The 2017 edition of the Tour of the Gila will be remembered by the team as the first time the boys went toe to toe with some of the top teams in a UCI (United Cycliste International) level event. The 5 day contest began with the 89.1 mile Mogollon Road Race on April 19th, which ended in a sprint finish for the first time ever in the event’s 31 years. Replacing the usual 5 kilometer steeply graded road to the finish line was a 2 kilometer almost completely flat run in. With only one short intense climb in the final few kilometers the race would indeed finish in a group sprint with Pacific Premier’s general classification contender James Piccoli intact in the bunch.
Day 2 would prove to be more eventful, with 2 of the team’s riders missing the time cut after a grueling 76.2 mile loop which finished at historic Fort Bayard just outside of Silver City NM. Piccoli would retain his high placing in the overall but would have to continue with just three remaining team members to aide him in the remaining stages.
The 3rd and 4th stages, a 16.5 mile time trial and 90 minute downtown criterium, would do little to alter placings for the team, and as expected the race would indeed come down to the final day of racing. Known as the Gila Monster to all familiar with the race, the final course would take the riders on a journey of over 100 miles which included five categorized climbs and over 11,000 feet of vertical gain.
Piccoli arrived ready for battle, and remained attentive at the front of the bunch looking for an opportunity to arise. His chance came in the form of an 18 rider break that formed with approximately 100 kilometers remaining in the race. The group gained just over 2 minutes on the field before reaching the first of four mountain climbs, at which point Piccoli attacked along with Efren Santos Morena from the Mexican Canel’s team. Pushing their lead to 3 minutes over the top of the climb, Piccoli was now the virtual race leader on the road, but still had 60 kilometers to go to claim the victory. On the following category 1 climb, the hardest of the day, disaster struck when Piccoli rolled over a rock which punctured his rear tire putting an end to his chances on the day.
In the final classification the team had placed 21st, just 5 seconds out of the top 20 and was left wondering what might have been.
Unfortunately the day’s notable events did not end with the flat tire. Veteran rider Ian Holt also found bad luck when he departed from the road, and grazed a tree while attempting to navigate a hair-pin turn at high speed on the decent. The impact was enough to destroy his bike and warrant a hospital visit and some stitches forcing him out of the race.