‘Ambitious’ Magnus Sheffield reveals surprising future plans beyond cycling

Ahead of his maiden Elite road race at the World Championships, the highly rated American young rider talks about his remarkable debut season with Team INEOS Grenadiers, his Tour de France ambitions, and why he sees himself competitive also in winter sports.

By Alessandro Poggi | Created 22 September 2022
Picture by © Casey B. Gibson 2021

Magnus Sheffield is only 20 years old, but he’s already considered the next American road cycling star.

And all the hype and high expectations seem justified after the results he achieved in his impressive rookie season as an elite rider: from his first pro win at the Vuelta a Andalucia Ruta del Sol in February to the most recent time trial success at the Tour of Denmark, where he finished second in the general classification.

In April, Sheffield made headlines around the world when he took a solo victory in the De Brabantse Pijl, becoming the first US rider to claim a one-day Belgian classic race since multiple Grand Tour stage winner Tyler Farrar over a decade ago (Scheldeprijs in 2010).

“It's really important to be ambitious,” the INEOS Grenadiers rider said in a video call from Australia, where he represents Team USA at the 2022 UCI Road World Championships. He has already taken part in the time trial, where he was fourth-fastest at the second time check before hurtling into barriers.

“Part of that is I really want to set the level really high for myself because I think, yeah, I'd only be doing myself a disservice if I did anything less."

“Ultimately, I really enjoy winning. I love to win and I think I see myself as a winner and I think winning is fun” – Magnus Sheffield to Olympics.com.

The prodigy leads a new wave of American road cyclists - including 2019 junior world champion Quinn Simmons and 2021 Clasica San Sebastian winner Neilson Powless - who are making a name for themselves on the World Tour (road racing’s top tier).

The budding US star also revealed why winning the Tour of Flanders and the Tour de France would represent his dream, although cycling is not his only sporting passion.

Sheffield, who was born to a Norwegian mother and holds dual nationality, practised alpine skiing in Western New York until he was 15 and admits he would seriously consider trying ski mountaineering at the Winter Olympics in the future.

'Skimo' is a winter sport where competitors race through snow-covered mountains using both ski skills and mountaineering abilities to get to the finishing line first. The discipline will make its Olympic debut at Milano-Cortina 2026.

"I would definitely consider it," the Pittsford native said. "Especially because I grew up as an alpine skier and I think cycling is a very aerobic sport or alpine is a bit more anaerobic. It's this kind of mix.

Find out more about the highly rated all-around rider by reading the full exclusive Q&A below.

READ: Everything you need to go about the 2022 UCI Road World Championships in Wollongong

Magnus Sheffield joined Team INEOS Grenadiers from January 2022.
Picture by All rights reserved

Magnus Sheffield on racing maiden Elite Road World Championships

Olympics.com (O): After winning bronze three years ago as a junior, Wollongong 2022 represents your maiden World Champs as an elite rider: how does it feel and how are you dealing with the new expectations?

Magnus Sheffield (MS): It's very different from juniors I would say. I mean, when I was a junior, we did a lot of racing with the federation. So it didn't feel much different and it almost was the same as under 23, but as an elite rider it's quite a bit different. Like we do so many races with our professional teams, you become quite accustomed to the system or how it is with the team. So it definitely feels very different.

As for the expectations: this will be my first elite race, but I believe when I made the step up to be a professional rider I think this also comes with racing as a professional at the championships. So to me it only made sense. But I also think the progression I've made this season and with the results I've had, it only made sense for me. I think it's really important to be ambitious. So part of that is I really wanting to set the level really high for myself because I think, I'd only be doing myself a disservice if I did anything less.

O: How have you prepared for racing over 250km and what’s going to be your role?

MS: I did nearly all the classics this season. I think the longest one was the Tour of Flanders, which was nearly 280 kilometres. So I would say I'm quite used to long races and yeah, it is a bit different because with the federations in a world championships not everyone has the same number of riders in their team.

