Matthew Riccitello roars into WorldTour debut at UAE Tour in path toward GC racing

US rookie clicks up another gear in top-tier Emirati race after impressing with top-10 finish at Vuelta a San Juan.

Photo: Getty Images

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Al Dhafra Castle, UAE (VN) – Matthew Riccitello is overawed but far from out of his depth in his WorldTour debut this week at the UAE Tour.

Hot off the back of a top-10 at the Vuelta a San Juan, the Hagens Berman Axeon graduate arrives in the Emirates for his first experience of the elbows and accelerations of top-tier racing with Israel-Premier Tech.

“I raced in Argentina, but this is exciting, this is my first WorldTour race. I watched a lot of these guys on TV for the last 5-6 years. To actually be here racing with them now is quite something,” Riccitello told VeloNews outside his team bus Monday.

Riccitello saw a stagiaire stint with Israel-Premier Tech last summer come good with a three-year deal to race on the team of Chris Froome, Michael Woods and Jakob Fuglsang.

Ricitello’s step up to the big leagues aged only 20 is another testimonial to the success of the Hagens Berman Axeon talent factory.

The U.S. devo team already sent riders like Tao Geoghegan Hart, Joe Dombrowski, and João Almeida toward blockbuster careers in the professional ranks.

“I always hoped this would happen and it was always the goal, in the back of my mind I really hoped it would. But you can never be sure, you know?” he said. “So to actually be here now, about to start my first WorldTour race, it’s pretty cool.”

Ricitello looked like he was more than comfortable Monday after a blitzing start to his pro career. The Tucson racer already blazed to ninth overall and scooped the young rider’s jersey at the Vuelta a San Juan in a pro debut to impress.

“I knew I had good legs going into Argentina but I didn’t expect too much from myself. It was more about getting the season going with no expectations,” Ricitello said Monday. “But to finish in the top 10 with some pretty big guys … I was really happy with that to start the year.”

Baby steps out of the U23s

LÉLEX MONTS-JURA, FRANCE - JULY 31: Matthew Riccitello of United States and Team Hagens Berman-Axeon in the Breakaway during the 33rd Tour de l'Ain 2021, Stage 3 a 125km stage from Izernore to Lélex Monts-Jura 900m / @tourdelain / on July 31, 2021 in Lélex Monts-Jura, France. (Photo by Luc Claessen/Getty Images)
Riccitello spent two full seasons with the Axeon team. (Photo: Getty Images)

Riccitello is just another of the 21st-century babies busting their way into the top of pro cycling.

Riders like Remco Evenepoel, Carlos Rodríguez, and Juan Ayuso all have birth certificates dated past 2000.

A string of top rides with Axeon at prestigious U23 races like the Istrian Spring Trophy, “Baby Giro” and Tour de l’Avenir saw the pint-size Arizonan take his pro debut in his stride.

“The U23s are so strong now, you see a lot of guys going straight from juniors to WorldTour or going from U23 to WorldTour and straight away doing really well. After what I saw in Argentina, I think the strength difference isn’t as much as people may think,” he said. “The only big difference I’m noticing is it’s a lot faster.”

Riccitello finished in the bunch in the extra-fast echelon stage Monday for a wild WorldTour debut.

Next month will see him handed more top-tier racing at the Volta a Catalunya as he develops the skills for classification racing.

“The plan in future is to ride for GC, but I want to take it in steps, and that’s the approach the team takes. At the moment the plan is no grand tour for me this year, but I may start one next year – we’ll see how things go,” he said.

“This year, I just want to contribute to a successful year for the team. Being top-10 for the team in San Juan is a good start, and I just want to keep going in that direction.”

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