Riley Sheehan rides past a Kwaremont sign on a cobbled climb at the Tour of Flanders.

American optimism: As Jorgenson fades at Flanders, Sheffield and Sheehan shine

The Tour of Flanders was a promising day for American fans – albeit in ways that might not have been expected at the start of the race.

Dane Cash
by Dane Cash 31.03.2024 Photography by
Cor Vos
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Amid the rapid rise of Matteo Jorgenson (Visma-Lease a Bike), American fans have had plenty of cause for excitement this Classics campaign, and the 2024 Tour of Flanders was another promising day for the young American contingent – albeit in ways that might not have been fully expected at the beginning of a race where Jorgenson started among the favorites.

It was not, in fact, Jorgenson who finished as the first or even second best American on Sunday. Instead, those honors went to two other up-and-comers in the Ineos Grenadiers’ Magnus Sheffield (sixth) and Israel-Premier Tech’s Riley Sheehan (13th), while Jorgenson was in the mix at a pivotal moment in the race but then faded to finish 31st.

That the 21-year-old Sheehan – who was an NCL racer with the Denver Disruptors at this time last year – was not far outside the top 10 surely qualifies as a successful debut performance. Although finishing his first Tour of Flanders in the third group on the road may not have been as headline-grabbing as his victory at Paris-Tours last year, it was respectable in its own way on a day that saw riders walk up the iconic Koppenberg amid heavy rain.

“Right now I feel horrible. I have never experienced anything like that before,” a wide-eyed, rain-soaked, and smiling Sheehan told Escape Collective after the finish on Sunday. “That was pure abuse, but, wow, I’m happy to be finished because that was … yeah I am lost for words right now. That was incredible.”

Israel-Premier Tech in fact had two riders inside the main group in the final, with Dylan Teuns riding to eighth after putting up a spirited chase for some time in the waning kilometers of the wet race. Along with Milan-San Remo, it very likely qualifies as the biggest event that Sheehan has yet raced, and with the rain and the very, very high pace thrown in, it left a strong impression on him, especially given where he came from just last season.

“The atmosphere here in Belgium, in Flanders, it’s just wow,” he said. “On the Kwaremont, it’s just sound and passion. It’s incredible,” he said. “I mean, shit, I went full gas in the NCL too, but that’s one hour. This is, what, six and a half hours?”

Next up for Sheehan is Paris-Roubaix; in the meantime, he will try to get warm and dry. “I think I need a couple of nights of sleep and days in bed and some soup or something,” he said.

All the focus was on the sprint for second place (and Michael Matthews’ subsequent relegation), but Magnus Sheffield (right, kinda blurry) quietly notched his best ever Monument finish with sixth place.

Sunday marks Sheffield’s third ever Tour of Flanders and his best ever result thus far in a Monument. Although he is younger than Sheehan, Sheffield has been a top-division racer for longer, having joined Ineos back in 2022 and coming up through a team that was historically quite successful developing young talent. He has made gradual strides as a Classics rider since joining Ineos, but Sunday’s result marks a major step forward.

“There’s never been an American [man] to win but I told myself, even a top 10 today I knew was possible,” he said after the race. “To be fighting for the podium, I think we can be really happy with this. This is only my third Flanders. I think each year I’ve come back better and more experienced. for my career it was a good showing. I can learn from this and yeah and hopefully I can fight for the win one day.”

With the dominance that Van der Poel showed on Sunday, Sheffield’s outlook might seem like optimistic, but even at his young age, he has spent enough time as a pro by this point to have some perspective.

“I grew up racing cyclocross so Van der Poel was even a big idol of mine, but I do have to remind myself that everyone is human at the end of the day,” he said. “There are guys that you call aliens like Van der Poel, [Wout] van Aert, even Jonas [Vingegaard] and [Tadej] Pogačar, and I think, Van der Poel, he is an incredible rider, but at the end of the day, he also has two legs and he’s no different than the rest of us.”

Matteo Jorgenson’s final placing of 31st doesn’t reflect that for much of the day he was at the heart of the action, and only narrowly missed staying with Van der Poel on the crucial Koppenberg climb.

As for Jorgensen, his own 31st place finish obscures his performance on a day on which he came closest of anyone to sticking with race winner Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck) going over the Koppenberg, and then emptied the proverbial tank attempting to chase before fading and then being caught and dropped by other chasers. Given that, Jorgenson can only be so disappointed with the final result.

All told, Sheffield, Sheehan, and Jorgenson put in a performance in Belgium’s biggest race to match any collective American showing in the last decade or more. Coming a year after Jorgenson and Neilson Powless (EF Education) both finished in the top 10, American fans could be forgiven for enjoying some optimism about the future in the Cobbled Classics lately – and those Cobbled Classics aren’t over yet. Paris-Roubaix is a week away.

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