Words by Peter Cossins | Photo by SWpix.com
Matteo Jorgenson’s stage win and overall victory at the Tour of Oman were his first successes of a pro career that’s now in its fourth season. More and bigger victories now seem likely for Movistar’s American
Matteo Jorgenson always comes into my mind when I’m riding up the pass towards the top of the Pyrenean valley where I live and which eventually leads to the Col de Péguère. In order to reach this 1,375m summit from Foix, the road initially rises in a series of shallow steps. The first, from the village of Serres-sur-Arget is the easiest of them, the gradient only two or three per cent until it reaches a hairpin over an always damp and often chilly culvert. From there, it kicks up a little more steeply, at around 5-6%, winding up through woodland to approach Burret.
Swinging left into this hamlet that stands proud on a ridge with a view over and down the Barguillère valley, a church looks over the road on one side. On the other, is the Rucher de Mamy, Grandma’s Honeypot, a well-preserved wooden building where the local chestnut-heavy honey is sold. It was here that Jorgenson’s challenge for a debut Tour de France stage win ended last July, when, as he chased Hugo Houle down the mountain, he lost control going through a tight corner and almost slid into the honey shop, the American’s mishap guaranteeing that it would be the Canadian who would claim a first and highly emotionally charged Tour win a few minutes later in Foix.
I read some suggestions that Jorgenson had hit a patch of gravel, but the roads the Tour travels are so assiduously swept that this seemed unlikely. What’s more, having descended that section dozens of times, I’ve never been aware of there being any gravel at that point. Instead, Nicolas Roche was probably spot on with his Flo Bikes commentary in surmising that the Movistar rider had pulled too hard on his front brake, locking that wheel up.
Pyrenean climbs, far less engineered than those in the Alps, are always unpredictable with their changes of gradient and top surface, which makes the descents equally capricious. Local knowledge can be particularly useful, and this bend is a case in point. The road sweeps steeply down towards Burret on the fastest and most technical part of the pass, then suddenly runs arrow straight for 200 metres into the village, heading for the Jorgenson corner. Coming into it, the embankment that buttresses the church on the left and the houses on the right crowd the road, preventing any view around the bend in this narrowing. Swinging left, the camber initially assists wheeled traffic. At the bend’s apex, however, the camber falls away to the right, as if deliberately ushering those passing into the Rucher de Mamy.
That flirtation with success was typical of Jorgenson’s fortunes up to the end of last season. In 2021, his first with Movistar, he took a third place on a stage at the Tour of Poland and was beaten into second by Yves Lampaert sprinting into Edinburgh at the Tour of Britain (pictured). In early 2022, he took a fine third place on the Montagne de Lure at Tour de la Provence, finishing just on the wheel of Danish climber Mattias Skjelmose after the pair had been distanced by Nairo Quintana. A month later, at Paris-Nice, he was third again, this time losing out in the face of a storming ride by his compatriot and good friend Brandon McNulty on a very tough rollercoaster of a stage.
At the Tour, he was in the strong break that disputed the finish in Megève, eventually finishing a close fourth behind Magnus Cort. He was among the escapees again on the day into Saint-Étienne, where another Dane, Mads Pedersen, was victorious. Then came the day into Foix. Trailing Houle by 30 seconds at Burret, he probably wouldn’t have caught the Canadian on the final 15km into Foix, much of it descending. Once again, he was close, but still no cigar.
Coming into this season, 23-year-old Jorgenson admitted that he still doesn’t know what kind of racer he’s shaping up to be. Finishing 20th on his Tour debut might suggest Grand Tour potential. Yet, he acknowledged that he’s comparatively limited in the high mountains, and that top 20 was forged around his ability to sniff out a break and hold his own once in them. He looks more of a stage-winner than a GC contender, and I get the impression that his aggressiveness on the bike is encouraging him in this direction. It should also be said that, much to Movistar’s credit, his Spanish team is allowing him to explore his racing range, encouraged no doubt by a realisation that they have a real talent in their ranks.
That quality finally became much more widely apparent earlier this week when the Californian won his opening race of the season, the Tour of Oman. That victory was built around two exceptional climbing performances. The first earned him victory at that event’s most noted ascent, Jabal Hatt, where he edged out Mauri Vansevenant. The second came on the final day, where he was beaten by the Belgian at Jabal Al Akhdhar, but was close enough to the Soudal-QuickStep rider to win the leader’s jersey by a single second.
Red-headed, with a pale complexion and standing 1.90m, Jorgenson has the look of a Viking to go with his name, and it’s beginning to seem that his qualities will lead him down the same path as Scandinavian raiders such as Magnus Cort, Kasper Asgreen and Søren Kragh Andersen. Although he lacks the finishing speed of this trio, his strength on short and mid-length climbs are an immense asset, as is that very useful knack of infiltrating winning breakaways.
Next up for him is Opening Weekend, which he’s not ridden since his debut season of 2020. Back then, he spent half of Het Nieuwsblad in the initial break but didn’t finish. In a week’s time, I suspect he’ll be far more prominent towards the back end of the race, one that’s never had an American winner, Tyler Farrar’s third place in 2010, the USA’s only podium finish in the big event that opens the Classics season. Beware the pale rider…