Piccoli taking long view on WorldTour debut

The young Canadian packs ambitions—with Giro start likely in the cards—as he joins Israel Start-Up Nation for 2020.

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

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James Piccoli isn’t intimidated by what he’s seen so far in his 2020 jump to the WorldTour ranks. The Canadian certainly has respect.

The 28-year-old joins Israel Start-Up Nation after his breakout season last year on the North American circuit. He’s hoping to have a chance to show off his legs before the season is out, but he also knows he’s got to fight for his place in the WorldTour peloton.

“Everything is new for me,” Piccoli told VeloNews during his season debut in Australia. “The learning process has been a steep learning curve, but this is a perfect introduction for bigger races to come later in the spring.”

The Canadian all-rounder got his first taste of WorldTour-level racing during a month-long swing through Australia. He raced the Santos Tour Down Under and the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, both WorldTour races, as well as the Jayco Herald Sun Tour. He finished 25th at the Tour Down Under, and popped for eighth in the decisive climbing stage at Mount Buller at the Sun Tour. Both results are quiet confirmations of bigger things to come.

“If this week it’s done anything for me, if I can get my skills down, if I can get more comfortable in the bunch, I think the legs will be there,” Piccoli said after racing the Tour Down Under. “I won’t have to worry about my fitness. It’s just more getting used to the racing and moving in the peloton.”

Piccoli knows that racing at the WorldTour level is something else compared to the North American circuit, where his strong results over the past two seasons opened the door to step up with the Israel team.

“Everything is a notch or two higher,” he said of the WorldTour. “Everyone is stronger, there’s more fighting, the field is bigger, and everyone is prepared and professional. Finding those little gains are tougher, because you cannot just make up it with your strength, because everyone is strong here. That positioning part of cycling is what I need to learn. Once I figure that out, I think things will go a lot smoother.”

Piccoli has found some helping hands among the veterans on Israel Start-Up Nation, with the likes of André Greipel, Alex Dowsett and Ben Hermans helping to guide him in his opening races.

“The first one has to come before the second one,” he said of hitting results. “You need to get comfortable, to learn the nuances, to know how and when to be there in the key moments. I think a result will be possible when I figure that part out.”

Up next are likely starts at the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya and the Itzulia Basque Country, two races that see the peloton’s top riders fighting for the spoils.

“For a couple of days, I was still in awe. Oh look, André Greipel is pulling me through the peloton,” Piccoli said. “But everyone here has two legs and two lungs, just like I do. At the end of the day, we’re all just guys racing our bikes, trying to be first across the finish line.”

Piccoli is part of the new-look Israel Start-up Nation team that graduates to the WorldTour in 2020 after taking over the racing license of Katusha-Alpecin. He’s among three Canadians on the team, thanks in part to team owner’s Sylvan Adams strong links to Canada.

Piccoli got on everyone’s radar during the past two seasons on the North American circuit, where he won the Tour de Beauce in 2018, and won a stage and finished second at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah last summer. He also won the Tour de Gila and finished second at Joe Martin Stage Race and the Tour of Taiwan racing with Elevate-KHS.

Israel’s performance director was keeping an eye on Piccoli, and helped him find a spot on the WorldTour roster for 2020. Management was so impressed that they had already signed him on even before his big ride in last year’s Tour of Utah.

“I got very lucky to find this team, and finding the best possible environment for me,” Piccoli said. “I truly believe this is the best possible team for me right now.

“It’s been a learning experience, in terms of racing dynamics, for position, for key points of the race,” he continued. “The team has been very helpful. I’ve been learning from Greipel and Dowsett, on how to move around, and teaching me the ways of the European peloton.”

After his upcoming Spanish racing block, a Giro d’Italia start could be in the cards. With new captain Dan Martin and the recently injured Hermans expected to race in the team’s first Tour de France, Israel Start-Up Nation will likely bring a mixed squad of stage-hunters and sprinters to the season’s first grand tour.

That should open the door for Piccoli to race in the season’s first grand tour.

“I am really looking forward to that, to see how my body handles three weeks of racing, and how I can come through it,” he said of a possible Giro start.

“Racing at the WorldTour level was an unknown for me, in terms of how my legs stack up,” he said “Right now, I’m just learning, sharpening up my skills, and one day be a team rider. I have some bigger goals later in the season.”

Patience pays off in bike racing, and Piccoli is hoping time is on his side.

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