Former IAM Cycling rider Simon Pellaud has signed with Team Illuminate for the 2017 season. The 24-year-old Swiss rider will join Colombian champion Edwin Avila on the US Continental team after riding at WorldTour level for the past two seasons.
The 2013 Swiss U23 road champion has finished the Vuelta a Espana twice, in 2015 and 2016, earning the jersey for most aggressive rider on stage 3 this year. Pellaud also drew the spotlight in the US this year at the Tour of Utah, where he was a regular feature in the breakaways during the seven-day 2.HC race.
Pellaud and 2016 US elite amateur time trial champion Cameron Piper are the latest riders the team has announced for the 2017 roster. Along with Avila, Griffin Easter, Connor McCutcheon and Cullen Easter will also return for 2017.
This year proved to be another buyers' market in cycling, with both IAM Cycling and Tinkoff shutting their doors following the season, but Pellaud's team's demise provided him with a chance to fulfil a goal he had already delayed once.
"This year it was really, really hard to find something as exciting as Illuminate, and I'm really happy about getting my signature down there, because for me I've always said that my dream would be to ride once in America and ride the American tours," Pellaud told Cyclingnews on Tuesday. "I was already looking for a team in America before I signed with IAM Cycling, but I had this chance to sign with IAM so I extended that until a little bit later, but here I am."
Before Pellaud could get his spot on the US team, however, he had to convince Team Illuminate principle Chris Johnson that he was ready to step down from the sport's top division to a much smaller Continental team.
"I mean I'm coming from a WorldTour team, and he wasn't sure about my motivation to come down to a Conti team in the US," Pellaud said. "But after a while he understood that I have great motivation to come there."
The new Swiss recruit's attacking style will provide significant firepower to the team's arsenal, providing a suitable foil for Avila's fast finish. Pellaud will get an early start at bonding with his new teammate when he travels to Colombia next month for an extended training block as he and Avila prepare for the upcoming season.
"So I have some good things coming in the next few months," Pellaud said. "The cycling in Colombia is getting better and better, and I'm really looking forward to discovering it. It will also be training at altitude to get ready for the season, and to get to know Edwin as well so we can be good teammates together. The weather is getting colder and colder in Europe, so that's a nice point for me. I'm really looking forward to that."
Pellaud said he expects next year's race program to be a mix of races in the US, Europe and Asia. In 2016 Team Illuminate's calendar included the Tour de Taiwan, Tour d'Azerbaïdjan, Tour of Iran and Tour of Qinghai Lake, along with select US races. The opportunity to discover the US calendar was a big draw for Pellaud, as was the opportunity to return to Europe several times next year to visit family and friends.
And although the team hasn't received invitations to the big US 2.HC and 2.1 races since Chris Horner led the old Airgas-Safeway iteration at the 2015 Tour of Utah, Pellaud is hoping to be on the start line for races of that caliber next year, including the new events in Colorado and Virginia.
Johnson echoed his new rider's enthusiasm, saying those races will be the team's top targets.
"We will likely start our season overseas, although I can't confirm our calendar at this time," Johnson told Cyclingnews. "The Tour of Taiwan was a great way to start this year. I'm not sure what will be our first event in 2017, but we want to have a solid calendar of UCI events that will help us build into the summer months. The UCI races in Utah, Colorado and Virginia next summer are on the top of our minds. We really want to earn invitations to these events and perform well there. That is a main priority."
The potential to race US tours aside, one of the biggest draws for Pellaud's move to Team Illuminate was his desire to shake things up and try something new. He could have stayed in Europe with a smaller team, he said, but the opportunity for a new adventure easily won the day.
"The market was so hard to find something here in Europe. I had the possibility of staying with a Continental team in Europe, but when I had the opportunity to ride for Chris I didn't even think about staying and riding in a small Continental team here," he said.
"I'm getting out of my comfort zone. I'm living in an apartment - a small house here. I'm leaving that house. I have a car here. I just sold that car," he said. "I will not live in the US, but I've left everything I have here in Europe to try something new. There are not so many European riders on American teams, and now I will become one of them. Maybe that is also a way to get out of a routine here in Europe and make things a little bit different."
The team's all-black kit, which lacks any corporate logos, is also a unique draw for Pellaud.
"The idea of the Illuminate project and riding the black kit and all that is really nice," he said. "I'm a big fan of Johnny Cash, so riding as a man in black will be nice as well."