Riley Pickrell at Brugge-De Panne.

Canadian up-and-comer Riley Pickrell is seizing every chance he gets

Even after fracturing multiple bones in a crash at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, the 22-year-old has managed to race a busy Classics calendar.

Dane Cash
by Dane Cash 07.04.2024 Photography by
Cor Vos
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After an early hiccup – and a few broken bones – Canadian up-and-comer Riley Pickrell is taking full advantage of his first Classics campaign.

The 22-year-old from British Columbia jumped from Israel-Premier Tech’s Academy team to its ProTeam outfit this season, and promptly kicked off his WorldTour Classics career by getting into the break at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. A day later at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, however, he crashed and suffered numerous fractures.

You could be forgiven for assuming that his Classics campaign would end there, but Pickrell had other plans.

“I had a broken scapula and three broken ribs, but within a week, I felt completely fine,” he told Escape Collective this week. “I was able to move around the house and within a week and a half I was out on the bike and within three weeks I did some checks and it was like, ‘OK, you’re good to race.’ I got really lucky there and then every time something happened, someone crashed, I’d put my hand up and say, ‘I want to race. Put me in. I want to learn.'”

Pickrell returned to race Brugge-De Panne and went on to start Gent-Wevelgem, Dwars door Vlaanderen, and Scheldeprijs, and his Classics campaign is not over yet.

That early crash at Kuurne was certainly not part of the plan, but taking advantage of every opportunity to race and learn is – and that should come as no surprise. It’s the approach that helped propel him to his Tour de l’Avenir stage victory in 2023, where he executed a successful bike throw to win stage 2 ahead of another rider who had already posted up in a too-early celebration at the end of a bunch sprint.

At the time, Pickrell was signed to Israel-Premier Tech’s development squad, occasionally getting chances to race with the ProTeam in non-WorldTour events, but he has since leveraged his strong showings as an under-23 rider into a deal with the top-tier team. Now, he is eligible to make starts among the pros in the biggest races, and he is doing whatever he can to do be ready to go whenever a chance arises to race. Part of that is trying to avoid illnesses that might sidetrack his ambitions.

“Getting sick could derail two weeks [so] let’s be hyper aware … there’s all these hygenic things that I never didn’t do, right, but there’s extra stuff like, ‘Hey, I’m out for dinner. Is there anybody sick in this restaurant that I should be aware of?'” he said.

That helps keep him ready to toe the start line, and he brings that hunger to perform into the races themselves too.

“When it comes to expectations in a race, when you’re riding up as a development rider for the pro team, it’s not uncommon for them to be like, ‘OK, this is your job’ – and then if you don’t do your job, they go, ‘Well, you’re just a Conti rider, just [a] development rider, what can we expect?'” he said.

“Now, it’s like, ‘Okay, this is my job; this is what I’ve been told to do in the race and this is what they’re paying me to do and I better do it.'”

For now, Pickrell is still being asked to play a support role for teammates, and fortunately for him, several of those teammates are also fellow Canadians. Pickrell is in fact one of five Canadians in the squad along with Derek Gee, Hugo Houle, Guillaume Bovin, and Michael Woods. Having so many compatriots is a major boon for any youngster getting his first taste of WorldTour racing in Europe.

As he continues to gain experience supporting teammates from Canada or anyone else for that matter, perhaps Pickrell will start getting more chances of his own. It is near the finish line that his skillset shines brightest, but he is trying to keep his options open to discover where he fits best as he continues evolves as a rider.

“I’ve found success in full bunch sprints but I’ve found success in in some punchier, harder races as well,” he said. “So I think the Classics campaign is really where I’m gonna find my home. But as a new pro, I really want to try out everything and see what I really enjoy.”

That’s a lot of new experiences, and they’re not over yet; he’ll get the chance to figure out how much he likes the cobbles of northern France this weekend when he makes his Paris-Roubaix debut on Sunday.

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