As the Pros battle it out across Flanders, the young men who aspire to do the same in the future are locking horns in another famous name from the history of warfare – Normandy.
Le Tour de Normandie is one of the premier events on the calendar for men on the way up – Viatcheslav Ekimov, Thor Hushovd and Samuel Dumoulin are among the riders who have won the race.
This year’s winner was a man who’s already proved his worth on the track; 22 year-old Swiss rider Silvan Dillier of the BMC Development Team took the GC by a scant three seconds from 2011 winner, Alex Blain (France & Raleigh).
Dillier showed early promise with a Swiss national title in the novice’s road race in 2006.
A year later he was winning stages in the Junior Peace race and Junior Tour du Pays de Vaud.
In 2008 he took national junior titles in the time trial and omnium – and won the Zürich UiV race (U23 Six Day series).
The following year he was national U23 road race champion and the following year national U23 time trial champion.
In 2011 the results began to cascade; national U23 omnium, time trial and madison champion, European U23 madison champion, le Trois Jours d’Aigle track event and second in the Zurich six day with Glenn O’Shea behind Marvulli/Keisse.
Last season saw him second in the Berlin Six Day and national U23 road race, win the U23 time trial title again as well as the European U23 pursuit title and a stage in the Tour de l’Avenir; not forgetting third in the Gent Six Day.
He was in the Swiss squad which took silver in the Mexico round of the World Cup in January of this year and then the build up for his road season began.
VeloVeritas spoke to Dillier the day after his Normandie triumph.
Congratulations on Normandie – 7th in the prologue, a good start, did the parcours suit you?
“Yes, the parcours was quite technical – all the corners and the ups and down made the parcours really hard, so it was a good one for me.”
Stage one – a sprint, how did it go for you?
“We tried to help our sprinter Ignazio Moser to go for a good result.
“In the end he went out a bit too early; but we have still some time to progress in developing the lead out for his sprints.”
Stage two, you were sixth – did you begin to think about the GC?
“I tried to focus on every stage itself.
“My objective was more on a stage win than to win the overall; maybe to wear the yellow jersey for one day would be great and finishing top ten.”
Stage three and Blain won, you were third – a good day then?
“It was the day where the classement got more structure – there were only 10 guys left for the overall win and I moved into third place overall.”
Stage four and you were 11th but took the lead from Blain by 7 seconds – did you think you could win overall?
“I felt really good in stage four.
“The finale was hard and I attacked Blain in the last lap; seven seconds aren’t so much but by then I was thinking about the overall win.
Stage five – Zabel won (is he as fast as his dad?) did you have any difficult moments?
“This stage was the hardest I’ve ever ridden so far.
“We were attacked by the entire peloton the whole day long.
“Even when the break was gone (only after 80km) and we controlled the race, they were attacking us.
“The finale loop was really hard; but I suffered until the end so I didn’t lost time.
“It’s hard to say if Zabel is as fast as his dad – but for sure he’s fast!”
Stage six and I believe it was a ‘bonus battle’ and Blain got close – tell us about it.
“I wasn’t afraid of the last stage, but I gave it a lot of respect.
“Blain is fast in the sprints and so he took back two seconds on me in the first bonification sprint.
“But he had still three seconds to go. I once lost a stage race by 5 seconds (Tour de Pays de Vaud, U19), so I knew it’s hard to win them.
“In the bunch sprint at the end there were some really fast sprinters and I knew it would be hard for him to finish top three for some more bonifications.”
Your biggest win?
“For sure it’s my biggest win.
“This is my first overall win of a tour and it’s not a stage race over three or four stages; I mean one week is quite a long time to go.”
How did you get into cycling?
“Since I was a child I participated in a cycling race in our village, just for fun.
“When I got older I began to go training with the cyclists of the region – and so I started cycling.”
Who were the riders you admired as a young cyclist?
“I hadn’t a big idol but I knew a bit about Roman Kreuziger.
“When I started cycling he was junior in a Swiss Team and he was really strong.”
How did you get the ride with BMC?
“Rik Verbrugghe spoke with me at the European U23 Championships, last year.
“I hadn’t a contract at that time and he was offering me a good option for the season 2013.”
How does the team compare to your previous amateur squads, Team Voralberg and EKZ Racing?
“I mean the EKZ Racing Team is a really good one for a Swiss Elite Team, but BMC Development is like being in the Pro team!”
It must be cool to work with Rik Verbrugghe as DS?
“Yes it is fantastic, he applies no pressure – he’s cool and relaxed.
“With the huge experience he has it’s just perfect to work with him as a young rider.”
Is the goal to be with the BMC Pro Tour team for 2013?
“I would like to get a stagiaire place in the Pro Team this season.
“If I could sign with the team for 2014 it would be great!”
When do you rest? You ride World Cups and Six Days over the winter.
“I take some rest after the road season and between the track races.
“It’s not a break of one month; I prefer to take two breaks for one week.”
That was a good ride by the Suisse team pursuit squad in the Mexico World Cup.
“It was fantastic, at first we couldn’t believe the great time we did (4:02).
“It’s taken us a long time to arrive at this level.”
If you go full pro it would be difficult to ride the Six Days, with the road season starting so early . .
“It all depends on the race programme I have; but for sure it’s not easy.
“My main goal is the road so I will make my plans based around that.”
What’s the programme for the next few months?
“I’ll have more stage races with BMC Development in the USA, Belgium, France, Italy . . .”
If you could only win one race – what would it be?
“It’s hard to say, I mean there are so many nice races, but the Olympics is something really special.
“I would choose this.”