So I'll have to rely a lot more on the other teams to log the work, especially early on in the race. But I think this is also good for me because I can race a bit more fluid. It is a really dynamic race but gives me the ability to be a bit more flexible and kind of free flowing in how I want to race. It's not that I have a certain role supporting my teammates or the team, like trying to set them up to attack later. So I'd say this is quite unique and I think, it'll be really nice.

O: How did you manage to adapt so quickly to the elite level?

MS: I think it's difficult to pinpoint one thing. I think ultimately a few things came together. But I believe I came into this season really ambitious. I knew what I wanted. And the team was able to see this ambition and see my drive. And I think they welcomed it 100%. And I had a lot of support from the team, which really helped. And it was also, my teammates didn't see me as a young rider or that I'd be threatening to the team. They saw me as an asset and this was really unique because it allowed me to push them, but also they pushed me to another level.

There's a lot of things that go into it, but it helped that I came into it really motivated with a lot of ambition. And then it was the team that saw this and they were able to support me with the material and the right people. My race programme played a big role in this. It wasn't too much, but it also wasn't too little because the year before I hardly raced at all and I was really just doing a lot of training.

Cycling is a balance, especially with younger riders, you have to be very careful. I can be really happy with how the team has supported me and I think, yeah, it couldn't have been a better fit.

O: Can you tell us more about racing for team INEOS and the philosophy behind the team? Team Sky became famous for their marginal gains…

MS: I think the idea behind the marginal gains is that it's not just one thing. And the idea and the way the team is driven and set up is that it definitely has been a shift from when the team was Sky and now it is INEOS. It's the motivation or the idea behind everything. It's the drive behind the team. That's the essence of marginal gains in that you look at every single detail and you're fully committed in everything. So it's not, 'okay, we're only going to focus on nutrition or only training or whatever it is'. It's they look at all the small details and make sure that we execute everything to the best of our abilities with the staff, with the performance group, with the trainers. And I think also that open communication with the team is super key.

I'd say something that surprised me when I came into the team was just kind of the overall vibe or the feeling within the team. It's a very human team. For some reason, people on the outside believe it's very robotic, it's very cold, and it's just like a factory or like an assembly line. But the reality is, I think it's one of the teams that takes best care of people from a personal side, but also on the professional [side] and with our careers. So I think, yeah, this was something I didn't know. The reality is that it's a very welcoming team and they're extremely supportive across all fronts.

Magnus Sheffield competing for Team USA
Picture by © Casey B. Gibson 2021

Magnus Sheffield: Leading a new US generation of classics riders

O: How do you plan to manage the increased expectations around you as the next American star?

MS: In terms of expectations, ultimately the biggest one is probably the expectation I put on myself. And yeah, I think ultimately it's how I find the best way to cope with the pressure or expectations from others by just making a really solid plan, whether that's a race program, tactics in a race or training. And if I make a really solid plan, I know it's just about executing this to the best that I can. There's kind of two different ways I see this. It's the short term and long term, but also you can win sometimes without winning. And I think this is a really important mindset to have, especially as a young rider.

Ultimately, I really enjoy winning. I love to win and I see myself as a winner and winning is fun. Winning is ultimately the best thing but in cycling there's a lot of losing or you don't win nearly as much as you'd like. It's also important to have the look at or the idea that you also have to focus on the progression and long term goals to succeed. So I'd say, just taking it one step at a time and breaking big, big things up into small pieces and executing them individually. This is really the best way that I am able to perform. It's like in the time trial, just executing the small sections and if I can do that, then yeah, I can win. So that's how I like to look at things.

O: More American riders are making progress in the World Tour, how’s that changing the popularity of cycling in the States?

MS: This comes with any kind of success. But especially as an American, we haven't had a lot of top contenders. You saw Taylor Phinney, Tejay (van Garderen), guys that were more ambitious in the general classification in races, especially stage races. But now you see Sepp Kuss, you see Neilson (Powless), Brandon (McNulty). The riders are becoming a bit more diverse. Cycling, in any country, comes and goes with popularity.

But I think in the US, it's really struggled or there's been a bit of a gap. But now you see the next wave or the next group of riders and it's really exciting because we're all quite unique in our styles of racing. Quite a few of us are on different teams. So we're not just on one team or just the American World Tour teams. There's guys on Spanish, English, international teams. And this is really special as well because we all have these different experiences and we'll also race against each other quite a bit in the season.

