The 2023 season was a watershed year for Matteo Jorgenson: his first pro win, an emergence as a potential cobbled Classics talent and near-misses at the Tour de France, and a new team this offseason in whatever form Jumbo-Visma takes.
Escape Collective caught up with the versatile young American about his big year, the state of the sport back home, and what he hopes to find for himself at Jumbo-Visma, merger or no merger. This interview was conducted September 26 and has been edited for clarity and concision.
Escape Collective: It’s been a busy month for you in September and that will continue in October: home to North America for some racing, back to Europe for Luxembourg and Emilia and then you’ll be off to China for (Tour of) Guangxi. Was that schedule your idea or the team’s?
Matteo Jorgenson: No, no, that’s from the team. That’s usually kind of how it goes, the riders leaving the team do Guangxi at the end of the year, just because it’s not always riders’ first preference to do the race. It’s kind of a going-away present. I’ve talked to a few guys about (Guangxi) and it’s just late in the year; it hits at a time when you’re kind of looking to stop.
Escape: The last time we really caught up with you was May/June, for our feature profile by Jen See. So I want to go back to the Tour de France and the shift that you had to undergo there. You went in fully expecting to support Enric [Mas] and then ended up losing him on day one. What was it like to have to switch your focus to other objectives so early and abruptly in the race?
Jorgenson: It was brutal, to say the least. For it to happen on the first stage, I guess was kind of a blessing in that it wasn’t like we had invested so, so much throughout the race to help him and then it went up in flames. At least it happened right away, and we could shift mindset. But I’d been kind of training for a couple months beforehand just to be a helper, basically training just to survive the mountains and just kind of diesel myself out to try to help him on those mountain days. So it was just a bit of a hit for all of us, mentally, because they didn’t select the team for guys that could win stages. So it was a quick shift. It was a hard Tour, to say the least.
Escape: That’s an interesting point that if losing a leader is going to happen, it’s better that it’s early in the race rather than after you’ve invested everything in a GC campaign – at least you had the runway to try something different. But on the other hand, as you said, you’d trained to support him and now you have to switch the gears mentally and physically too. What was that like; did your training support going for breakaways?
Jorgenson: No, I wasn’t in a great place. I was in peak form super early in the year and we knew before [Criterium du] Dauphiné that I wasn’t going to be in amazing form [for the Tour]. I’d be able to do the work required and help out where necessary, but I didn’t have much top end really. I just didn’t really have the form to win stages. But I still gave my best and yeah, I was pretty close on Puy de Dôme. I felt like that day I played my cards right. I did what I could with the form that I had and it didn’t quite work out. But I think I can be happy with the effort I gave at least.
“They always tell us like 80% of the entire year comes from the Tour de France. So you know when you’re racing the Tour that the stakes are just higher for the entire team and the sponsors and everything.“
Escape: You raced aggressively, and got in the break several days and got close a couple of times. I recall you saying you weren’t really satisfied with the moral victory, despite where your form was. So I’m curious how you felt at the time, knowing that you didn’t have the form you needed to target stages, but still, you’re getting that close?
Jorgenson: There was a significant amount of pressure on us from the team at the Tour. In the offseason, Telefónica [Movistar’s parent company – Ed.] always gives a presentation to the team and present us with the data that they collect on how their ROI works out with the sponsorship of the team and where it comes from, recognizing Movistar and where that brand recognition happens; essentially, where they get their money’s worth. And they always tell us like 80% of the entire year comes from the Tour de France. So you know when you’re racing the Tour that the stakes are just higher for the entire team and the sponsors and everything. So, yeah, it wasn’t satisfying any of those days to miss out, because we needed to win a stage. I mean, that would have been the only thing that would have salvaged the Tour, having missed Enric. A stage win was our only objective. So to come close, yeah, it was good in some ways, but we were still missing out. I didn’t really feel satisfied.
Escape: Did you feel that pressure fell more on you than some other riders? Because of your results and that last year at the Tour you were also in the break and came close on a few stages?
Jorgenson: Yeah, I think me, along with Ruben [Guerreiro] and Alex [Aranburu], we had maybe the best shot of the guys on the team to win stages. So yeah, there was a little bit more pressure on us. But all of us were trying as hard as we could every day. There was no guy that was sitting back; it was kind of all hands on deck, just whoever can get in the break and try their shot.
Escape: As you mentioned, you had peak form early in the season. You got your first pro win at Oman, and second overall at Romandie, so a lot of success in the first half. And then that frustration of being close at the Tour. As you look at that, what do you feel like is the next step for you to get that success at races like the Tour? Is it just specifically targeting those events or is there something else?
