Before the Route du Sud, BMC's Silvan Dillier says, "if somebody had told me before the race that I was going to be going for the general classification at Route du Sud, I would have told them that they were crazy". But after the 26-year-old staged a valiant solo chase through the Pyrenees to move into the race lead by one second, the possibility to prevail on Sunday has become a distinct reality.
Should he emerge victorious, it will be the first stage race victory for the Swiss rider, who last month racked up his first Grand Tour stage win at the Giro d'Italia.
Dillier started stage 3 of the Route du Sud in second place on GC at 24 seconds, and entered into a large breakaway that escaped 20 kilometres into the tame first half of the race's queen stage.
With overnight leader Julien Loubet (Armee de Terre) distanced, Dillier took the race by its scruff by taking out the first intermediate sprint to deduct three seconds from his deficit to Loubet in the overall standings.
When riders who were not in the hunt for the general classification escaped in the decidedly more rigorous second half of the stage, on the category 1 Col du Tourmalet, Dillier went after them. A frantic chase down the last descent and the Swiss rider joined Team Sky's Gianni Moscon and Pierre Rolland (Cannondale-Drapac), taking another three-second bonus at the foot of the final climb.
"The first objective was to make the breakaway today to get some bonus seconds and points for the sprint jersey, and then I took it climb by climb to see where I ended up at the top and how much I could get back on the descents," Dillier explained.
"On the final climb, Gianni Moscon and Pierre Rolland were with me but they told me that it was up to me to do all of the pulling because I was going for the GC. So I basically did my own time trial all the way to the finish.
"They attacked me with about 5km to go but I just kept my own rhythm and eventually, Richard Carapaz (Movistar Team) overtook me with 250m to go. I was going full gas and couldn't accelerate any more. Eventually, I just crossed the finish line with the right time to take the jersey."
Now at the top the standings by one second over Carapaz, Dillier is in the most tenuous of positions, but with no major mountains on the final 154.8km stage to Nogaro, he is confident in the overall victory and the support of his BMC teammates.
"It's a flat stage tomorrow so it's one for the sprinters. So, I think the only way Carapaz can take the jersey from me is with bonus seconds. You also have to pay attention to splits at the finish line. But, I think we have a good team to defend the jersey. I didn't think I would be in this position at Route du Sud."