27-year-old Canadian Elevate-KHS rider is fastest on challenging 3.3-mile circuit at Snowbird Resort
James Piccoli snagged the first leader’s jersey at the 2019 Tour of Utah, topping a field of 113 riders at the seven-day race’s opening prologue at Snowbird Resort Monday. Piccoli (Elevate-KHS) stopped the clock in 8:37.59 at the end of the 3.3-mile test, with Lawson Craddock (EF Education First) 5.55 back in second, and Serghei Tvetcov (Worthy) third, a full 6 seconds behind.
“It was quite complicated with the altitude at Snowbird and the corners and the tricky up and down pacing strategy,” explained Piccoli of a circuit that never dipped below 8,000 feet. “I pre-rode it a couple of times, and every time got closer to what we wanted to do. Today, it ended up working out.
“I was just riding really hard. You don’t really have too much time to think if you’re having a good ride or not in such a short prologue. If it’s longer then you can use splits to pace yourself but today was really short and intense. I didn’t have a radio so I just wanted to survive and execute our strategy today and we did.”
Starting in one-minute increments, riders faced a string-and-balloon circuit with 656 feet of climbing that was essentially all up or down, with only minimal flat terrain. This resulted in nearly all the day’s starters choosing road bikes over traditional time trial machines, which also made team logistics easier, as they needed to bring less equipment.
The short route required equal parts climbing ability and descending prowess, as riders cranked out huge wattage numbers, and then dropped into super tucks, hitting speeds in excess of 50mph before having to negotiate a tight high speed turn on the run into the finish.
Kyle Murphy (Rally-UHC Cycling) was the first rider to go under the 9-minute mark, coming home in 8:49. That was enough to hold off the first of the race’s big names to start, as EF’s Joe Dombrowski was three seconds back in 8:52. Eventually Murphy settled for a solid fifth on the day, one spot back of fourth place finisher Joao Almeida (Hagens Berman Axeon), at 6.27.
A relative late-starter, Piccoli has in recent years blossomed into one of the top stage racers in the North American domestic racing scene. This year Piccoli has amassed a list of eye-popping results, including an overall victory at the Tour of the Gila, and second-place finishes at the Tour de Beauce and Joe Martin Stage Race. Now Piccoli heads into the Tour of Utah with high aspirations.
“I want to win the Tour of Utah,” Piccoli told VeloNews ahead of the race. “If I could have everything go [right], it would be to race in the WorldTour and race the Tour de France. I think I was built for it.”
All told, the 15th running of the 2.HC UCI-rated Tour of Utah will cover 477 miles with 37,882 feet of total elevation gain. The field consists of 17 teams made up of six to seven riders representing 24 countries. However, a few squads, including EF Education First, are racing shorthanded. The U.S.-based WorldTour squad lost pre-race favorite Daniel Martinez on the eve of the race due to illness. Martinez, fresh off his gold medal time trial performance at the Pan American Games in Lima, Peru, arrived in Salt Lake City fighting illness but was hoping the two off days would allow him time to recover. He was initially on the start list but later removed.
Two other EF riders, Lachlan Morton and Alex Howes, tuned up for Utah by taking a crack at last weekend’s Leadville Trail 100 MTB race, where they finished third and fifth respectively. Trek-Segafredo’s Peter Stetina also raced fat tires in Colorado, ending up fourth in a race that took top riders around 6.5 hours.
On Monday, Stetina was 15th at 0:21, Morton was 16th at 0:22, and Howes was 18th at 0:23, rounding out the would-be mountain biker results.
Last year’s Utah race winner Sepp Kuss did not return to Utah to defend his title, meaning that Belgian Ben Hermans (Israeli Cycling Academy) was the top returning finiser from a year ago. The 2018 GC runner-up ended day 1 of 2019 in 11th place, 0:18 behind Piccoli.
Next up at the Tour of Utah is stage 1’s 86.9-mile trek around North Logan City, which is located in northern Utah’s Cache Valley. The course traverses the western slopes of the Bear River Mountains and has 4,310 feet of total elevation gain. The peloton will make two circuits around Little Mountain, passing less than 10 miles south of the Idaho state line. Each circuit will include the first two King of the Mountain points opportunities.
After the final pass through Newton, the race will follow Sam Fellow Road to Airport Road and re-enter North Logan City for five finishing laps. Rolling in a clockwise direction, the bunch will pass the finish line area at Meadow View Park on each lap, which is 7.2 miles in length. The first of the five laps will feature the final Sprint and KOM points of the stage. Each trip around the circuit should take 15-18 minutes to complete, with the stage slated to end around 3:45 p.m. local time.
But it’s stage 2 that has Piccoli the most nervous.
“I think judging by the stages to come and some of the climbs that are planned for the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah, I don’t think seven seconds is going to be the difference between winning and losing,” he said Monday. “I think it’s going to be minutes up Powder Mountain [at the end of stage 2]. But [today’s result is] a really great confidence boost to blow out the legs and show that we have form… Being able to wear the jersey is pretty special. We will cherish it as long as we can and fight on.”