Jorgenson: I would have needed to fine-tune my preparation quite a bit more. Not to say I didn’t put in the effort. Definitely, between Dauphiné and the Tour I went to altitude alone and also with the team we did a camp before Dauphiné. But I just probably would have required more of a break after Romandie to rest and get my body back to a level where I could handle some more intensity in training. Before the Dauphiné and then between the Dauphiné and the Tour, I wasn’t able to do a lot of intensity. I was just pretty tired and I had a good base so it’s like the fitness was definitely there but my body was just pretty tired. And with what we’re trying to achieve really at the Tour, where I was at I could have helped Enric really well. Day in, day out, I would have been pretty consistent in being there for him when he needed me. But to try to actually win a stage is a different story.
“It’s funny, when I’m done with the Tour, people will be like, ‘You’re not coming back to Boise?’ And it’s like, ‘That’s not really how it works.‘”
Escape: Do you feel like you’re a little better-known these days to American fans, and that your past two years have put you on the radar a bit more?
Jorgenson: I think so. I think the Tour is really where I see that, where Americans see me. I think the Tour is pretty much the only race that really makes it to the general American public. It’s funny, when I’m done with the Tour, people will be like, “You’re not coming back to Boise?” And it’s like, “That’s not really how it works.” I wish it was, I wish I could just do just the Tour de France every year and then take the rest of the year off.
Escape: I guess the wildcard there is Sepp Kuss at the Vuelta, where as the idea of him as a legitimate contender began to grow there was this slow but steady bump in coverage in the American media and then, all of a sudden, the Wall Street Journal is writing about it. It was interesting to see that because I don’t remember that happening when Chris Horner won a decade ago.
Jorgenson: Yeah, I think it’s great. It’s what we need. I mean, we really need, basically, American success at the very top levels of the sport to spur people to watch road racing again. In the US, I think it was really positive step to see Sepp winning.
Escape: I wanted to ask you about that and your thoughts on the state of American racing, because on the one hand it seems super grim that we have one day, Maryland [Cycling Classic], as the only UCI race, and on the other there’s Sepp and you and young guys like Luke Lamperti and AJ August coming up next.
Jorgenson: And also some of the young WorldTour pros like Magnus [Sheffield] and Matthew Riccitello. I think it’s looking pretty good still. Assuming it’s just a matter of what inspired this current generation of guys was probably, you know, the Lance era. And then it’s like after that we might have had a gap. So I don’t know. I don’t know how many young guys are are coming through below AJ’s level, I hope that there’s still a lot. I don’t think we have a problem with the amount of talent there is in the US. I’m sure there’s enough talented guys; it’s just a matter of finding them or having them inspired to race. I would just love to see races come back to the US.
Escape: Speaking of, what does it mean for you to be able to compete on American soil?
Jorgenson: It was cool [to race Maryland]. I had never raced as a professional in the US. So I just wanted to come back and do at least the one race we had. The race itself, I think could use some tweaks as far as the route and stuff like that. But I think it’s really great the effort that they’re doing and helping bring European teams over and doing all the logistics, and I think it’s exactly what’s needed. So I hope that we see that event continue.
Escape: Switching gears a bit, I wanted to talk about your move to Jumbo [next season]. You have a reputation as a pretty thoughtful and deliberate person, and I’m curious as you were thinking through that and talking with your agent about the opportunities that were out there, what were the most important things to you that you wanted from a team?
Jorgenson: Personally, I definitely value performance. I think above a lot else, what inspires me to train and to race and try to get the best out of myself is to try to see myself reach the highest level that I can, reach my potential. So I just wanted to find an environment where I would be able to get the most out of myself and where they have the expertise and and also the attitude that that’s what they’re trying to do as well. Because I think there’s plenty of other valid options that other guys choose to take where they prioritize personal leadership or, you know, other opportunities over seeing their potentially highest level. So I think it just depends on the person, but personally, at least at this point in my career when I’m still pretty young, I would rather go somewhere where I’m pretty confident I can get the best of myself and see where that brings me. And then later, if I want to go somewhere for you know, absolute leadership or opportunity in every race I do, I can maybe do that.
“We don’t race a lot as kids, so the guys that actually make it to the WorldTour were the guys that really enjoyed the process of training, because if you don’t like training very much and you really like racing, then you probably would have stopped cycling by now.“
Escape: Something that came through very clearly for me in Jen’s profile piece was that you seem motivated by the work itself, even more than results.
Jorgenson: I think that’s true. I wouldn’t say all of my motivation comes from just doing the work and seeing the process, but I think a lot of it is trying to get better and see how much better I can get and try to tweak myself everywhere I can. I think a lot of Americans are like that. We don’t race a lot as kids, so the guys that actually make it to the WorldTour were the guys that really enjoyed the process of training, because if you don’t like training very much and you really like racing, then you probably would have stopped cycling by now. So yeah, I think that’s part of just my personality probably.
Escape: Right, and Jumbo obviously has a reputation for sophisticated sports science and rider development. Was that the primary thing that drew you to that team specifically, and that they have the resources to support you in that process?
Jorgenson: Yeah, I think it’s really their way of working. I think it’s the thoroughness. Everything they do, they’re pretty thorough. I think it’s just kind of their approach. Just through my talks with them, I got a sense that they were really the most focused on performance and science, and I was just the most confident that at Jumbo, I would get the most out of myself.
