One of North America's top domestic riders this season is hoping a solid result at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah, which starts today with a prologue time trial at Snowbird Resort, will boost his value as he seeks to move up the cycling ladder.
James Piccoli, a 27-year-old Canadian who rides for US Continental team Elevate-KHS, is looking to the Tour of Utah to cap off a "dream season" that he hopes will propel him into cycling's upper echelon.
Piccoli, in his third year with the team, started his season with a stage win at the Tour de Taiwan and second overall. He followed that result with second overall at the Joe Martin Stage Race, then won the opening stage at the Tour of the Gila and led the race from wire to wire. He nailed a top-10 finish at the Winston Salem Classic and then won the infamous Mont Megantic stage at Tour de Beauce, where he also finished second overall.
"It's been essentially a dream season," Piccoli told Cyclingnews Sunday in Utah. "I couldn't ask for more."
Piccoli made his first appearance at the Tour of Utah in 2017, finishing third on the stage to Snowbasin after a late solo move was tracked down at the line by Sepp Kuss and Brent Bookwalter.
He had only signed for Elevate-KHS several weeks prior to the race after spending three admittedly "rough" seasons with Amore & Vita, H&R Block and then surfing from team to team as a guest rider.
"I actually tell Paul [Abrams, the Elevate-KHS team manager] that he sort of saved my cycling career, because I was getting pretty close to saying, 'I gave it a shot and it's not going to happen,'" Piccoli said.
"And then he called me and said they were going to the Tour of Utah. I joke with him now, because I had heard of the race but I had never heard of Elevate before. So I asked him if he was sure Elevate was doing the Tour of Utah. That's a big race. He said, 'Yeah, yeah. I promise. We're doing Tour of Utah and Colorado, and it's going to be great.'"
It turned out to be really "great" for Piccoli, whose top-10 result at the race convinced him that he indeed had a future in the sport after all. Piccoli finished ninth overall at the Tour of Alberta in 2017 and then set up for his 2018 campaign, in which he finished sixth at Gila and won the Tour de Beauce. His luck in Utah last year, however, ran dry when he got sick after the opening prologue and had to abandon before the stage 1 start.
"It was a better call to wait for Colorado and get better," he said of quitting the race. "There was really bad air quality last year from the forest fires, so I got a really bad mix of some sort of asthma attack and fever."
It was a disappointing end, but Piccoli and his team came into this season with some very lofty goals.
"It's been pretty crazy," he said of his season so far.. "When I first joined the team, Paul laid out this whole plan. He was like, 'This is what we believe you can do, and this is what we're going to help you go and do.' I was like, 'Wow. This guy thinks I can win Gila, he thinks I can win Utah.' I said, 'OK, I'll put in whatever work needs to be done. I'll ride hard and listen to what you have to say. If you think this is where we're going, then let's see.'"
What they saw was Piccoli proving himself to be one of the top riders on the North American domestic circuit. Now he's hoping to take his game to the next level, and a quality performance can help.
"I have been talking with other teams," he said. "I'm lucky that Paul has been helping me out with that. He really wants me to race at the highest level in the sport, even if that means it's not with this team now. He wants me to go.
"Sometimes you can't afford to wait," Piccoli said. "You have to strike while the iron is hot. Elevate may grow in a couple of years, but Paul said I needed to go now. He's been helping me and calling team directors.
"I have a couple interesting offers. I'm hoping a good race in Utah will show even more of my value and perhaps make even more teams interested. But I'm in a really good spot. I've been lucky all season and haven't had any real problems. We've had fun and everything has gone well."