Matthew Riccitello is a very talented young man. He’s the latest American to make the jump to the professional ranks and he’s got a bright future ahead with Israel Premier – Tech. A quality climber, he’s one who’ll try to shine in the mountains and develop into a top GC man. At the start of the year, he set himself some big goals.
“I had pretty high hopes and ambitions going into the season. I saw the Baby Giro and l’Avenir as my two target races. I was aiming for the overall podium as well as a stage win in both.”
Unfortunately for Matthew, neither of these races went exactly to plan.
“The Baby Giro couldn’t have gone much better as a team, with Leo winning the overall. It was one of the biggest results Axeon has had so to be a part of it was really special. I had higher expectations for myself, though. I caught a respiratory bug on the first stage or two and felt pretty terrible from then on. In hindsight, finishing the race may not have been the smartest thing, but it seemed like the right thing to do at the time with Leo in the jersey. I wanted to do what I could to help and felt that I could still contribute despite digging a bit of a hole and just getting sicker.
Tour de l’Avenir was really frustrating. I felt good during the flatter stages and managed to make it through unscathed. I was caught behind a crash on stage 4 and lost some time. We also lost some time in the TTT having lost two guys to crashes. It wasn’t ideal, but I wasn’t too worried about it. I was looking forward to the mountain stages and knew they would really blow the race apart and time gaps would be huge. Like I said, I felt good through the first stages despite the time loss and still had GC and stage ambitions in mind. But I felt a bit off during stage 6 and woke up the next day with a 102-degree fever, which ended up being the flu. I’m not going to lie, I was devastated. I had gotten covid and a stomach virus before the Baby Giro in 21’, and then whatever I had in this year’s Baby Giro, and now the flu at l’Avenir. I’ve always prided myself on rarely getting sick, but it just happened that the last three times I’ve caught something all coincided with the races I most looked forward to as a U23.”
Experiences like this can be hard for all riders to deal with, particularly younger ones. You can either get down about it or use it as a learning experience.
“This year I’ve really learned to go with the flow. Control what you can control, but don’t stress too much about what happens that’s out of your hands – being sick for example. Getting sick sucks. Missing out on the opportunity to race in the pointy ends of the Baby Giro and l’Avenir sucks. But it’s something that everyone has to deal with at one point or another. At the end of the day, there is only so much you can do. Washing hands, wearing a mask. I mean, if you take precautions and still catch something you need to try and forget about it and move on to the next goal.”
I’m happy to hear that Matthew is taking a positive out of the various disappointments he has suffered this year. The start of 2022 was a lot different, it started with a bang when he won the Istrian Spring Trophy.
“Everyone knew the race was going to be pretty tactical just because the stages weren’t too difficult. I managed to sneak away on the first stage with Sean Flynn from Tudor. We worked well together and held off the peloton. Sean didn’t have much trouble out-sprinting me for the stage, but I was pretty confident that I was in good position to take the yellow jersey in the following two stages. The team rode really well the next two days, and I was able to take the jersey. It was cool to have such a strong showing at our first stage race of the season. Everybody was excited and had good morale going into the rest of the year.
For sure it gave me a confidence boost going forward. I didn’t expect much from the race because the stages weren’t overly difficult, so to win through aggressive and tactical racing was exciting and promising for the rest of the year.”
Giro Valle d’Aosta is another one of the big under 23 races on the calendar. Like the Baby Giro and l’Avenir, it didn’t go exactly to plan, but Matthew dug deep and put in a good performance in the final stage, finishing 3rdon the day and 15th on GC.
“I really struggled in the first couple stages with the heat. Everyone is always surprised to hear I struggle with the heat because I’m from one of the hottest places in the world. The thing is, Tucson is so dry I feel that it doesn’t really compare to the humid heat. Finishing 3rd on the final stage was bittersweet. I was happy that I managed to change some things and better cope with the hot conditions, but I still felt like I was a notch below where I should be. I learned a lot from that race, and it forced me to pay closer attention to things like hydration and cooling in subsequent hot races. It’s something I’m still trying to figure out.”
The good news was that despite several setbacks in 2022, Matthew signed a 3-year contract with Israel Premier – Tech. The length of contract is key, it shows they have a level of trust and confidence in the young climber, allowing him time to find his feet at the highest level.
“I’m really excited to turn pro with Israel Premier – Tech. One of the main reasons I chose this team is because of the belief they have shown in me from early on in my career. It is a team that is as equally ambitious as I am for the future and that really excites me. As you said, I’m grateful for the opportunity to have time to find my feet at the top level.”
It was August and Matthew was off to Vuelta a Burgos with his new team, a race featuring two mountain stages and a chance for him to measure himself against some of the riders looking to deal well at the Vuelta. I loved seeing Matthew launching an attack on stage 3 and getting off the front of the GC group.
“I attacked going into the most exposed part of the climb, Picon Blanco. Yeah, that was one of those moves where you know it’s probably not the best place to go but you do it anyway. I got a bit carried away. It’s hard not to when you’re sitting in the wheels, look over and see guys like Nibali suffering, or at least pretending to. It was pretty surreal, and I was really glad I got the opportunity to do the race. I had done pro races before, but this one felt a bit different. The level was a bit higher with teams using it to get ready for the Vuelta. Racing up climbs next to guys I looked up to when I was just starting the sport was super cool. I didn’t have any pressure or expectations from the team, but they gave me a free role to see where I could finish on the last day. I managed to finish 24th, 1’12” behind Almeida. I was pretty happy. I know I have a lot of room to improve, and this was a good start.”
One of the many challenges Matthew will face over the next couple of years is living in Europe, so far away from home. This must be hard no matter the rider’s age, but at just 20, it’s going to be even harder.
“I’ll be in Nice this year. I’ve spent the last two years in Girona. Girona was nice, but I didn’t love it. It’s so much of a bubble and you really can’t escape the cycling world. There are good and bad things about that. It was a good first place to go. I’ve spent some time in Nice and really like it there. There is still a big cycling community between Nice and Monaco, but everything is a bit more spread out. Being far from home is one of the hard parts of the sport for sure, especially at a young age. There are times where I miss home quite a bit, but I always try and remember how lucky I am to be able to travel the world as part of my job.”
Looking to the future, Matthew is looking to become a GC contender, someone who can win at the highest level. At just 20, he’s got a lot to learn, but he’s got time on his side.
“I know I’ve got tons of room for improvement, which really excites me. I think the biggest thing is getting through flatter portions of stages having spent less energy. Arriving at the final, and to the climbs, in better position and having spent less energy, it will be a big focus of mine in the next year. Racing pro races and learning from experienced teammates. Having a teammate that I can shadow and follow through the peloton will help. Additionally, I’ve always been good on the time trial bike, which surprises some people because of my size. I haven’t spent as much time on the TT bike in the past two years compared to when I was a junior, so I’d like to put a big focus on position and spending time on the TT bike again.
I hope to keep progressing and learning in 2023, in all aspects. I know if that happens then good results will follow. I’d like to contribute to a really successful year for Israel Premier – Tech.”
When a young rider turns pro, the first few months are always a challenge. They can often start to question their worth, but ‘getting your head kicked in’ is a coming-of-age experience.
“Yes, for sure, I’m looking forward to getting my head kicked in, but I’m also hoping to do some kicking myself!”
That’s the spirit! My next rider to watch in 2023 is Matthew Riccitello, a young man with a very bright future ahead.