From the Shootout to the Giro d'Italia hot seat - Who is Matthew Riccitello?

Matthew Riccitello (Israel-Premier Tech) comes to the finish of stage 20 of the 2023 Giro d'Italia with the fastest time
Matthew Riccitello (Israel-Premier Tech) comes to the finish of stage 20 of the 2023 Giro d'Italia with the fastest time (Image credit: Getty Images)

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The shock was on the face of Thomas Champion and in the voices of the Eurosport commentators when Matthew Riccitello came sprinting up the final metres of the Giro d'Italia's stage 20 time trial.

Riccitello obliterated the fastest time set by the Frenchman, going nearly two minutes quicker. Of course, the performance of the 21-year-old - the youngest rider in the Giro - was quickly overshadowed by the nail-biting battle between Primož Roglič and Geraint Thomas. The American would eventually be 11th place but his remarkable ride left everyone wondering where this young American came from.

Cyclingnews spoke to him a few days after the race to find out.

A precocious start

Matthew Riccitello with his national teammates at Worlds next to junior world champion Quinn Simmons

(Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Matthew Riccitello was on the USA team with junior world champion Quinn Simmons in 2019

The results show that Riccitello made a rapid rise from being a precocious teenager clipping off in a breakaway on one of the country's fastest group rides to signing his first WorldTour contract with Israel-Premier Tech and making his Grand Tour debut.

The son of a professional triathlete, he dabbled in all three sports but cycling is the one that stuck.

"I don't really remember what made me want to start road cycling - but once I started I liked it more than everything else and kept doing it," Riccitello recalls.

Racing for the local club El Grupo, Riccitello started out in the 13-14 age group but quickly began competing with adults as a category 4, scoring top 10s in stage races like the Tucson Bicycle Classic, San Dimas Stage Race and Tour of the Gila.

The next year he claimed his first stage race victories in the Valley of the Sun and San Dimas Stage Race and his first national championship title in the time trial, all in the 15-16 age group in 2017.

Around the same time, he started jumping into The Shootout, a weekly group ride in Riccitello's hometown of Tucson, Arizona. The Shootout is infamous for being one of the fastest and most competitive group rides in the country and one that is visited by many WorldTour pros who come to the city's fair climate for winter training.

One day during The Shootout, he made the breakaway with Michael Woods, who was racing with the Cannondale team at the time, and it kicked off a remarkable string of events that vaulted him first onto the USA Cycling national team, Axel Merckx's Hagens Berman Axeon squad and now the WorldTour.

"I guess he was impressed by me and mentioned my name to his coach [Paulo Saldanha - currently Israel-Premier Tech performance manager -ed]," Riccitello explains to Cyclingnews. "I think his coach knew the last name just because he was a triathlete and knew my dad a bit. So he reached out - they've had an eye on me from early on."

A talent to watch, Riccitello was winning category 3 adult races by age 16 including crushing the competition in Tour of the Gila. He raced the Junior Tour of Ireland with the national team with Lux/Specialized and after taking silver in the national championship time trial to Magnus Sheffield, then joined the national team.

In 2019 Riccitello raced a full summer with the national team, gaining valuable experience in stage races. An overall podium in the Tour de l'Abitibi and top 10s in two Swiss stage races earned him his first selection for the World Championships, where he was part of the team behind Quinn Simmons' victory in Yorkshire.

"That was probably one of the coolest moments so far I've had in bike racing - just being a part of a team that wins a world championship, even just a Junior World Championship, it was really cool. The way the team got around Quinn - we knew was the favourite on paper and that if we rode in support of him as a team - which is pretty rare for juniors - that he would have a really good shot at winning the race. Everybody on the team was just excited by that. The way we rode and then to have Quinn winning, in the end, it was just a really cool experience."

Pandemic interruption

Matthew Riccitello (Hagens Berman Axeon)

(Image credit: Hagens Berman Axeon)

Riccitello's results that year also caught the eye of Axel Merckx and quite fortuitously, they agreed that he would join the team for his first year out of the juniors

"That was before COVID started - before my second year as a junior, so that whole year where there was no racing," he says. "I didn't have to stress about finding a team for the following year, which ended up working out really well for me."

He had already planned to graduate from high school early in 2020 so he could go to Europe for a full season in his final year as a junior and again - the decision proved fruitful.

He jumped into the pro men's field at Valley of the Sun and finished on the overall podium behind Sheffield and Tyler Williams (L3GION), then topped Sheffield and Michael Garrison in a pro men's time trial in Georgia. It proved his talent yet again but COVID shut the whole season down.

"That whole year they said the World Championships might still happen [despite the entire junior calendar's cancellation] - so I just kept training. It helped me stay motivated," Riccitello said.

"I would have done all the training regardless, just because I love riding my bike and training. I enjoyed just riding that year, not doing school, and not travelling too much - it was actually pretty nice."

In 2021, he started back with Hagens Berman Axeon and lived the dream in Europe, diving into the deep end at Volta ao Algarve before starting the Giro Next Gen or "Baby Giro".

His first brush with Italy didn't go so well.

