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Matthew Riccitello in the Dolomites in the 2023 Giro d'Italia

Matthew Riccitello: Learning lessons and gaining confidence as America’s next best thing

GCN caught up with the young American as he began training for his second season as a pro for Israel-Premier Tech

Clock21:00, Thursday 16th November 2023

Additional reporting came from Ollie Bridgewood who was in Tuscon on assignment for GCN.

Matthew Riccitello is ready for more in 2024. After a strong neo-pro season for Israel-Premier Tech in 2023, the American is back with more ambition for next year.

We caught up with the American climber in the United States during a training stint in the desert of Arizona, after taking some time off the bike. Nevertheless, even with his focus on next season, there was lots for young Riccitello to be proud of from the year just gone.

“For me getting to do the Giro [d'Italia] and just experience that was great,” Riccitello told GCN on the slopes of Mount Lemmon, a massive climb in Arizona that is one of his favourites. “To have some good results there as well. The Giro and [Tour de] l'Avenir were the two highlights I think.”

In total, Riccitello accumulated a healthy dose of 56 race days including an inaugural Grand Tour at the Giro d’Italia, two WorldTour week-long stage races and leadership for the United States at the Tour de l’Avenir.

Most notably, Riccitello was in pole position at l’Avenir, with a time trial win to boot, before he was usurped on the final stage by an aggressive raid from Isaac del Toro. In the end, a stage win, a second place on the Col de la Loze and fourth overall was nothing to shake a stick at.

Read more: Isaac del Toro: from anonymity to the top of the sport

Nevertheless, the most impressive display from Riccitello came in the Giro, where the neo-pro came in 11th on the brutal final time trial up Monte Lusari. There, against a line-up of some of the best climbers in the world, Riccitello showed the WorldTour peloton why he is so highly touted.

“I knew that that time trial was good for me. The whole Giro that time trial kept me motivated, and I struggled with sickness and the weather. Knowing that the time trial was at the end of it kept me motivated because I knew it suited me pretty well,” he said.

What made the performance all the more impressive was the adversity Riccitello had to overcome to find that success at the end of his first three-week race.

“I pride myself on not getting sick too often, but at the Giro, it seemed like 75% of the peloton was sick. I couldn't avoid it, everyone was sick. Being able to keep some motivation and know that I could get over those things was big. It was a great learning experience to know that I could recover and perform well towards the end of a three-week race.”

Lessons learned and the benefit of second-hand experience

All neo-pro seasons are a bit of a journey into the dark. No matter how good a rider might be at the junior or U23 level, there is a massive leap in talent and experience that comes with the WorldTour. The main element that neo-pros need to focus on is not their particular results, but instead the amount of lessons learned and experience gleaned from learning to swim in the proverbial deep end of WorldTour racing.

By that metric, Riccitello’s season was a huge success.

“It's hard to pinpoint one or two specific things you learn, but by getting to do 50-60 race days in Europe, you learn where you need to be when you need to be there,” Riccitello said.

“You learn how to save energy so when you get to climbs you spend less energy than other guys. Learning how to manage the stress of managing a three-week race, not just within the race but also outside of it. Knowing when to stress and be super focused and when you need to not think about cycling. Those are the biggest things.”

These are the steps that all young WorldTour racers have to learn, but for Americans, it can be even more pronounced. Not only is the rise in level also accompanied by a move to Europe, but there is the different riding style of Europe, with its narrow, twisting roads. A far cry from the wide roads of the American Southwest.

Read more: Matteo Jorgenson and the blessings of a lifetime of near-misses

Yet, Riccitello has had the advantage of a roster full of veteran talent to learn from. They have made the transition seem far less daunting.

“We have a lot of experienced guys on our team. Like I've spent a lot of time with [Chris] Froome at altitude camps, and I raced with [Domenico] Pozzovivo who I did the Giro and the Tour of the Alps. The years that they have been in the sport give them so much knowledge about the things I mentioned, like saving energy and managing stress around the race.

“Froome has probably had to deal with more outside stress than anyone in the sport. So even if they are not trying to teach you things, I've always been pretty observant and kept my ears open so being able to be around them and paying attention to how they go about managing these things has been really helpful.”

Froome and Pozzovivo are veterans of an astounding 45 Grand Tours between them. With that wealth of knowledge, the amount of small lessons that Riccitello has learnt is countless. Of these areas of expertise, some are expected, while others are, well, a bit more unorthodox.

“Pozzovivo is really good with the weather. There were days in the Giro where the whole peloton would think it would be wet and he always knew it would be dry. He would always be the only one who would know.”

While Pozzovivo might be the man with the weather knowledge, Froome is not a rider without quirks Riccitello has taken note of either.

“In March, we wanted to watch Strade Bianche but we had some long five-hour or six-hour endurance ride at our training camp in Sierra Nevada, so we couldn't watch it on TV in our tiny apartment. But Froome had his phone on his Quad Lock so we were able to keep up with the race on GCN with his phone.”

Read more: 'I feel five years younger' – Chris Froome ready to take on 2024 with fresh motivation

Increasing ambition for the new year

Away from lessons in weather and multitasking, the central takeaway from Riccitello’s season was that he belonged. Even in the face of the mounting pressure that comes from being anointed by pundits as being America’s next big hope, Riccitello sees the steps he’s made and the path ahead for reaching the level he would like to hit.

“If every year I get better I’ll be in a really good place so I think I can start to look more at these races in terms of looking at the GC and getting results, versus just going for experience. In my first year, there wasn't much pressure, it was just go and learn. Now it's, go and learn but also try and do something. I am looking forward to going to races with more purpose.”

And what about the pressure being placed upon him? It is only adding fuel to his fire.

“I like it," he said of the pressure placed on his shoulders. "I still feel that nobody puts more pressure on me than what I put on myself so I think it’s exciting having support and having people behind me. I am not one to get too carried away with the weight of expectations, but it’s good to have a balance between confidence and humility.

“My goal has always been to be a podium contender in Grand Tours, so if in five years I am in the running in the GC for those I'd be super happy.”

Read more GCN exclusive interviews with professional cyclists and big names in the sport in the interviews section of the website.

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