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Piccoli on Zwift win: ‘My heart was about to jump out of my chest’

Canadian rider James Piccoli won Wednesday's Zwift Tour for All stage with a searing attack in the final 500 meters.

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It was just another painful day at the home office for James Piccoli.

Piccoli, one of the new additions to the Israel Start-Up Nation WorldTour team, won Wednesday’s Zwift Tour for All stage 3 with a massive attack inside 500 meters to go. Picolli attacked from the favorites after using a featherweight power up and then churned out 9.5 watts-per-kilo for nearly a minute to take the win atop the summit finish on Zwift’s Watopia circuit.

And he did so from his house in Montreal.

“It felt just like a road racer for me — it’s as hard as you can go for one minute,” Piccoli told VeloNews. “Your arms and legs are burning, and my heart was about to jump out of my chest. It’s the normal feeling you get at the end of a race, you’re just going zero kilometers per hour.”

It’s Piccoli’s first pro/am victory on Zwift, and it marks his first win — virtual or otherwise — against a peloton of WorldTour riders. Piccoli was the revelation of the 2019 domestic North American scene, winning the Tour of the Gila and finishing second at the Tour of Utah. Those results helped him jump to Israel Start-Up Nation for 2020.

He made his WorldTour debut earlier this year at the Tour Down Under, and was slated to start the Giro d’Italia before the coronavirus shutdown delayed the race. The Canadian said his Zwift win, while an accomplishment, carried several caveats in his eyes.

“I do have a couple of unfair advantages — I am at sea level so I have more oxygen than the guy up in Andorra, and I do have some experience with Zwift racing,” Piccoli said. “A few guys on our team have helped me learn the game, so I also have that advantage.

“The weaknesses I have in real life racing are all of the nuances and the pack dynamics and the positioning, so when you take that away, I should be really good at Zwift racing, which was the case,” Piccoli said. “I’m looking forward to getting back on the road.”

Picolli’s win came at the end of a dynamic 72.9-kilometer race, which awarded team points to riders at various KOM and sprint points along the course. Team NTT Pro Cycling collected 71 points — the most points throughout the race — to maintain its position atop the Tour for All points leaderboard with 214 points, ahead of Apecin-Fenix (167) and Israel Start-Up Nation (163).

With approximately 20 kilometers remaining it was Pello Bilbao (Bahrain-McLaren) who attacked from the bunch and gained a sizable gap on the field. Breakaways are uncommon in Zwift racing, yet the WorldTour peloton seemed content to let Bilbao go.

“People eased up once he went because they figured we would catch him on the climb, and then he pulled out a big gap,” Piccoli said. “Zwift is funny — sometimes you don’t know if you’re going to bring them back because you have no idea how hard a guy is working.”

Bilbao held his gap for the majority of the push to the summit finish and appeared to have the victory in his sights. But the front group quickly ate into his advantage in the final five kilometers, and caught Bilbao with just two kilometers remaining.

The front group contained strong climbers including Domenico Pozzovivo (NTT Pro Cycling), Hermann Pernsteiner (Bahrain-McLaren), and Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), among others. Pozzovivo was first to attack, using the Breakaway Burrito power up, which prevents riders from drafting.

Piccoli was next to go, surging away from group and holding his advantage ahead of Rudy Molard (Groupama-FDJ) and Valentin Madouas (Groupama-FDJ) at the line.

The win came just a few days after Piccoli completed an ultra-endurance cycling challenge to raise money for Canadian healthcare workers. Over the weekend he rode 320 kilometers and climbed 13,000 meters by completing laps of Camilien Houde avenue up Mount Royal. Piccoli raised $16,000 in donations.

Piccoli said his body only recently began to feel better after the monumental effort.

“On Tuesday I had to do a workout for PowerWatts and I was wrecked,” Piccoli said. “I could barely do 400 watts and I was like ‘I hope I can pull this together for tomorrow.’ It turns out that’s what I needed to blow the cobwebs out. I think I’m back to normal.”

Zwift Tour for All Stage 3

  1. James Piccoli, Israel-Start Up Nation, 1:41:56
  2. Rudy Molard, Groupama-FDJ, at 0:03
  3. Valentin Madouas, Groupama-FDJ, at 0:06
  4. Lucas Hamilton, Mitchelton-Scott, at 0:07
  5. Louis Vervaeke, Alpecin-Fenix, at 0:09

Team Points

  1. NTT Pro Cycling, 71 points
  2. Groupama-FDJ, 69
  3. Israel Start-Up Nation, 48
  4. Mitchelton-Scott, 42
  5. Alpecin-Fenix, 32