James Piccoli probably did not make many lists of riders who could potentially put in a podium performance in the Tour of Utah's first summit finish. The 25-year-old Canadian was only recently called up by US Continental team Elevate-KHS.
But there he was on the podium at Snowbasin Resort after having finished third behind BMC Racing's Brent Bookwalter and Rally Cycling's Sepp Kuss. Piccoli's team rode the front on the lead-up to the climb, putting the rider in position with his bigger-named rivals on the final 12km ascent.
Not intimidated, Piccoli actually went on the attack in the final kilometre, countering a move by Rally's Adam de Vos and opening a small gap before Bookwalter and Kuss passed him.
"I was hoping for 50 more metres, but I just got passed at the line," Piccoli said. "Brent rode super well to bring me back in the last part of the race. My team set me up as best they could. I think we surprised a lot of guys in the peloton, going to the front. So the team support was huge for me today and certainly helped a lot."
The support Piccoli gets from his new team goes beyond riding for him in races and moving him to the front at the bottom of climbs. Mechanicals derailed his chances in two races this year, and Elevate director Paul Abrahams said he wanted to find out what Piccoli was capable of in a professional team.
"Every year we look for young and exciting talent, and we saw him at Redlands," Abrahams said. "He finished really strong on Oak Glen, and actually at Tour of the Gila this year he was in a breakaway on the last day and was in the yellow jersey on the road, and then he had a mechanical issue and it knocked him out of the race.
"Then at Redlands he did really well and he had a mechanical issue and it knocked him out of the race," Abrahams said. "So we saw that he had the physical talent, and wanted to invite him in and put him in our structure and our system, and really have a team that could back him and put him on the front at the bottom of the climb, which you saw our team do today."
Piccoli got the call up for Utah last month and spent the time training at altitude with the team. He paid off the team's faith and investment with a best-ever result for himself and for the team, just 50 metres shy of victory after a daring attack against riders with considerably more cycling pedigree.
"The field sort of came to a little lull, and guys started looking at each," Piccoli said of his attack. "I was feeling OK, and I knew the last 500 metres were pretty steep, so I decided to go with whatever I had left. I did OK. I would have liked 50 more metres."
Piccoli is now third overall in the race, tied on time with leader Kuss and runner-up Bookwalter. Behind the lead trio is a large group of riders at two seconds back. Wednesday's stage 3 time trial might just be up Piccoli's alley as well, as the 9km uphill test finishes at nearly 3,000 metres
"It's just an all-out effort," said Piccoli, who has ridden the climb numerous times while training with his team in Park City over the past month.
"There's no really hiding," he said. "It's just whoever has the legs tomorrow. It's really high up, so you have to think about pacing, because it's going to end at like 2,800 metres or something. It's super, super high. It's the highest stage of the Tour this year, so it's important to be acclimated and used to the altitude. I think we'll be OK tomorrow."
Following the time trial, stages 4 and 5 look like they could be days for the sprinters or the opportunists, but the general classification battle will pick up again in earnest during Saturday's stage 6 Queen stage that finishes at Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort.
The Queen stage has been shortened dramatically this year to just 98km, but it has two major climbs up American Fork Canyon 33km into the day and then the final 10.6km climb to Snowbird.
"The Queen stage is going to be interesting because it's essentially just two big climbs," Piccoli said. "It's a really short day, but it's going to be ultra intense. I think tomorrow's time trial is going to be super important for GC, so with those two I think GC will get sorted and the rest, we'll see.
"We'll see what the guys have left and what everyone has left," Piccoli said when asked if he believed he could hold his podium spot through the final stage. "This is a really tough stage race, so you know it's going to start to be about who is the least tired at the end. These stages are going to wear on everyone."
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