"In the Baby Giro, I had a stomach bug - Campylobacter. I think I got it from drinking water from a fountain in Girona that I definitely shouldn't have drank from.

"I showed up already not feeling too well and thought maybe it would get better quickly but I did one stage and felt completely empty and that just got worse from there."

That season was a solid base for 2022, where an overall victory in the Istrian Spring Trophy in Croatia set the stage for his debut as a trainee for Israel-Premier Tech. The results didn't tell the whole story - he got sick again during the Giro Next Gen and helped teammate Leo Hayter to the overall win.

More valuable experience came at the Vuelta a Burgos - his trainee debut with Israel-Premier Tech - and Tour de l'Avenir. All of which set up his remarkable ride in the Giro d'Italia time trial.

The hot seat

SAN JUAN ARGENTINA JANUARY 28 Matthew Riccitello of The United States and Team Israel Premier Tech celebrates at podium as Yellow Best Young Jersey during the 39th Vuelta a San Juan International 2023 Stage 6 a 1449km stage from Veldromo Vicente Chancay to Veldromo Vicente Chancay VueltaSJ2023 on January 28 2023 in San Juan Argentina Photo by Maximiliano BlancoGetty Images

(Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Matthew Riccitello won the best young rider's classification at the 2023 Vuelta a San Juan and finished 9th overall - the same result Remco Evenepoel had in his debut year in the WorldTour

Riccitello's debut in the WorldTour at the Vuelta a San Juan went better than anyone expected. He finished ninth overall behind winner Miguel Angel Lopez and won the best young rider classification - the exact same result that Remco Evenepoel scored in his WorldTour debut in 2019. 

Then, he finished the UAE Tour, Volta a Catalunya and Tour of the Alps - where he had a solid ride in eighth on the major summit finale on the Passo di San Valentino.

He says he had no Grand Tours on his plan at the start of the year but the team decided he was ready for the Giro d'Italia.

"They told me in March that it was a possibility that I would do the Giro. And when I thought about it, I said I wanted to do it. When they told me that I would get to do it, it was a bit of a surprise. But in the end, it turned out to be a really good opportunity and a good learning experience. If you had told me before the race, that there are going to be that many days of rain, I maybe would have been a bit less excited, but it's still now looking back on the race. I'm really glad I got to do it."

Like most of the peloton, Riccitello was sick during the race - in his case, twice. He showed his climbing talent modestly on stage 4 on the summit finish at Lago Laceno, finishing near the front of the group with all of the favourites. However, he caught a cold two days later, got better, and then fell ill again in the third week.

On the day of the stage 20 time trial, Riccitello was sitting in 57th place overall and in the second wave of riders. Thomas Champion (Cofidis) had set the fastest time as Riccitello made his way up the climb to Monte Lussari. The television cameras had completely ignored him after an unremarkable intermediate check but soon zoomed in on him in the final 500 metres as he wowed the commentators. He had set the fastest time by nearly two minutes - even Champion's jaw dropped in amazement.

MONTE LUSSARI ITALY MAY 27 Matthew Riccitello of The United States and Team Israel Premier Tech crosses the finish line during the 106th Giro dItalia 2023 Stage 20 a 186km individual climbing time trial stage from Tarvisio 750m to Monte Lussari 1744m UCIWT on May 27 2023 in Monte Lussari Italy Photo by Stuart FranklinGetty Images

(Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Riccitello finished with the 11th best time on stage 20 of the Giro

"I knew where I was starting and made it a goal to be on the hot seat," Riccitello said. "I thought there was a good chance that I could do it. When I finished I was excited to be on the hot seat, but I didn't really know how my time would stack up against the rest of the GC guys.

"I thought maybe I lost a bit too much time on the flat part to really be the too far up. Once I saw Jay Vine's time, I mean, he went three seconds faster than me. But I knew he went hard and I knew then that the time would be pretty good.

"I was pretty satisfied with the result. I didn't feel like I had gotten a good chance to really put in a good ride, so it was just a good feeling.

"I was in a good position and wanted to do a really good time - but I also didn't have to stress about losing a place or gaining a place on the general classification - I just wanted to put in a good effort on the last day of the race, and I wasn't too, too stressed. Going into it, I was just more excited."

There is a lot more to watch out for in this 21-year-old American. His next challenge highlights his climbing prowess - he opted to race the Mont Ventoux Dénivelé Challenge on June 13 rather than head home for the US Pro National Championships. He may rejoin the national team in August for the Tour de l'Avenir but the remainder of his season is still to be decided.

If there is one thing he's learned from his time in Europe, it's not to drink from random fountains on the side of the road.

"I won't make that mistake again."

Laura Weislo
Managing Editor

Laura Weislo has been with Cyclingnews since 2006 after making a switch from a career in science. As Managing Editor, she coordinates coverage for North American events and global news. As former elite-level road racer who dabbled in cyclo-cross and track, Laura has a passion for all three disciplines. When not working she likes to go camping and explore lesser traveled roads, paths and gravel tracks. Laura specialises in covering doping, anti-doping, UCI governance and performing data analysis.