The shock was on the face of Thomas Champion and within the voices of the Eurosport commentators when Matthew Riccitello got here sprinting up the ultimate metres of the Giro d’Italia’s stage 20 time trial.
Riccitello obliterated the quickest time set by the Frenchman, going almost two minutes faster. After all, the efficiency of the 21-year-old – the youngest rider within the Giro – was rapidly overshadowed by the nail-biting battle between Primož Roglič and Geraint Thomas. The American would finally be eleventh place however his outstanding experience left everybody questioning the place this younger American got here from.
Cyclingnews spoke to him just a few days after the race to seek out out.
A precocious begin
The outcomes present that Riccitello made a fast rise from being a precocious teenager clipping off in a breakaway on one of many nation’s quickest group rides to signing his first WorldTour contract with Israel-Premier Tech and making his Grand Tour debut.
The son of knowledgeable triathlete, he dabbled in all three sports activities however biking is the one which caught.
“I do not actually keep in mind what made me need to begin highway biking – however as soon as I began I appreciated it greater than all the pieces else and saved doing it,” Riccitello recollects.
Racing for the native membership El Grupo, Riccitello began out within the 13-14 age group however rapidly started competing with adults as a class 4, scoring high 10s in stage races just like the Tucson Bicycle Traditional, San Dimas Stage Race and Tour of the Gila.
The subsequent yr he claimed his first stage race victories within the Valley of the Solar and San Dimas Stage Race and his first nationwide championship title within the time trial, all within the 15-16 age group in 2017.
Across the similar time, he began leaping into The Shootout, a weekly group experience in Riccitello’s hometown of Tucson, Arizona. The Shootout is notorious for being one of many quickest and best group rides within the nation and one that’s visited by many WorldTour professionals who come to town’s truthful local weather for winter coaching.
At some point throughout The Shootout, he made the breakaway with Michael Woods, who was racing with the Cannondale staff on the time, and it kicked off a outstanding string of occasions that vaulted him first onto the USA Biking nationwide staff, Axel Merckx’s Hagens Berman Axeon squad and now the WorldTour.
“I assume he was impressed by me and talked about my identify to his coach [Paulo Saldanha – currently Israel-Premier Tech performance manager -ed],” Riccitello explains to Cyclingnews. “I believe his coach knew the final identify simply because he was a triathlete and knew my dad a bit. So he reached out – they’ve had an eye fixed on me from early on.”
A expertise to observe, Riccitello was successful class 3 grownup races by age 16 together with crushing the competitors in Tour of the Gila. He raced the Junior Tour of Eire with the nationwide staff with Lux/Specialised and after taking silver within the nationwide championship time trial to Magnus Sheffield, then joined the nationwide staff.
In 2019 Riccitello raced a full summer time with the nationwide staff, gaining precious expertise in stage races. An total podium within the Tour de l’Abitibi and high 10s in two Swiss stage races earned him his first choice for the World Championships, the place he was a part of the staff behind Quinn Simmons‘ victory in Yorkshire.
“That was most likely one of many coolest moments thus far I’ve had in bike racing – simply being part of a staff that wins a world championship, even only a Junior World Championship, it was actually cool. The way in which the staff acquired round Quinn – we knew was the favorite on paper and that if we rode in assist of him as a staff – which is fairly uncommon for juniors – that he would have a very good shot at successful the race. Everyone on the staff was simply excited by that. The way in which we rode after which to have Quinn successful, in the long run, it was only a actually cool expertise.”
Riccitello’s outcomes that yr additionally caught the attention of Axel Merckx and fairly fortuitously, they agreed that he would be a part of the staff for his first yr out of the juniors
“That was earlier than COVID began – earlier than my second yr as a junior, in order that entire yr the place there was no racing,” he says. “I did not need to stress about discovering a staff for the next yr, which ended up understanding very well for me.”
He had already deliberate to graduate from highschool early in 2020 so he may go to Europe for a full season in his closing yr as a junior and once more – the choice proved fruitful.
He jumped into the professional males’s area at Valley of the Solar and completed on the general podium behind Sheffield and Tyler Williams (L3GION), then topped Sheffield and Michael Garrison in a professional males’s time trial in Georgia. It proved his expertise but once more however COVID shut the entire season down.
“That entire yr they mentioned the World Championships would possibly nonetheless occur [despite the entire junior calendar’s cancellation] – so I simply saved coaching. It helped me keep motivated,” Riccitello mentioned.
