James Piccoli’s run in yellow at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah came to a quick end on Tuesday during stage 1 after the Elevate-KHS rider punctured inside the final 10km and burned up his teammates to get back to the bunch, leaving him isolated when Lawson Craddock (EF Education First) attacked successfully with a small group and took the overall lead via his time gap and a bonus for finishing second.
The bad news for Piccoli was furthered when the UCI officials decided to fine Piccoli for "sheltering behind or taking advantage of the slipstream of a vehicle" and give him a 20-second time penalty.
Craddock now leads Piccoli by 26 seconds in the general classification heading into Wednesday’s summit finish on stage 2 at the top of Powder Mountain. Piccoli is now 13th overall.
"I got a flat tyre at the bottom corner with one lap to go," Piccoli told Cyclingnews in the finishing straight. "I made it back on the climb, but I didn’t have much to cover attacks over the top. It’s a shame that the situation was taken advantage of, but I guess that’s bike racing. It’s part of the deal."
Piccoli didn’t appear upset as he spoke, but seemed more determined to strike back on Wednesday.
For his part, Craddock said he was aware of the Piccoli’s predicament, but at that point in the race everything was full gas and there was no turning back.
"Honestly, I was kind of in the box and it was all a big blur, so it’s hard to pinpoint when, but [the EF Education First director] did mention that Piccoli was chasing back on," the new race leader said in the post-stage press conference.
"It’s really unfortunate that maybe something like that will play a factor in the race, but when you’re racing with 7-8km to go, you have to race your bike," Craddock said. "It’s very unfortunate for him because he showed yesterday that he has the best 6-7 minutes in the peloton, and he could have animated the stage for sure. It’s disappointing, but we’ve all been on the receiving end of that kind of mishap."
Elevate-KHS manager Paul Abrams had a considerably sunnier outlook on the stage than that of his rider.
“We got a little unlucky in the last 10km with a mechanical, but the guys did awesome,” Abrams told Cyclingnews. “The guys came back and paced [Piccoli] back. Ulises Castillo waited for him in the end there and brought him back. We burned up every guy, but the big day is tomorrow, and we’ve preserved where James is in the pack. All in all it was a really good day, and it shows what good, committed teamwork looks like."
Abrams also didn't have a problem with Craddock’s attack.
"I think Craddock went after James was already back in the field," Abrams said. "It was a good attack. We were just a little unlucky that we had to burn up everybody. I think it would have been different if that didn’t happen, but I think it was all fair play."
The point could be moot, however, by the end of Wednesday’s stage to the top of Powder Mountain, where the gaps are expected to be measured in minutes rather than seconds.