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Photo: Rebecca Reza

James Piccoli seizes his WorldTour opportunity with Israel Start-Up Nation

James Piccoli was the breakout rider of the 2019 U.S. racing calendar. Now, Piccoli will make his WorldTour debut at age 28 with his eyes on the Giro d'Italia.

For years, Canadian rider James Piccoli dreamed of racing in the WorldTour and testing himself against the top riders of the sport.

Piccoli will realize that dream in 2020 as a new member of the Israel Start-Up Nation squad. And, whether Piccoli is ready or not, he will dive headfirst into one of the sport’s most grueling races.

Piccoli’s racing schedule is aimed at the 2020 Giro d’Italia, where he will make his grand tour debut at age 28.

“I’m ready to seize this opportunity, I love this. I never want to be complaining or just going through the motions of being a bike rider,” Piccoli told VeloNews. “Whether I’m actually fast enough I won’t be able to tell you, but I can promise that I’m going to work really hard and enjoy every moment of it.”

Piccoli spoke to VeloNews during the team’s recent training camp in Israel, where riders and staff met to pedal long miles in the Negev desert, meet with local officials, and get to know each other. At the camp the riders also got a glimpse of their respective racing schedules for 2020.

Piccoli is slated to play a role of super-domestic to the experienced duo of Dan Martin and Ben Hermans, as he learns to navigate the European peloton. During the camp he met with the team’s Canadian performance manager Paolo Saldana to discuss his role on the squad.

Piccoli is slated to start the Giro d’Italia. Photo: Rebecca Reza

“Paolo let me into the philosophy of the team and their vision into how I would integrate,” Piccoli said. “The team knows where I can help them but also believes in my personal capabilities. It’s a unique opportunity to learn from some of the best riders in the world.”

Piccoli was signed by the squad after a breakout season in the domestic U.S. racing scene. A relative late bloomer in pro cycling—he turned pro in his mid 20’s—Piccoli said his position on the squad is unique: he’s in his physical prime, yet he is making his debut in the sport’s top echelon.

The belief in his strengths by both Israel and his previous team, Elevate KHS, is what drives him to hopefully one day leading a GC position for the team.

Piccoli said his rapid progression has sprung from his unique psychology, and not amazing natural talent.

“No one just gets on a bike and is really fast,” Piccoli said. “The only thing I do is that I don’t give up on myself, and I think that’s the one thread that ties everyone of the riders that make it to this level, because everyone has to deal with so much diversity.”

Piccoli nearly ended his career in 2017, before an invite to race the Tour of Utah and eventual contract with Elevate-KHS convinced him to keep racing. After scoring impressive results that season, Elevate-KHS management granted him the necessary boost he needed to continue.

Piccoli’s determination paid off in 2019 with the overall win at the Tour of Gila in May, his biggest result to date. He carried his top form into the Tour of Utah, winning the opening stage time trial in Snowbird, fighting for the GC and ending up second overall behind Hermans.

“The most beautiful moment of the season for me was thanking everyone at Elevate-KHS and telling them I had made it,” Piccoli said. “It meant so much to them to see me do well and all the work and support they gave me.”

Speaking with sport directors at the training camp, Israel Start-Up Nation directors are confident in Piccoli’s strengths and ability to learn the nuances of European racing. Despite his comfort of racing in North America, where roads are wide and tactics are based on fitness, directors believe Piccoli will blossom into a top rider in the European bunch.

“It’s a big jump but he is a strong rider so it’s the right move,” said director Nicki Sørensen. “It’s important that he’s not 23, because he’s older he has that maturity that I think will be the key. It’s part of the talent to be able to race in Europe.”

Israel Start-Up Nation’s jump to the WorldTour will see them competing in the Tour de France for the first time in 2020. Piccoli is scheduled to begin racing in Australia, for a month-long block including the Herald Sun Tour and Tour Down Under before the Tour of Rwanda, Catalunya, and the Tour of the Basque Country before starting the Giro d’Italia in May.

“Even now as those words come out of my mouth, I can’t believe it,” Piccoli said about his Giro start. “I just want to race my bike for three weeks to see how my body handles it. This has always been my dream as a cycling fan at heart; to know this year its coming is a surreal feeling.”