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Q&A: U.S. junior Matthew Riccitello on how COVID-19 impacted his 2020 season

Up-and-coming junior Matthew Riccitello discusses how the coronavirus shutdown has impacted his life on and off the bicycle.

Matthew Riccitello grew up in an athletic household. His dad, Jimmy Riccitello, is an accomplished triathlete and former Xterra world champion. Matthew joined a swim team at the age of 4 and soon after started competitive running, and he continued in those sports until he was 13 when he joined the Tucson Junior racing club, El Grupo.

In the past five years, Riccitello has worked his way to the top of the domestic junior field, specializing in time trailing and climbing. Last season, he raced as a part of the U.S. junior national team on its spring trip in Europe, and he finished 17th in the UCI world championships road race, where he helped teammate Quinn Simmons win the gold. In June, Matthew announced that he was signing with Hagens Berman Axeon for the 2021 season.

We caught up with Riccitello to understand how the racing shutdown due to COVID-19 has impacted his cycling ambitions, as well as his life away from the bicycle.

VeloNews: How has coronavirus affected your schooling, daily life, and training?

Matthew Riccitello: As far as school goes, I graduated a semester early in December, so I was lucky that I didn’t have to deal with doing online school this spring. As for racing, it’s obviously a bummer to not get to race and gain that experience, but at the end of the day I feel fortunate to be able to go out and train on my bike every day. I still have goals on the horizon, whether it be the world championships at the end of the year, or even to the next couple of years. I also know that a lot of people are more heavily affected than me, like the team directors and mechanics. I really feel for them and I think their situation is a lot tougher.

VN: What keeps you in a positive mindset? What are you focused on at this point?

MR: It’s easy for me to go out and train every day. I just really enjoy riding my bike, so I haven’t struggled to find motivation. As far as races go, I’m still hopeful that the American national team will be able to race the world championships in September. Beyond that, looking forward to the next couple of years has kept me motivated to train and ride my bike. Even if I didn’t have any races on the horizon, I’d still be going out and riding my bike every day.

VN: If it weren’t for the current pandemic, what would this season have looked like for you?

MR: I was supposed to go over to Europe in May and do some of the Nations Cup races. The Tour du Pays De Vaud and The Peace Race were two big goals for me in Europe. Then I was going to come back to the U.S. to do the time trial and the road race at nationals. The nationals time trial was another big goal for me, and then I was just going to focus on getting ready for worlds. That was the original plan but now Worlds are all that’s left.

VN: As a last-year junior, how is the lack of racing this season affecting your cycling?

MR: I think the biggest thing I’m missing out on is race experience. I may not have the stress of thinking about teams for next year, but I’m really missing out on a lot of learning opportunities that you can only get from racing. I know, however, that that will come in the next couple of years. You can’t control coronavirus; you just have to go with it, adapt, and think positively. That’s what I’ve tried to do.

VN: Has your school life changed as you’ve taken cycling more seriously?

MR: My high school in Tucson was pretty academically rigorous and I had a harder time in the first years. As a freshmen and sophomore, I struggled to communicate with my teachers. I always did well in school, but I think I put more stress on myself than I needed to academic-wise and that was tough. Going into junior and senior year, I started to communicate with my teachers more and that is really what allowed me to keep up with schoolwork while I was gone racing, especially in a more challenging high school like mine. I was always tempted to take the online high school route, but I value education quite a bit and wanted to finish high school at a real brick-and-mortar school.

VN: What are your plans for the future? Are you planning to go to college or focus on cycling?

MR: I’m enrolled at the University of Arizona and will be starting there in the fall and it’s actually a little bit longer story. Obviously online college makes the most sense from a cycling point of view, just because I’m gone for so much of the year. But I actually have a full ride academic scholarship to the University of Arizona, and none of it applies to an online degree. As a result, this is one way the coronavirus has been a positive for me. It’s enabled me to enroll at a brick-and-mortar school, but for the fall all of my classes will be online, and this may even continue into the future.

My plan is to get as many college credits as possible while also cycling. If I end up putting school aside while I focus fully on cycling, I can do that and still have those credits to come back to later. Since I may be able to do both college and cycling there’s no reason for me to not start school this fall.