“I might have carried out all of the coaching regardless, simply because I like driving my bike and coaching. I loved simply driving that yr, not doing college, and never travelling an excessive amount of – it was really fairly good.”
In 2021, he began again with Hagens Berman Axeon and lived the dream in Europe, diving into the deep finish at Volta ao Algarve earlier than beginning the Giro Subsequent Gen or “Child Giro”.
His first brush with Italy did not go so properly.
“Within the Child Giro, I had a abdomen bug – Campylobacter. I believe I acquired it from consuming water from a fountain in Girona that I positively should not have drank from.
“I confirmed up already not feeling too properly and thought possibly it might get higher rapidly however I did one stage and felt utterly empty and that simply acquired worse from there.”
That season was a strong base for 2022, the place an total victory within the Istrian Spring Trophy in Croatia set the stage for his debut as a trainee for Israel-Premier Tech. The outcomes did not inform the entire story – he acquired sick once more in the course of the Giro Subsequent Gen and helped teammate Leo Hayter to the general win.
Extra precious expertise got here on the Vuelta a Burgos – his trainee debut with Israel-Premier Tech – and Tour de l’Avenir. All of which arrange his outstanding experience within the Giro d’Italia time trial.
The new seat
Riccitello’s debut within the WorldTour on the Vuelta a San Juan went higher than anybody anticipated. He completed ninth total behind winner Miguel Angel Lopez and gained one of the best younger rider classification – the very same outcome that Remco Evenepoel scored in his WorldTour debut in 2019.
Then, he completed the UAE Tour, Volta a Catalunya and Tour of the Alps – the place he had a strong experience in eighth on the key summit finale on the Passo di San Valentino.
He says he had no Grand Excursions on his plan firstly of the yr however the staff determined he was prepared for the Giro d’Italia.
“They instructed me in March that it was a risk that I might do the Giro. And after I thought of it, I mentioned I needed to do it. After they instructed me that I might get to do it, it was a little bit of a shock. However in the long run, it turned out to be a very good alternative and a superb studying expertise. When you had instructed me earlier than the race, that there are going to be that many days of rain, I possibly would have been a bit much less excited, nevertheless it’s nonetheless now trying again on the race. I am actually glad I acquired to do it.”
Like many of the peloton, Riccitello was sick in the course of the race – in his case, twice. He confirmed his climbing expertise modestly on stage 4 on the summit end at Lago Laceno, ending close to the entrance of the group with all the favourites. Nonetheless, he caught a chilly two days later, acquired higher, after which fell unwell once more within the third week.
On the day of the stage 20 time trial, Riccitello was sitting in 57th place total and within the second wave of riders. Thomas Champion (Cofidis) had set the quickest time as Riccitello made his means up the climb to Monte Lussari. The tv cameras had utterly ignored him after an unremarkable intermediate examine however quickly zoomed in on him within the closing 500 metres as he wowed the commentators. He had set the quickest time by almost two minutes – even Champion’s jaw dropped in amazement.
“I knew the place I used to be beginning and made it a aim to be on the new seat,” Riccitello mentioned. “I believed there was a superb likelihood that I may do it. After I completed I used to be excited to be on the new seat, however I did not actually understand how my time would stack up towards the remainder of the GC guys.
“I believed possibly I misplaced a bit an excessive amount of time on the flat half to essentially be the too far up. As soon as I noticed Jay Vine’s time, I imply, he went three seconds sooner than me. However I knew he went laborious and I knew then that the time can be fairly good.
“I used to be fairly happy with the outcome. I did not really feel like I had gotten a superb likelihood to essentially put in a superb experience, so it was only a good feeling.
“I used to be in a superb place and needed to do a very good time – however I additionally did not need to stress about dropping a spot or gaining a spot on the final classification – I simply needed to place in a superb effort on the final day of the race, and I wasn’t too, too burdened. Going into it, I used to be simply extra excited.”
There may be much more to be careful for on this 21-year-old American. His subsequent problem highlights his climbing prowess – he opted to race the Mont Ventoux Dénivelé Problem on June 13 moderately than head residence for the US Professional Nationwide Championships. He’ll rejoin the nationwide staff in August for the Tour de l’Avenir however the the rest of his season remains to be to be determined.
If there’s one factor he is realized from his time in Europe, it is to not drink from random fountains on the aspect of the highway.
“I will not make that mistake once more.”