The popular Canadian has returned to the Kia Motors-Ascot Park Hotel team ready to take on a quality field which includes Commonwealth Games gold medal-winning mountain biker Sam Gaze, world championship time trialler and team-mate Hamish Bond and former New Zealand track star Dylan Kennett.
“I'm about a year older, smarter and wiser. I’ve been training hard, I feel good and I’m ready for this year’s race,” the 27-year-old said.
“I noticed that Michael Torckler, who I had a good battle with last year on Coronet, isn’t taking part, which is a shame. There’s some good talent in the field so we’ll be looking at certain guys as GC threats and looking to keep everything under control.”
Daily highlights of the SBS Bank Tour of Southland will be available here at Cycling Central.
In all, 108 riders from six countries will contest New Zealand’s longest-running and most prestigious stage race, which starts with the team time trial prologue around Queens Park on Sunday and finishes back in Invercargill’s Gala St the following Saturday.
Piccoli has arrived in Southland in good spirits after a solid year of campaigning.
“I’m lucky enough that this is my fulltime job, so I’ve had another year of living the dream. I’ve had some great experiences, some good results and got to know some cool people,” he said.
“After Southland last year I went home, took a bit of a break and started racing in March. I had some good results personally over the summer, including the Tour de Beauce, which I won. That was the first professional race I ever took part in so it was pretty cool to win that.”
With four riders returning to the team from last year’s victorious squad, and two other riders with previous experience of Southland conditions, Piccoli is not concerned about a forecast which looks somewhat different to last year.
“This year it’s looking like we are going to get true Southland weather. Last year we had beautiful sun and warm temperatures,” he said.
“The forecast looks like a proper tour and I’m looking forward to that, it’ll add another layer of difficulty if it's windy or rainy. We welcome any challenges or difficulties at Kia Motors-Ascot Park Hotel because we’ve got a strong team.”
Tour director Bruce Ross, who will be taking part in his 49th lap of the province, is looking forward to a continuation of the close racing which has been a hallmark of the SBS Bank Tour of Southland in recent years.
“James Piccoli arrived here as a virtual unknown, to us at least, last year and rode away as a champion. We’ve got some of the best young riders in the country here in 2018 and a great representation of international riders. They’ll be hoping to do what James did last year and add another country to the winner’s trophy.”