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Introducing Riley Sheehan: The Colorado neo-pro who has already won Paris-Tours

In recent years, Israel-Premier Tech had become known for a roster tending towards the older side of the pro peloton, hiring experienced veterans in their mid-30s as they fought to retain WorldTour status.

However, alongside experienced team leaders such as Chris Froome, Daryl Impey, and Michael Woods, the squad has also brought in an influx of talented young riders over the past few seasons, drawing heavily on their Continental Israel Cycling Academy squad to promote from within.

Names such as Matthew Riccitello (fourth at the last Tour de l’Avenir), sprinter Corbin Strong, and Giro d’Italia breakaway star Derek Gee have been joined this year by young outside hires Jake Stewart and Ethan Vernon, as well as a new crop of Academy graduates including Canadian Riley Pickrell.

Another youngster who has stepped up this season – via several team camps and a stagiaire spell last fall – is 23-year-old Colaradan Riley Sheehan, who has come up through the Lux junior team and a spell at Aevolo, among other teams.

If the name sounds familiar then you may have already seen him tear it up Stateside for the Denver Disruptors last year, beating Miguel Angel Lòpez at the Joe Martin Stage Race and finishing fourth at Redlands and the Tucson Bicycle Classic.

But his biggest result yet – and his first-ever pro win – came before he even turned professional this winter, as Sheehan beat Lewis Askey and Tobias Johannessen to win the 117th edition of Paris-Tours in October.

A stagiaire winning a pro race is a vanishingly rare occurrence, and so it was no surprise to hear the news that Israel-Premier Tech were signing him up on a three-year deal starting this season.

If you hadn’t already guessed, Sheehan loves one-day racing – he reconned the Paris-Roubaix route with Sep Vanmarcke this week and will take on Strade Bianche at the weekend – and so Cycling News caught up with him at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne as he got his first taste of the Belgian cobbled Classics.

: We’re here at Opening Weekend for your second and third professional races. How are you finding your first spring Classics?

Riley Sheehan: I’ve been quite excited actually. Omloop wasn’t such a warm welcome but it was good. I’m definitely learning all the roads and whatnot because it’s all a first time for me. I think each day I can progress a lot.

I already found some good points yesterday where I could find my rhythm and feel myself in the race. Hopefully, I can keep that trajectory on the up.

CN: How has your debut season as a professional racer been so far?

RS: After the Tour de la Provence, I had some good form there [he was fourth overall heading into the final stage – Ed.] but on the final day I had to pull out because of some sickness. I had some travel to do the next day and I was just kind of slow to come back from that so my form kind of went away.

I’m hoping to build some form as the Classics continue. So I pulled out [of Omloop]. I had the role just to help teammates come into the sectors and then, it was a team decision to save the legs.

CN: Racing on the cobbles in freezing Flanders is quite a way removed from what you were doing last February, isn’t it?

RS: This time last year I was in Arizona doing a training camp and now I’ve already been racing which is incredible. So just to be here is a super special feeling. A year ago today I was getting ready to race some smaller criteriums in the US. This is the biggest it can get and it’s super special to be here.

CN: When did you first get in contact with Israel-Premier Tech and how did that come about?

RS: It was around this time last year. I remember I was working with Svein Tuft, my director doing some power testing and he came to me with the question ‘Hey, do you want to try going pro?’

So he used his connections and got in contact with the team. Then around May I had some good results in the States and started talking with them. So since May last year, the relationship started to build.

CN: And how did your spell as a stagiaire and that win at Paris-Tours changed the negotiations?

RS: I had it sorted out, but Paris Tours, of course, changed things a bit. I think it was a surprise for everyone and I’m still rolling off of that momentum. But it’s great to start my pro career with already some success.

Obviously, I still have a lot to learn and improve but I know inside that I can win these big races. I have that belief, which is I think, a big part coming into these races here.

CN: How has your previous experience of racing in Europe compared to pro life?

RS: I’ve done some years as an amateur [with Sojasun – Ed.] in France and then I did one year as a Continental [with Premier Tech U23 – Ed.] as well. It was kind of a learning experience and kind of tricky with the situations.

You don’t get the biggest support and you’re far away from home and there was illness and whatnot. But I definitely feel like those years were great years for learning. No matter what, it’s been a good experience.

I didn’t do too much on the cobbles then. I did some stuff as a junior but this is all pretty new. [Omloop] was kind of my first time on these roads.

CN: Looking even further back, how did you get your start in cycling and racing?

RS: I came from a family of cycling. My older sister rode her bike, but the biggest role model was my father [former pro and now Human Powered Health DS Clarke Sheehan – Ed.].

He used to race professionally and I always just went to bike races growing up. Then before I knew it, I was just riding to school with my dad at a young age and I was trying to sprint against him, you know?

I kind of found the passion and competitiveness myself. Then at around the age of 14 or 15, I started racing, and each year that passion has really grown. I just fell more and more in love with the sport.

It’s been great to come up from Boulder, too. There are so many people involved in cycling there as well and great riders, too. I went to the same school that Taylor Phinney went to so the teachers even understood my situation.

CN: Apart from having an ex-racer for a dad, who else did you look up to?

RS: At a young age I would always look up to the Classic guys, so it’s been my dream to race these races. Tom Boonen was incredible and I always looked up to him.

When I watched the Tour de France, I was always a big fan of Mark Cavendish and Thor Hushovd in the sprints. So I always looked up to those guys and what a great feeling it is to be in the same races.

CN: So are these cobbled Classics and one-day races what you want to specialise in?

RS: It’s always been my passion, this type of race. But I think I still have a lot more to explore, and I think I can succeed in a lot more things than just the Classics, but these races excite me and they have a special place in my heart.

I’ll pretty much race all the Classics, though, yeah. I’ll do everything up until Paris-Roubaix and then after that, I’ll have a little break.

CN: We’re only a couple of months into your pro career, so what’s your main goal for 2024?

RS: With these Classics and these big races I just have this opportunity to race. So, I just want to learn as much as I can and then hopefully by the end of them, I can be at the pointy end competing for the win.

I’d love to win another race this year. I was able to win last year so why not this year as well?

CN: And it’s a long way from now, but at the end of your career which race would you like to look back on having won?

RS: For sure, one of these Classics! Any of these big ones would be incredible.

SOURCE: CyclingNews   (go to source)
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