Riders to watch in 2021 – Matteo Jorgenson

By David Hunter

Most will know the story of how Matteo Jorgenson ended up riding in Europe. He’s the American kid who personally contacted lots of European teams in the hope of landing a move, and through his own hard work and perseverance, he ended up landing a deal with AG2R’s feeder team in 2019. After a successful year, he jumped to the world tour with Movistar, a move that raised a few eyebrows, as most expected to see him step up into AG2R’s full squad. The Spanish team were at the beginning of a revolution, out went many of their big stars, in came younger riders with lots of potential, it was then up to them to show they could convert that potential into results.

Matteo started the season out in Colombia, a race that is a delight to watch. The locals love their cycling, crowds on the side of the road are usually about ten deep, making it spectacular to those at the race, and at home.

“Man, Colombia was a hell of an experience. I was fortunate enough to head down to Medellin 3 weeks beforehand with Carlos Verona. The training was great, the race was great, and the fans were next level. It truly gave me goosebumps riding through the tunnel of people in the towns, and it helped me grasp how big of an opportunity I was handed being a professional cyclist.”

After getting some early season kilometres in the legs, Matteo headed over to Belgium for the opening weekend. These races can be torture for young pros, it’s when they suddenly realise the level of world tour races, it can be tough to handle. Instead of hanging about the back of the bunch, our young friend managed to make the break in Omloop het Nieuwsblad, immediately I sat up and took note.

“Yea it was the plan. Well it was my plan. Our one objective was to protect Jurgen for the finish, and for the rest it was, “coger experiencia”. With Jurgen being a seasoned vet at that point in his career, he didn’t want any expectations, and gave us all free rein. And with how Roubaix went last year for me, with a disc brake lodged deep in my calf muscle, I was pretty petrified of a WT peloton entering cobbled sectors. So I got in the break. It didn’t last very long, haha.”

The rain and wind meant that the bunch was going full gas from early in the race, the morning break was caught with a long way to go, but it was still a worthwhile experience for the young American. Next day, and he heads straight into Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne, something that was bound to test his legs.

“I wasn’t sure how I would hold up honestly. Given that the day before was one of my highest TSS days of all time, I decided to go on the conservative side and skip the early break opportunities. I opened up well and actually felt quite good after an hour or so. I also gained a lot of confidence with being able to position myself before all the key split points too. There was even enough left in the tank to help Jurgen a bit on the finishing circuits. I was pretty pleased with how Kuurne went.”

24th in Kuurne was a decent result, especially as Matteo was in the Omloop break. It was a sign that his winter preparation had gone well, and he could approach the next races with confidence, but then came lockdown.

“I actually picked up a major virus in the opening weekend, somewhere out in those Belgian fields. Right after Kuurne we hopped in the car, to a train to Paris airport and then to a flight back home to Nice, and I woke up in ruins. I had one of the worst bugs I’ve ever had in my life that week, and with Covid just hitting Europe that week there was some extra stress in the mix. I was completely convinced I got the virus. I had all of the symptoms, even the rare ones exclusive to Covid. My roommate left the apartment, and at one point it got so bad I even called the Covid hotline in France and was put on some sort of watchlist. Multiple antibody tests show nothing, so it looks like it was something else.

Shortly after that bedridden week and a half, France announced a pretty hardcore lockdown. Some days dodging police checkpoints on my bike and training with my head on a swivel convinced me enough to take a flight home. Once back stateside in Idaho I told my coach, let’s just assume there’s no racing and try and make some real progress here. I buckled down with training and had a really good three months of quality work. The whole situation definitely worked in my favour. It’s rare to have such a long period of time with no races in sight where you can train hard without the worry of getting too fit or too tired.”

So after hitting the reset button, Matteo headed back to Europe for a truncated season. This was his chance to show Movistar what he was capable of, but the first race back was Strade Bianche and it didn’t exactly go to plan.

“It was a terrible day for me and the whole team, frankly. We had some material issues and I unfortunately got the worst of it with 3 flats in the first 80k. I chased back full gas twice and on such a hot day I simply never recovered from those efforts. Once I felt rim for the third time I knew it was over. It’s a race I would love to do again, in the spring and preferably in rainy conditions.”