O: How confident are you about the US becoming again one of the top cycling nations?

MS: The development starts at the grassroots level, from the juniors because you see the success from there and then you see that develops to under 23 and then eventually to the elite level. Now I've made the step through all three. The biggest thing that I see is how important the junior level is. But that also doesn't mean that you can't come into the sport later. Sepp (Kuss), for example, started, when he was even maybe later than under 23. We can be quite confident that we have quite a big group compared to previous years. We are not only in the World Tour but we are also competitive. Even on the women's side, you see just how much the sport has grown and what they've been able to achieve.

On the men's side we can also be quite satisfied and it's really exciting now to see guys being successful like Neilson winning San Sebastian last year. That was maybe the first time since (Lance) Armstrong and also Brandon (McNulty) have won stages in the Tour of the Basque Country, on the Pyrenees. Matteo (Jorgenson) has been in the Tour this year really close to the podium in certain stages. And even Quinn (Simmons) was really aggressive in the entire Tour.

The one thing you haven't seen us do quite yet is, be successful in Grand Tours and in the classics. In the early days of American cycling, you get (George) Hincapie and these guys. I do believe that we will be more successful now that we have more riders in the World Tour. But the most important thing is that we continue developing riders from the junior and under 23 level. So there's this continued pathway.

Magnus Sheffield (Left)
Picture by © Casey B. Gibson 2022

"When I was younger, I really liked 'Froomey'. To me, I think, he's the ultimate professional." - Magnus Sheffield

Magnus Sheffield: I'd like to perform in the classics and ultimately be competitive at Grand Tour level

O: What kind of rider you want to develop into?

MS: For me from very early on, I always said I want to be an all around cyclist and I want to be able to execute across different terrains and execute different styles. I think I'd be holding myself back if I said I just want to execute one thing. Right now, I've done quite well in the classics, also the time trials and the one-day races, but I also have quite a bit of ambition to be successful in stage races, the week-long races, and then eventually the Grand Tours.

So there's not really one focus or I don't want to put myself in this box or description. Now you see with riders and the style of racing, it's definitely evolved from the early days of cycling. Now you see the guys are racing the tour, but in the same year they're doing Roubaix, the Classics, Flanders and even the other Monuments, San Remo, Liege... like there's not one style or type of rider. I think it's really just being as well-rounded as possible.

But I definitely think that, as my career progresses, I'm definitely going to have phases where I progress from one style maybe to another. Early on, I really liked to be able to perform in the classics, but ultimately I like to also be competitive at the Grand Tour level.

O: What races are you dreaming of winning one day?

MS: I think the Tour de France for the Grand Tours. But since I started cycling the Tour of Flanders, the Ronde van Vlaanderen, would be the biggest race or the elite world championship. Those are the two one-days that I think have some the most meaning. When I first went to Europe for cycling, I drove through Oudenaarde, which is where the Tour of Flanders finishes and there was a guy - his name is Frankie - he's the one that introduced me to Belgian cycling. He told me that I had to remember this stretch of road because when I win the Tour of Flanders one day, I need to know where it finishes.

So yeah, I think the Tour of Flanders would be the biggest race for me, but then also the Tour de France, because everyone knows this race. As an American, especially, not many people know about Liege or the Giro even, or other races. The Tour, everyone knows because it is the biggest race in cycling. So ultimately I'd have to say the Tour.

O: Who inspired you when you were a kid?

MS: I'd say an American that looked up to was (Taylor) Phinney, but I mostly looked at these other riders like Mathieu (van der Poel), Egan (Bernal), (Chris) Froome, (Bradley) Wiggins. It's hard for me to say there was one guy because I was quite a big fan of a lot of different riders. When I was younger, I really liked 'Froomey'. To me, I think, he's the ultimate professional. And also, he is incredibly humble. It's nice when you see (Peter) Sagan do the wheelie or the (funny) interview, but I looked up to probably 'Froomey' the most when I was younger.

