It’s only March of the 2021 road season and already young American Matteo Jorgenson is matching the number of stage races that were part of his entire freshman campaign of last year with Movistar. The 21-year-old will line up at his first Paris-Nice on Sunday, March 7, which by the end of the eight days of racing will make it a homecoming on the familiar roads of his base in Europe.
“A few days ago I rode stage 7 of Paris-Nice. I know all the roads of stage 8. It’s really exciting,” Jorgenson, who is based in Nice, told Cyclingnews.
The abbreviated 2020 season was his first year with the Spanish WorldTour team, having introduced himself to the top-tier of pro cycling the year before as a stagiaire with AG2R La Mondiale and appearances with its Chambéry CF development squad. Movistar placed him in the Tour Colombia 2.1 to start the year, and later Tirreno-Adriatico. The rest of the season was filled with eight one-day races, where Jorgenson delivered steady results in the top 25, including 17th at Milan-San Remo.
He expects 2021 to be a transitional year on the team, with a new focus on stage racing and real-time development, in part helped by a team contract that was extended through 2024.
“I started on a two-year contract last year. We discussed a third year, and the team brought up the idea of extending it to a fourth year. It’s huge to have security like this. It can create a good atmosphere at both ends. They don’t have to worry about developing a rider like me and then have me leaving. It’s huge,” Jorgenson said about job security.
“I feel I need to prove myself. Last year went relatively well, and they saw me as a bit of a Classics rider. I’m tall, so their history puts taller riders like me in the Classics.
“The team wants to explore my capabilities in stage racing and climbing this spring. It hasn’t so much come from me. They more want to take advantage of the low stress afforded from a longer contract to test me in a different realm than just one-days. And my recent testing has shown some room to grow in these aspects so we are going for it.”
The lanky rider with fair red hair said he has grown nearly 12 inches in the past couple of years, he's now 1.9 meters (6’3”) in height, a trait displayed by his older brother Kristopher and his father. He said he was just late to develop, noting “I had no muscle mass until I was 17.”
“Climbing in the WorldTour is so drilled down to numbers, certain watts per kilo and then do it repeatedly. I like training on climbs, but it’s hard to say if I’m a big rider on climbs now. It’s hard to meet the numbers as a pure climber,” he admitted.
So far Jorgenson has demonstrated that his hard work is paying off. At Tour de la Provence in February, he rode to 12th on the climb to Chalet Reynard on Mont Ventoux at stage 3 and finished 14th in the GC, the highest-placed rider for Movistar.
However, his crash into the barriers on the stage 2 sprint finish may have cost him an opportunity for a WorldTour podium. In a tricky finale with wet roads, Jorgenson was in seventh position until cameras seemed to show a spectator leaning over the fencing caused him to hit the ground hard.
He posted on social media, “sucks to miss out on a real chance at my first pro win like that,” but later said, “I came out very lucky from having no injuries, really, not even much road rash.”
Stage races seem to be just fine for the quickly-developing rider, who won the points classification and finished third on two stages of the 2019 Tour de l’Avenir while riding the 10-day race for the US National team. He is especially looking forward to his first Grand Tour, which is scheduled for May.
“The Giro will be my first Grand Tour. I would be the youngest on the team for that race this year,” said Jorgensen with a wry grin, noting that Movistar teammate Juri Hollmann is a month younger in age and Abner Gonzalez is a year his junior.
“I really wanted to start a Grand Tour, and I’m super excited to do this early and see what it’s like to do three weeks. It will be an experience for sure, spending a long time with the same guys,” he said with a nervous laugh. “We will prepare at altitude beforehand, in Sierra Nevada, Spain.”
Boise beginnings and Jelly Belly 'lifeline'
Growing up in Boise, Idaho gave Jorgenson incredible resources for cycling. His family tuned in to the Tour de France each summer, providing inspiration from American pros riding in the Tour, and then he began riding himself with BYRDS Cycling (Boise Young Rider Development Squad). In 2010 he won a national title as a junior in cyclo-cross.
He had success as a junior on the road with the Hot Tubes Development team, which provided one of his first experiences in Europe, the 2015 Junior Tour of Ireland, where he came away with a win on stage 5. The connections made in Boise held strong.
“I was always riding with older riders each day and it had a big impact. They’ve done a lot, and BYRDS has two WorldTour pros now – myself and Will Barta,” he said about the youth cycling program, now in its 22nd year. “I also had help from Kristin Armstrong as a junior. She helped me with aerodynamic testing in the wind tunnel in San Diego when I was 16.
“My time with Hot Tubes Cycling in my later years as a junior were quite formative. They allowed me to step up a level from BYRDS and get to bigger races with better support and a good group of peers around me from age 16-18.”
In 2018, Jorgenson signed with the Jelly Belly Continental team, which was “a huge lifeline” for the move from juniors, giving him the exposure he needed to go bigger. He raced in the jelly bean-covered jersey just once with the team, the Colorado Classic, and was their lone U23 representative at the US road nationals, winning the silver medal in the time trial.
“It was cool to be at one of the biggest races in America, the Colorado Classic, and my family was there. I was supposed to race the Tour of Utah too, but got meningitis. Danny’s helped tons of riders and he has my deepest respect. I wouldn’t be riding today if it wasn’t for Danny van Haute’s support,” recounted Jorgenson.
This season while Jorgenson makes the transition to more stage racing, he will continue to hone his communication skills. While he has learned French the past couple years, the new emphasis is on Spanish, since that's the primary language for 20 of the 28 other riders on the roster.
“It’s testing [a Grand Tour] in many regards, like speaking the same language all the time. My Spanish is improving a lot. This year it’s come a long way,” said Jorgenson.
“My first few months as a neo-pro, Carlos [Verona] helped me navigate what to do, and what not to do. I spent a month with him before the Tour of Colombia  and he helped me integrate with the team.
“My role is ever-changing. As with any organisation, it takes time to build trust and get to know me.”
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