This was the first of four races in an Italian block, with Milano-Sanremo the main event. When he took to the start line, Matteo was 21 years old, and this was the first time he had raced such a long distance. Expectations were probably a little low, but when we reached the top of the Poggio he was still in the main group, which was an achievement in itself.

“The Poggio was for sure the hardest point in the race, but physically it wasn’t anything too insane. It was a near maximal effort for sure, but I wasn’t anywhere close to my best 5-minute power. It was more the fact that it was after 310km and especially after a ridiculously stressful 2 hours under fatigue and heat stress. It did catch me off guard, as my only personal objective was to finish the day. I can’t say what it really means, but I can say it was the first point in my cycling career where I felt I truly belong at the highest level. Previous to that I was more or less just taking other people’s word for it.”

Matteo ended up 17th that day, which was a pretty insane result all things considered. Going well in such a long race, at his age, gives a lot of hope for the future. To round off his season, he headed over to Belgium to tick off another monument, this time it was Liège.

“Having already done MSR, Liège felt doable to me. It is a completely different beast, as the constant climbing and descending make even, “riding easy” in the first couple hours pretty taxing and stressful. But knowing I could handle the sheer distance helped a lot and I entered with some real ambitions to animate the race. I was really happy with how it went, despite a crash. I came back, attacked and made it through the final towards the front. This is another race I would really like revisit.”

The longer races don’t seem to cause Matteo any issues, why does he already have such a big engine?

“Who knows? Some of it is surely genetic, as my older brother reached quite a high level in Juniors before stopping. But nurture has a part to play as well. I started racing and “training” quite young, at about 8 years old. That’s a lot of years on a bike growing capillaries and doing aerobic exercise.”

When you look at his under 23 results, you would be forgiven for thinking that Matteo is an out and out GC rider, but this year made me think otherwise. His impressive one-day performances have me thinking that he could be more of an all-rounder, a rider with many strings to his bow.

“I think U23 results can be deceiving. The saying goes, “if you’re good, you’re good” and I find that to be true in most cases. I definitely know I can nail a one day. It’s more predictable and easier to prepare for, but I don’t want to narrow myself at all. It’s difficult to say which direction I’ll find myself heading. I think the coming two years will solidify things more for me. At the moment though, Movistar and I are just going to look for a variety of different races and see where I excel.” 

Movistar were clearly happy with his performances, as they were quick to tie him down on a longer contract, Matteo is now signed with the team until the end of 2023, giving him time to develop without too much pressure.

“It was huge for me personally. After all that’s happened this year globally, and especially seeing a lot of riders and teams struggle, I am quite relieved. Having job security is a very rare thing, and I won’t take it for granted.”

This winter Matteo has headed back home to enjoy some nice weather as he looks to prepare for the 2021 season, I wish he had room in his suitcase for me!

“I really wanted to spend my month off the bike in the US, enjoying some friends and doing things young people do. Once I came back to the states, France announced a second lockdown and I decided to extend my stay for the first half of the winter. I’ve spent the last month or so road tripping down the California coast, and getting back into training. I’ll do a few quality training weeks here in the LA mountains before returning to Idaho for Christmas with the family. At the start of the year I’ll head back home to Nice and start to get serious again.”

Despite the disruption to 2020, it was still a good one for Matteo, especially as he managed to tick off two monuments, and in a fair amount of style. Next one his list has to be a grand tour.

“I really wanted to start one this year, but as I’m always reminded, I have plenty of time. Doing a GT so young, if I can handle the load, will do wonders in terms of development I think. The sooner the better in my opinion.”

Speaking of his development, I wondered what expectations Matteo had for the upcoming season.

“I expect the days of being allowed to basically do whatever I want in races, is more or less over. I’m hoping I go to some races in a true support role, and to others with clear objectives given by the team. It would be nice to gain practice in these areas while there is still low pressure.”

And just what is it like being an American in Europe?

“I’ve come to find out that no matter how good my French gets, nor how much I dress like a French person, they will always know I’m American as soon as I walk in the door. Europe has been really good to me so far, and I hope to take some major steps in making it a permanent home in the coming years. I want to double down on language and perfect both French and Spanish. Being truly fluent in both would be a huge gain.”

2021 is going to be a big year in the development of Matteo Jorgenson. Despite his young age, I sense a rider who is ready to take a big step forward. You have been warned!

David Hunter

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