'That day still haunts me' – Quinn Simmons takes aim at Strade Bianche, the one that got away

American champion tells us how he's been 'chasing that feeling ever since' his ill-starred 2021 appearance, and his hopes for the 'white roads' on Saturday

Clock17:30, Friday 1st March 2024
Quinn Simmons rides in between Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert, pushing the pace at the 2021 Strade Bianche

© Getty Images

Quinn Simmons rides in between Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert, pushing the pace at the 2021 Strade Bianche

The day was Saturday, 6 March 2021 and Strade Bianche was in full flight.

With 40km to go, the lead group was filled with the best of the best: Mathieu van der Poel, the reigning Tour of Flanders champion; Wout van Aert, the winner of the 2020 Strade Bianche and Milan-San Remo; Julian Alaphilippe, the world champion; Tom Pidcock, the soon-to-be Olympic mountain bike champion; Tadej Pogačar, the reigning Tour de France champion; Egan Bernal, 2020 Tour de France champion; and, as Dan Lloyd said in commentary, “a Michael Gogl.”

As the lead group sped on ahead, out of touching distance from the riders behind, all the man who started it all could do was watch, as the Shimano neutral car went about changing his rear wheel.

Quinn Simmons, who single-handedly exploded the race on the Monte Saint Marie section, had punctured out of the lead group with no real prospects to return.

“That day still haunts me, that was the one time in my career that I was as sure as I could be that I was finishing on the podium,” Simmons told GCN ahead of Saturday's 2024 edition of Strade Bianche.

“The feeling I had… Once it was already gone, before the race ended, I don’t know exactly why, but I knew I was on that day. I have been chasing that feeling ever since.”

For those watching, the work to recapture that feeling has been plain to see. From publishing his stout power numbers to Strava to audacious breakaways at the Tour de France and the Vuelta a España, his effort is hard to miss.

Results have also followed, with wins in four races since, but with that Strade performance in mind, one can’t help but feel there could be more wins to Simmons’ result sheet.

Perhaps that perspective is too harsh – the American is only 22 years old after all. Maybe his performance at Strade Bianche in 2021, as a 19-year-old, should be seen as an exceptional result that can still come good even if that day is three years in the rear-view mirror.

Nevertheless, for Simmons, it was a show of potential he himself is still striving to live up to. Now, with three crucial years of WorldTour development under his belt, Strade Bianche looms again on the horizon and it is time for him to try and find the feeling once again.

“Now that guys like Pogačar are coming it's getting more difficult, but as we saw back when Fabian [Cancellara] would win it, it's a race where if you have a big engine you can do it,” Simmons said as he described his attachment to the race.

“Those altitude metres accumulate, but it's never one big climb, so it's a race for those more diesel-type engines that can just keep going and going.

“I am not so good at making a final of a super sharp race – that’s a weakness for me – but those days where I can just watch everyone get dropped in a more attritional race I’ll always come out in the front group if everything goes normal and there is no bad luck. I have the power and ability to suffer to do that. Here, you just race the whole time and I think that suits me.”

Read more: Spring Classics 2024 – the essential guide to the races and the riders

While Simmons is something of a Strade expert by now, as he showed by naming all the key segments of the course with ease, the race is changing its stripes in 2024. Thirty kilometres have been added which will add more than 40 minutes of racing to the day.

With the changes, even budding Strade experts like Simmons need to make a recalibration of their expectations.

“It’s hard to say because we start racing earlier and earlier so maybe we just end up starting the race at the same spot and just going for longer, I don’t know,” Simmons said with a genuine chuckle.

“Last year in the Classics we would see guys attack 120km from the finish. Kuurne this year was crazy. I got a text from my coach Steven [de Jongh] about it and he was telling me to expect to go early because they just went from 100km out. We’ve never really seen that before.”

Regardless of the racing machinations on Saturday, Simmons will start his fourth Strade Bianche as an outside favourite. Buoyed by a Lidl-Trek team including an on-form Toms Skujiņš and Andrea Bagioli, the runner-up in last year’s Il Lombardia, the team have a real shot at a top result from all three of their leaders. Skujiņš especially is a name many have tipped for success.

Nevertheless, speaking to Simmons before another go in Tuscany, there is a sense of quiet confidence burning beneath the surface. That feeling of being at the front of a group of world-beaters, after all, is not too far in his rear-view mirror.

Who says this won’t be the year he does it again?

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