Magnus Sheffield: A background in MTB, cross, track, but focus is on road racing

O: You did mountain biking, cyclo-cross, track and later road: what’s your favourite discipline?

MS: I'd say road cycling, although I'd really like to start mountain biking again. But it's different disciplines and it's quite difficult, like, I'm teammates with Tom (Pidcock) and I see the amount of work and also the travel burden. The team is extremely supportive and you even see guys like Mathieu (van der Poel) and Wout (van Aert) also doing different disciplines. But it definitely takes a toll on your goals, your progression.

It's really, really difficult and the way Tom's been able to handle it, is exceptional. But also everything comes with consequences. So you really have to be aligned with your team. And they have to be extremely supportive. And you have to surround yourself with the right people to be able to do this. But ultimately, I'd like to focus on road cycling for the time being. But that doesn't mean that I can't mountain bike or do some cyclocross or even track just for fun in the off season.

O: Regarding track cycling, you are junior world record holder in the 3km individual pursuit and one of your goals was to qualify with the pursuit team in Paris…

MS: Unfortunately I think Paris, for the men, it won't be a possibility. The men might be able to put together a team for Los Angeles in 2028. But yeah, for the time being, track cycling is something that I plan on maybe looking at later on in my career. But I'd really like to focus on the road race and time trial for Paris.

"Ultimately, I'd like to focus on road cycling for the time being." - Magnus Sheffield

Magnus Sheffield: Pursuing ski mountaineering career?

O: When you were younger you competed as an alpine skier: why did you take up this sport and how did it help you with cycling?

MS: A lot of my memories from my childhood were from when I was a skier, from when my parents would drive me on the weekends to the mountain. It was something that we did as a family, which was really important. It created this really close bond with both my siblings, but also my mum and dad. And I also met quite a lot of my childhood friends through skiing and where I grew up, I wouldn't say it's super common or it's like the biggest thing, but it's quite average, in western New York especially.

I learned quite a bit early on from skiing that I was able to use. So I traveled quite a bit. I became very independent. I moved away from my parents quite early. These things like traveling through airports, transport, tuning my skis, the attention to detail of equipment and how much this matters with performance, have all helped me. 

O: What kind of skier were you and are you still following it?

MS: I stopped skiing when I was 15. So I was still developing. I did slalom, GS and Super-G, so I never got to ski downhill, but I would say it's difficult to say what I was best at. I really like the speed skiing. I probably did a bit better in the GS.

I am still in contact with a lot of my friends that I skied with and I still watch the World Cup circuit. It's funny because now I'm in Australia and this is the time of year that most of them are in New Zealand, training before the World Cup in Soelden. I really like following skiing and it's something difficult with the cycling season because it starts so early now. The peak, the best part of the ski season, is in January, February and March,  and that's really when the spring classics are and we're at team camps in Spain.

O: Would you consider resuming your skiing career?

MS: Skiing is something I really miss.  You see, now with the addition of ski mountaineering in 2026, this could also maybe be a possibility of having a second career after my cycling career. I'm the kind of person where I may come off as I'm joking, but I'm very serious in the things I say. I would definitely consider it. Especially because I grew up as an alpine skier and I think cycling is a very aerobic sport or alpine is a bit more anaerobic. It's this kind of mix.

I think that with my cycling it could probably be a crossover or I could probably benefit quite a bit from it if I wanted to try to pursue this afterwards. Unfortunately, I think I probably could have been quite a good Nordic skier, a cross-country skier, but where I lived, it wasn't very popular with the way the clubs were, and alpine skiing was a lot more common. But I think this probably would have transitioned me a bit better for cycling. I still learned and gained a lot from alpine.

O: Your mum is from Norway. What does Norway represent for you?

MS: Before the Covid time, with my family, we would probably go over there almost two or three times a year, from when I was very young. So it's also something that's very big in the culture I grew up with. Like we would go over in the summertime, but also for Christmas and holidays.

So I still have quite a bit of family there and it's really important for me to have that connection from my mum. I speak Norwegian, I'm a dual national, so people always ask me the question, 'would I switch eventually?' But I think this is a difficult question and for the time being I think I'll stay with the U.S.

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