Escape: At the same time, it’s a really deep, talented team. Have you talked with them about your role and opportunities there?
Jorgenson: We haven’t talked at all. I’ve had basically very little contact. I have a couple of days after China, where I’ll go to their headquarters. We’ll do a bunch of, I think probably the clothing fitting, and meetings and probably go over schedule and stuff. So I’m sure I’ll know more then. But if anything, at least from my perspective, it’s a positive to have so many of the best guys in one team. Cycling is a sport where being around the best guys, you will learn a lot about the process, and what makes them really good.
I think you really can learn a lot from the guys year round. And it’s kind of a thing where the people around you can either bring you up or pull you down. And so I really value being in a team with so many of the best riders. I’m actually looking forward to that a lot. As far as personal opportunity, or races for myself, I have to do the work. I think they have a pretty clear outlook on things. And I think they can look at the numbers and see who has the best numbers on the team, or who has the capability to lead a race. And if if you show them that you have the capabilities, and you have the level to lead a race, then they’re gonna back you for it. And if there’s someone else that has, you know, a better level than you, then you work for them. I would prefer to work for someone who I’m pretty confident can win the race, rather than try to go for myself and be far from winning.
“I think they basically just executed a plan and once Sepp showed that he had the ability to win the race then they started backing him.”
Escape: Do you think the Vuelta confirmed that assessment?
Jorgenson: I don’t have any inside information, but from what I can see, they had a plan going into the race, and it was to use Sepp as a bit of a decoy and to help the guys, and then that decoy worked, and, you know, he got time. And then he also showed the level at the time trial to be a GC contender in the race. I think he was probably in his best form of the year and also hanging on on Angliru. And yeah, I think they basically just executed a plan and once Sepp showed that he had the ability to win the race then they started backing him. So I think it’s a clear example of that.
Escape: It seemed like the biggest switch from my perspective was Sepp’s ability to settle into that leader role he’s never been 100 percent comfortable with. It seemed like there was a switch where he was like, ‘No, I can do this, and I have the confidence to do it.’ But the part where he said, ‘I also want my shot’ was interesting, because he almost had to say it to get the shot. I’m curious if you feel like you’ll have to advocate for yourself, in addition to showing the training data and numbers, in order to get those opportunities?
Jorgenson: I think it comes down to personality. Sepp just has a really, really generous personality and he really enjoys helping others. And that’s where he gets a lot of satisfaction and motivation to work. So I think it was just pretty natural that he didn’t put his hand up and say he wanted to be the leader from the beginning. From what I can tell about them, I think basically, they went forward with the plan of continuing to have all the guys at least on Angliru go full gas. And when he was able to hang on to the jersey from there, they saw that he had the level to do it. And from then on they backed him. So I don’t know what went on. But from what I could tell it was more that he showed the level required, and so from there, they backed him.
Escape: For yourself, you showed you’re a versatile racer, especially this year, where you rode great in the Classics, and performed really well in some stage races, and in the breakaway at the Tour. You’ve got a lot of different abilities; do you think that puts you in a good place to seek out opportunities where they might arise?
Jorgenson: I think it’s good and bad. Being versatile like that, I think there’ll come a point where if I want to try to have any leadership, I’ll probably have to specialize a bit more. But I think having that versatility is pretty useful in a way for Jumbo. I can do quite a few different races and in a few different roles for them. So I think, yeah, it’ll be interesting to see where they plan to go with that. I still don’t really know.
Escape: So I have to ask about the other big news recently: the rumors of the merger between Jumbo and Soudal. It sounds like it caught riders by surprise even who are currently in the team, and I’m curious your reaction to it.
Jorgenson: I don’t have any idea. I read the news in Wielerflits, just like everyone else. I don’t really have any idea of what’s true, what it means or implicates. I obviously got in touch with my agent about it about if they knew anything else, and they obviously didn’t, so we’ll just have to wait and see. I don’t really know what’s what’s gonna happen.
Escape: Well, you’re in good company because I don’t think most of us do. Last question: You had mentioned earlier this year after your big spring block of results that this had been the culmination of a multi-year plan of improvement and work. And I know that it’s not like you closed the book on that and you have a new multi-year plan; it’s a constant process. But I’m curious about what that, say, three to four-year plan looks like and how you want to progress and grow in the sport, and your plan for getting there?
Jorgenson: I think a lot of it will have to do with the team and where where they see me and where they want to go with it. Because it’s not a 100% individual thing, I think. We’ll just have to see what they say. But in general, yeah, I just want to keep progressing. And the reason that I chose to go to Jumbo is just because I want to kind of see my best level, so I just want to keep working as hard as I can while I still have time on my side and while I’m still getting better. I think it’s worthwhile to just kind of put my head down and keep working and see how much better I can get. I’m pretty realistic. I don’t expect to be some Tour de France winner or something. But yeah, I think it’s just always interesting to see how much better I can get and, and where I can end up.
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