved otherwise when he was second to the finish line on a mountain bike in August at the Leadville Trail 100 MTB event in a stunning performance that saw him recover from a flat tire and erase a 10-minute gap to the leaders that included eventual winner Howard Grotts of Durango as well as professional World Tour pro cyclists, such as Lachlan Morton, Peter Stetina and Alex Howes.
Simmons, son of Holly and Scott Simmons, again showed he could climb Thursday, as he and the USA Cycling national team charged to the front of the peloton on the Kidstones climb that featured grades of 11.3%. Simmons yelled to his team, urging them to apply pressure.
With 20 miles to go, Simmons staged a solo attack after he and Sheffield had worked together to blow up the field. Martinelli tried to chase, but Simmons’ lead only grew larger all the way to the finish line.
“I was nervous, but confident, too,” said Simmons’ father, Scott. “I kind of had a feeling he would win and really thought he would win. Anything other than a win was going to be a disappointment, just like the time trial was. When he went in front, I was apprehensive but optimistic. His entire team rode so well today. The national team was like a pro team in a junior race, and Quinn owes his win to the entire team.”
Simmons only started to compete in road races full time in 2018 when he still split time competing on a mountain bike. He won four junior national titles on dirt, and his junior men’s road race national championship in 2018 helped push him toward a switch to full-time road racing.
In June, Simmons won the junior men’s national titles in the time trial and criterium to give him seven national titles as a junior. The victories backed up an impressive spring of racing when he became the first American junior to win the Gent-Wevelgem one-day race in Belgium. Leading up to the world championships and after his Leadville 100 feat, Simmons won stage races in Switzerland and Belgium.
It was all made possible thanks to Durango’s Ned Overend, the 1990 cross-country mountain bike world champion who sent an email to LUX Cycling Development Team Director Roy Knickman. Despite not having a place on his team, Knickman took a chance on the Durango kid who didn’t have any road results attached to his name. With LUX, that quickly changed for Simmons.
“My earliest memories of Quinn came when he was maybe 10 or 11 riding at the Road Apple Rally in Farmington,” Overend said. “He went out at the front at the start of the race with me, Todd Wells and Travis Brown, and we were surprised at how long that kid could hold on. Then I’d see him at group rides, and you can see what kind of talent the kid had.
“We raced several Iron Horse races to Silverton, and I knew he was strong even when he was mountain bike racing. I talked to Roy about it and knew he had very little road racing experience to get on a team like that, but I explained that he had a lot of local road experience. I just tried to shepherd him and point him in a direction with the teams like Whole Athlete and LUX. Those guys who put those teams together deserve the credit for helping Quinn develop, along with his family support.”
After Thursday’s race, Simmons announced he had signed a two-year contract with UCI World Tour team Trek-Segafredo based in the U.S. He had signed a few months earlier, but the team and rider made it public after the big win. Simmons will continue to call Durango home and spend his spring in Belgium.
“The thing we are most proud of is his worth ethic. It’s off the charts,” Scott said of his son. “It’s amazing how hard he works at it. I’m getting used to saying this, but it seems like Quinn’s life has been a fairy tale the last couple of years with the breaks he’s gotten and opportunities that have come his way. But it hasn’t just fallen in his lap. He’s paired his work ethic with his natural talent. I continually pinch myself, and so does my wife. Is this really happening?”
Simmons’ goal for next spring is Paris-Roubaix, a race he cherished as a junior but was unable to win because of some bad luck. Now, he is excited to represent his new team next year at Roubaix, Tour of California and the gravel race Dirty Kanza.
“It’s been a great two years racing in Europe with LUX and the national team,” Simmons said. “It’s been some of the best memories of my life. Now, to finally be able to announce I’m making steps to the World Tour, it’s insane. It’s something I worked toward the last two years, and it won’t be until team camp where it seems real. To race with the best guys and learn from them, I can’t wait.”
Now, Durango will have two born-and-raised athletes competing on the UCI World Tour level, as 25-year-old Sepp Kuss is a rising star with the Jumbo-Visma team. In a town world famous for mountain biking world champions such as Juli Furtado, Greg Herbold, Overend, John Tomac and Myles Rockwell, Simmons has added a road world championship to the town’s resumé.
“It’s cool to see so many successful athletes, and all with kids who grew up in Durango,” Overend said. “Not just nationally, these kids are internationally successful. Seeing (Grotts) win Leadville, (Simmons) win the worlds and Christopher Blevins take silver at mountain bike worlds in 2018, then of course (Kuss) winning a stage at the Vuelta, it does a lot for the cycling culture for Durango and the level of competition here. In Durango, the cream rises to the top, and it turns out they’re internationally competitive. Durango DEVO is where the culture all starts, and they deserve a lot of credit.”
Simmons’ bedroom has all seven of his national championship jerseys hanging on the walls. His little brother, Colby, has often gone into his room and stared at the display. Next year, Colby will replace his older brother on the LUX team, something the older Simmons boy is proud of, especially after Colby captured his first national title on the road earlier this year in the under-16 junior criterium race.
As for the rainbow jersey, Simmons already has a plan. “That one is getting its own wall along with the bike,” Simmons said.