After an encouraging but frustrating Strade Bianche debut last year Quinn Simmons returned to the gravel roads of Tuscany on Saturday with only one thing on his mind: victory. He confirmed it was his goal at the start and pursued success with youthful ambition and solid team support from Trek-Segafredo.
Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) ultimately rendered victory impossible for the rest of the field with an extraordinary 50km solo ride. Simmons ended in seventh place after being part of the quality chase group, but expressed no regrets at the finish in Siena.
"He’s the two time Tour de France champion, what can you say? He’s the best in the world. I wish I had his legs," Simmons said beyond the finish line.
"There was nothing I could have done different except be stronger. At the end of the day, it can be disappointing but I’m still only 20. It’s an OK place to be with how many years I’ll have to come back.”
Simmons had impressed by making the selection over the Monte Sante Marie sector last year but his hopes were then scuppered by a mechanical and a crash. On Saturday, he largely avoided bad luck but was forced to watch Pogačar disappear up the road on that very same sector. It was an audacious move, but even as things regrouped behind the Slovenian was never seen again.
Simmons’ Trek-Segafredo teammates were prominent in the chase, cutting 15 seconds off Pogačar’s 90-second advantage on the approach to the crucial final three short-but-steep sectors. On sector 9, Toms Skujins forced the issue and set up an acceleration from Simmons himself. Once back on the tarmac, he was with Kasper Asgreen (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal), and Jhonatan Narvaez (Ineos Grenadiers) in an elite selection.
Simmons was unable to follow Asgreen’s assault on the penultimate sector, nor Valverde’s on the final sector, and those two rode away to take the remaining spots on the podium. Simmons’ group grew to five by the final kilometre in the old town of Siena, and he dropped into the Piazza del Campo to seal seventh place.
"When he [Pogačar] made his move I was in the right position, but when a guy like that goes on the climb, and I’m 75kg, it’s a bit hard to follow," Simmons said.
"But you saw all day how the team rode. It was quite amazing really. We had a plan coming in and we executed it perfectly. I had Eddie [Theuns] here for the earlier positioning - he’s so experienced on these roads - then later with Toms and Dario [Cataldo] doing a really good job in the final group. The team was perfect, my equipment was perfect, but in the end I didn’t have the legs.
"It’s disappointing, you know, I thought every day since last year about coming back here, so to miss out on a good result hurts a bit. But no excuses. I went all in and we come back next year."
Simmons was an aggressive presence at Strade Bianche and admitted that perhaps he could be accused of doing too much. However, he has so far resisted calls to ride in a more calculated or negative way.
"Maybe it’s a fault, I don’t know, I get into trouble with the team sometimes, but I always race to win," Simmons said.
"I’m not one to sit in. Maybe I can be a bit smarter and come in fourth, but at least now I know I went 100 per cent for the win, because the way the guys rode, I owed it to them to do that. I spoke to Toms with 40k to go and he asked me what I wanted, and I said ‘we go all in to try and win still’, and we really did that."
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