Two months ago, Riley Sheehan was finishing up his racing campaign with the Denver Disruptors in domestic events like the Littleton Criterium and the final two rounds of the NCL Cup series. This past weekend, the 23-year-old was storming to victory at arguably the most prestigious race not on the WorldTour calendar: Paris-Tours.
On the back of a solid campaign racing on home turf in the United States, Sheehan earned himself a stagiaire spot at Israel-Premier Tech. His showing in his sixth UCI event with the squad made it clear that this “internship” was going pretty well for both rider and team, as Sheehan took the win in the 117th edition of the French one-day race.
“There’s a lot of pressure and some nerves for sure because, yeah, it’s putting it all together at a pro race as a stagiaire to go for the win,” Sheehan told Escape Collective this week. “To stay focused on the task at hand was quite hard but luckily it all came together and some nervousness turned into adrenaline, and that definitely helped my sprint there as well.”
Quite suddenly, Sheehan went from racing an exclusively North American calendar for a team focused on crits and the niche events of a newfangled racing format to grabbing the attention of the European peloton – and he’s not stopping there.
After his breakthrough 2023 season, Sheehan is set to make the move to Europe next year, where he can focus squarely on racing the sport’s top events moving forward.
Sheehan has been on the radar for American cycling fans for some time, having secured promising results as a youngster that included a junior national title in the time trial. He has spent the past few seasons trying to build on that early success, and things really started to click for him this year as he took the overall win at the Joe Martin Stage Race. Results like that helped him earned the attention of Israel-Premier Tech.
That said, even with his strong 2023 campaign, Sheehan probably wasn’t on anyone’s list of top favorites for Paris-Tours.
Israel-Premier Tech, however, knew the stagiaire in their ranks could be a card to play on the bumpy French roads. With both Giacomo Nizzolo and Tom Van Asbroeck prepared to battle out of the larger group in a potential bunch finish, Sheehan had the freedom to try his luck with an attack at the pointy end of the race.
“I was allowed to give myself an opportunity for a chance at the win. With the gravel sectors and the climbs, it was really hard,” Sheehan said.
He made the most of his opportunity, putting in a big surge on a late stretch of dirt and drawing a select group with him. He and a small group of leaders stayed clear to the finishing straight, where he showed off his ability to put in a big turn of speed.
“I’ve always known I had a good sprint. I’ve never been called a sprinter or anything [but] I’ve always felt like I have a solid chance,” Sheehan said. “I know it’s not a weak point for me. I think I have a good kick to the line, especially with a small group.”
Needless to say, Sheehan’s kick was indeed good, as he bested Lewis Askey convincingly in the sprint. It was another data point in a season that has seen Sheehan showing off his all-rounder skillset time and time again, albeit generally in much smaller races than Paris-Tours, whose first edition took place in the 19th century.
Sheehan’s overall win at Joe Martin, one of just two UCI-level stage races left in the United States, showcased his GC talents as he climbed and time-trialed his way to the top of the standings there, and he also delivered a slew of top 10s in criteriums and racked up plenty of points for his Denver Disruptors in the team-based NCL competitions.
Sheehan had already signed a new contract with the Denver Disruptors for 2024, but plans have changed for the American since he started his stagiaire stint. Instead of continuing with the Disruptors as initially expected, Sheehan will be heading to Europe to build on what he has accomplished in the past few weeks.
“I’ve mutually terminated the contract with the NCL, so as we speak right now I’m no longer working with the NCL,” Sheehan said. He confirmed that he was leaving the Denver Disruptors to join a new squad, although he would not divulge where he’ll be riding next year specifically, as the team has yet to announce the signing.
Israel-Premier Tech seems like the most obvious destination for the youngster, but no official announcements have been made yet.
Interestingly enough, whatever team that Sheehan impressed enough to earn a contract was already impressed enough to make that decision even before he had won Paris-Tours. Perhaps that is not all that much of a surprise, considering his top-10 finish at the Maryland Cycling Classic and strong, top-20 showings in both the Gooikse Pijl and the Famenne Ardenne Classic prior to his Paris-Tours win.
As he prepares for what’s next, Sheehan was quick to express his gratitude for the NCL and the squad that gave him a ride this season, a team whose staff includes former WorldTour pro Svein Tuft, a valuable resource for any young rider trying to rise through cycling’s ranks.
“It’s great to have some people behind my back who, you know, they believed in me before I was winning big races,” Sheehan said. “If not for this Denver Disruptor team, I would not be in this position.”
Sheehan’s own ability to score results, obviously, helped put him into this position too, and he’s not quite done getting opportunities there either. This weekend, he is heading to another Pro Series race, The Japan Cup, and given his past month, Sheehan looks like a legitimate contender for the event.
While there, he will have also chance to riding as a teammate of a veteran pro who won the Tour de France four times during Sheehan’s own teenage years.
“My ears will be open all the time,” Sheehan said of racing alongside Chris Froome this weekend. “I can’t wait to hear what he’s got to say.”
After the Japan Cup, Sheehan can finally call it a season and head home to Colorado, where he will get to enjoy some much-needed and much-deserved rest before diving back into his offseason training. Over the next few months, he is planning to enjoy his home state as much as possible, because after that, Europe is calling.
“I’m hoping that some good weather will hold out and maybe do some camping and see some Boulder friends,” Sheehan said of the offseason ahead. “I believe I’ll be in Europe for the next two years, so I’ll just savor the moment back in the US with the friends I have there.”
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