By James Piccoli, Professional rider with Israel Start-Up Nation and 2018 Tour de Beauce overall race winner
My win at the 2018 Tour de Beauce was the real start of my professional cycling career. It was the first time I actually believed that I had what it took to win at the professional level and it changed the course of my career. It changed my training, my racing and my mindset. But I’m going to tell the real story of how I won that race and the real story starts three months earlier in California.
It was in San Dimas, California, the season-opening race for the North American road racing circuit. I was racing with my professional team, Elevate-KHS. The San Dimas Stage Race started with an uphill time trial, which my Canadian teammate Jordan Cheyne won. We headed into the next day with the yellow jersey on Jordan’s back and we were going to try and defend it for the rest of the race.
Unfortunately, I woke up with a cold the next morning and I was unsure if I would be able to race. The truth was that I was very scared to make my cold worse by putting my body under the stress of racing and I was worried that it might derail the entire spring of racing. I knew I had a job to do for Jordan and my teammates but I was worried about the races to come. So, I got to the race that morning and approached my team director with my concern.
I’m paraphrasing here, but his response went along the lines of: “Jordan and the team really need you today. I’m not going to tell you what to do…you need to decide. But we need you.”
I thought about it and still a little bit nervous about how my body would react, I decided to show up and help anyway. What proceeded was my hardest day on a bike, ever. We defended the yellow jersey, but I remember being so exhausted by the end of the day that after the race I collapsed into a foldable chair and cried.
Jordan saw me in the corner of the parking lot and came over and thanked me. I don’t remember exactly what he said on the count of my state but it was something along the lines of, “I really appreciate what you did for me today and I can’t tell you how much it means to me. Thank you.”
Fast forward three months to Saint-Georges, Quebec, and the last stage of the 2018 Tour de Beauce. Jordan and I are both racing for Team Canada and after a tumultuous week we found ourselves in the breakaway on the final stage. There’s a real chance of a great result for both of us on the day, but there is also the slim chance of overall victory for me as I get closer to virtual yellow on the road.
I don’t even remember saying anything to Jordan in that breakaway that day, but I felt it. Jordan was going to sacrifice everything for me and the slim shot I had at overall victory. There wasn’t even a question that he would give everything he had to give me the chance to win. Jordan and I started to ride the front and the time gap grew…the long shot I had at winning the race overall now seemed within reach. The plan was going perfectly until Jordan crashed on a tricky corner on a descent. I soldiered on hoping he was okay but what I didn’t know is that he was still fighting behind with everything he had to make it back to us and to give me one final pull at the front. Almost an hour later he made it back to us, pulling for maybe a minute.
Seeing how hard he was willing to fight for me made it even sweeter when I crossed the finish line soon afterwards and found out that I had won the race overall. It’s still one of my nicest memories of racing, and the post-race hug with all of Team Canada was something more than teammates winning a bike race, it was friends giving everything for each other.
And little did Jordan know that day, but helping me out in that breakaway was the first step in the rest of my cycling career.