Quite aside from the cow manure-induced sickness thanks to Paris-Roubaix, Matteo Jorgenson has had a different kind of off-season.
“I didn’t want to be laying on the couch or a beach doing nothing,” says the 22-year-old American who impressed by finishing eighth at last March’s Paris-Nice. “So my brother and I flew to Corsica for 10 days backpacking along about half of the GR 20.”
For those who don’t know, the 180km trail up and over the mountains that form the spine of the Mediterranean island, is one of European’s hardest hikes. Relaxing, then, for a pro coming off 64 race days.
“It was maybe more strenuous than I should have done, but I’m so glad I did something physical," Jorgenson says.
“You’re supposed to stay in these mountain huts along the way, but we’re from the US and we’ve never done that before. We both had bivvy bags and we camped along the trail. Because it was October, there was almost no-one on what is one of Europe’s most popular trails.
“Growing up in a small town in Idaho, a pretty outdoorsy state, our school trips were based around being outdoors. That’s what I grew up doing: cycling and getting lost.
“But as my cycling took hold and I became more focused on the training, I stopped going on these trips when I was 16. I couldn’t justify a four days in the backcountry as it would ruin my training.
“Now I’m older, I miss that a lot. So I’ve been trying to do it in my off-season, connect with what I used to do. Hiking’s still challenging though - it’s not easy, even for a pro athlete.”
When he’s not miles from any showers and boiling his dinner on a camping stove, Jorgenson is quietly, but assuredly, emerging as one of America’s brightest young hopes.
Signed by Movistar in 2020, he stepped up this past season with a few impressive results and displays as a domestique. He made his Grand Tour bow at the Giro d'Italia.
“It was a really successful season,” he reflects. “My goal at the start of the season was to win a race - literally any - and I got close a few times. It didn’t quite happen, but the whole year marked a step forward for me personally.
“It made me realise that I am a pro cyclist, this is my job, and this is where I belong. That alone was a big step. Results-wise it wasn’t a crazy breakout season, but I made steady, solid progress.”
Signed by the Spanish WorldTour team aged 20 on a four-year deal was as much an indication of his potential as it is of cycling’s trend of hiring ever younger riders. A tall and slender build, he lends himself to excelling in the mountains.
Or so he once believed. “When I was a junior I was super small and skinny, and basically all I could do was climb. I relied on my aerobic motor - I was all about climbing.
“But in the last four years my body and its size has changed a lot. I’ve got bigger, heavier, taller and my place in cycling is changing a bit. I’m trying to figure out if I’m one for the Classics or week-long stage races.”
Jorgenson has impressed in both. His Paris-Nice result, when he had the entire Movistar team working on his behalf, suggests he can hold his own in shorter stage races, even if there’s the inclusion of large mountains. Meanwhile, he has shown a willingness to attack, get involved in breakaways, and record decent results in sprints for minor places.
How does he jump out of being a Jack of all trades, and a master of none? “Trial and error, that’s the only way,” he answers.
“I don’t need to narrow down what I am super soon, but I’ve learned that the riders who do well have this love for their place in cycling.
“They love what they do. If you get pushed into a part of cycling you’re not passionate about, you won’t be successful. I need to do all the different races to find my passion, find out what I specialise in. Each race challenges you in a different way and that’s what I strive for.”
Next season he will be joined by Will Barta, three years his senior, but a childhood best friend since Jorgenson was eight.
“It’s actually pretty crazy I think,” he smiles. “Will and I are from the same small town in Idaho, and we met in the same junior club.
"We trained together - but never raced because he’s older - and even when he went to Europe I was always talking to him. He was the one who drew me to Nice. We now live together and it’s a super special thing to be on the same team with him for the next two years. It’s mind-blowing, really.”
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