ROUBAIX, France (VN) — Silvan Dillier can thank Peter Sagan just as much as he can curse him for what happened in Paris-Roubaix.
The Swiss rider was a late addition to Ag2r La Mondiale’s Roubaix lineup and rode himself onto the podium Sunday. That was in large part because of Sagan, who agreed to collaborate once they linked up at the front of the race.
“With Peter, it’s like he’s the angel and the devil at the same time,” Dillier said. “He was like an angel because he was working with me. He’s the devil because to do a man-to-man sprint in a finish line, he’s hard to beat.”
The 27-year-old Dillier broke his finger in a crash at Strade Bianche in March and was a last-minute addition to Ag2r’s classics squad. He was supposed to work for Oliver Naesen at Roubaix but ended up sneaking into the day’s main breakaway. Dillier stayed there as the favorites fought back in the last hour of racing.
When Sagan bridged across, the pair exchanged a few words. A deal was quickly hatched: Let’s work together all the way to the velodrome. Sagan was lucky to have a rider as strong as Dillier, who had the legs to help drive him toward Roubaix. With an all-star chasing group lurking behind, Sagan might not have made it alone.
Dillier held his end of the bargain, even though Sagan later admitted he tried in vain to drop the Swiss rider in the late pavé sectors in hopes of riding solo into Roubaix’s iconic velodrome.
“I asked him if we are going together. He told me I am going to work with you,” Sagan said. “We worked together, and I was pulling a little more in the cobblestones, but it was impossible to drop him in the end. I was confident for the sprint, but I was also cramping in the end. You cannot underestimate anyone.”
Dillier’s long-distance sortie and eventual Roubaix podium is yet another confirmation that breakaways have a better chance of working in this race compared to most major monuments. The chaos and stress of riding in the main pack mean that breakaway riders are often fresher to hold the wheel when the big names push to the fore.
“I was telling my guys today to try to get into the break,” said Mitchelton-Scott’s Mat Hayman, the 2016 Roubaix winner. “Dillier rode a good race. That just goes to show you that breakaways can be successful in Roubaix.”
The podium confirms Dillier’s potential. After four seasons with BMC Racing, he came across to Ag2r to bolster the French team’s classics squad around Naesen. Dillier missed all the other cobblestone classics due to his injury, but he won the Route Adélie de Vitré in France in late March. Naesen, the team’s Belgian captain, was the first to search out his teammate when he rolled into the velodrome in 12th at 2:31 back in the second chase group.
“The final is also very hard,” Dillier said. “We are almost six hours battling for position over the cobblestones. It uses your body. It’s tiring. It’s about your mental strength if you’re willing to push the pedal through pain. The last three sectors were really tough for me as well.
“I am very content. I did everything I could to try to win. It’s a bit of a disappointment that I couldn’t win. But to lose to the best rider of our epoch in a sprint, I cannot be too disappointed to lose against Peter Sagan.”