Bora-Hansgrohe sport director Patxi Vila recalls how Sagan won the famed race in the French countryside.
FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — Peter Sagan’s massive sprint Paris-Roubaix victory in the world champion’s rainbow jersey came via a meeting in a kitchen and jokes over the team radio.
Sagan blasted free with around 55 kilometers to race in France’s cobbled classic and rode onto the smooth, cement-lined Roubaix velodrome with Swiss rider Silvan Dillier (Ag2r La Mondiale), the final rider of an early escape.
Sagan beat Dillier in a two-up sprint to add Paris-Roubaix to his 2016 Tour of Flanders victory and three world titles.
“It all began in the kitchen,” team Bora-Hansgrohe sport director Patxi Vila told VeloNews.
“The night before we had the meeting for the race in the kitchen truck with the manager Ralph Denk, the race staff and the riders. You could sense a good atmosphere and commitment after not the most successful classics season. At that moment, Team Quick-Step was beating everyone.”
Quick-Step Floors ruled the spring campaign with Niki Terpstra and Yves Lampaert, the former winning the Tour of Flanders just the week beforehand.
Vila drove the team car the next morning to the first major cobbled sector. Twenty-nine sectors made up the course, for a total of 54.5 kilometers of cobble bashing in the 257km monument.
That day, the Spanish sport director drove from sector to sector to provide gels, water bottles, and radio information to the riders when they approached and rode across the cobbled paths.
“The way Roubaix is, you don’t see the car for the whole race or 50km or more,” Vila said. “We have radio contact 100 meters before the sector, so we can give information and motivate them.”
Vila would motivate the Slovakian star, always using their common language of Italian. Sagan would shoot back, making a joke to release the building pressure.
“Peter just uses the radio in a funny way,” Vila continued. “He uses it for jokes to take off the pressure and lower the tension in the team car or for his teammates. He’s particular that way.”
Team Quick-Step launched Philippe Gilbert in the Arenberg Forest sector, and then Zdenek Stybar. After those moves faded, 2017 winner Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) attacked.
After Van Avermaet, Sagan counter-attacked to his eventual win. Blasting through the cobbled sectors, he caught and passed most of the escapees from the day’s early move. He worked with Jelle Wallays (Lotto-Soudal) and Dillier, dropping the former on the Cysoing à Bourghelles sector.
Vila’s attention turned to a relatively unknown Dillier. He navigated through the northern French countryside to get to the next sector and surfed the Internet to read up on Dillier.
“At that point, it was someone we didn’t know that well and we needed to give as much info a possible. I saw that he’s been track racing, and you know that the race is coming to a sprint in the velodrome … We were concerned,” Vila said.
“It’s up to Peter though, we just told him to him pay attention: ‘This guy races on the track. Don’t underestimate him or get too motivated. For sure, he knows how to handle a track sprint.'”
Dillier said he felt he had a good position on the outside coming to the sprint, but that Sagan accelerated just when he was ready to do so.
“Peter always said Paris-Roubaix was a race he wanted to win,” Vila continued. “It was special. Not just the win, but how he won it. That’s as important as the win for Peter.
“It’s one of the big wins, it’s one of those magic days that he will never forget: the rainbow jersey, an early solo move, and a win like that.
“Peter was the diamond on the top of the crown, but it was the result of everyone’s work in the Bora-Hansgrohe team. We’d been honing our skills in the second year as a WorldTour team and Peter produced.”