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Meet the 22-year-old Rochester bike racer who’s targeting Olympic Gold in Paris

A man making espresso in a commercial cafe
Keith Myers
When he's not racing in Europe, Magnus Sheffield likes to get back to Rochester. After a 2023 crash, he came home to visit friends at Flour City Bread and got behind the counter to make some espresso.

Despite its global popularity, bike racing is a relatively unknown sport in the United States. One 22-year-old elite racer from Rochester NY is trying to change that as he races his debut grand tour in Italy and prepares for the summer Olympics.

Magnus Sheffield is racing the Giro d’Italia, one of three prestigious grand tours. Sheffield knows that people back home might need a little context.

“It’s like the Super Bowl of cycling,” Sheffield says. “There are three big tours – the Tour de France, the Giro, and the Vuelta. Most people know about the Tour.”

It may not be as prestigious as the Tour, “but my teammates and competitors would say it’s just as hard, and sometimes it may even be harder.”

The competition is fierce and, for the unfamiliar, a little confusing. There are 176 racers on 22 teams, and results are based on individual and group efforts over 2,000 miles broken down into 21 stages.

There are as many goals in a grand tour as there are riders, but there are three main categories of winners, each with a corresponding special jersey. The fastest overall gets the pink jersey, La Maglia Rosa, while the best climber wears blue and the cyclist who breaks out of the pack of riders to become the best sprinter wears purple.

There’s no jersey for Sheffield’s specialty, the time trial, an individual race against the clock. This year’s Giro has two time trials – stages 7 and 14 – and despite good overall performances, Sheffield suffered a crash on stage 14, ruining his chance of a stage victory. He was heading for second place to his teammate, stage winner Filippo Ganna, but lost too much time getting back on the bike.

A man wearing the Ineos Greandier bike racing team jersey looks ahead at the camera
Ineos Grenadiers
Team photo of Magnus Sheffield.

That's just part of the sport, Sheffield says. "Unfortunately, if you want to win you also have to risk big, so I hit the deck in a corner with about six kilometers to the finish, and that ruined my chances of a nice result.”

His original plan was the time trials and, maybe, a stage win in this final week. He says, “I don’t know honestly if this is still possible, just how I feel after the crash, so I think it’s going to be more about supporting the team as much as possible.”

Team support is the primary job of most racers in a grand tour, but Sheffield rides for one of cycling’s biggest teams, British squad Ineos Grenadiers, formerly Team Sky. The team has won the Tour de France seven times. At the Giro, they’re led by Geraint Thomas, 2018 Tour winner, Olympic gold medalist and three-time world champion of cycling. Thomas - or G as he’s known – is second overall, and Sheffield’s goal is to help him stay there as the race winds down to a finish on May 26.

Bike racing is dominated by Europeans. Sheffield is an anomaly, just one of 13 Americans racing at the World Tour level. But most surprisingly, he has a hometown friend on the squad – 18-year-old Andrew “AJ” August – also from Rochester.

“It’s quite a unique story,” Sheffield says. “Growing up, the Augusts were good family friends. I first met them through ski racing.”

He became good friends with AJ’s older brothers and the three biked to and from each other’s houses. “We were almost neighbors. To think that AJ is a team member of mine, though I still haven’t done a race with him, it’s just really unique that someone from that part of New York also is on the same world class team as me,” he says.

It’s not the winters that made Rochester turn out two elite bike racers. Sheffield says the local cycling community, like his coach Craig Mattern and the Genesee Valley Cycling Club, got him to Europe. And his family friend, August’s dad Andy, who owned the Park Ave Bike Shop and organized local bike races.

And he gives a shout-out to Flour City Bread’s Keith Myers, a local fan and bike enthusiast who has been cheering Sheffield on for years. “Keith is an absolute legend,” he says. “He bakes the best bread in probably all of Western New York if not all of New York state.”

With his grand tour debut nearly done, Sheffield is looking to the future and not dwelling on the crash. “It’s important not to let that get me down,” he says. After all, he has Paris to look forward to.

“It’s hard to know who the overall favorite would be, but for the time trial, this is a big goal of mine,” he says. “And I’m also looking forward to the home Olympics in Los Angeles in 2028.”

Sheffield is still waiting to find out if he’ll qualify for the Paris Olympics this year, which start on July 26.

David Streever is a journalist who authored books and reported for magazines before joining public media in 2019. He was editor-in-chief of an arts and culture magazine and has covered everything from bike racing to housing and poverty. Outside of work, he's a proud dad who bikes and cooks with his family.