The Unbearable Lightness of Being Sagan

There seem to be many pieces hailing Peter Sagan as “good for cycling” right now. I can see why given his style on the bike and off it at times is refreshing but at the same time a wheelie here or a quote there isn’t that radical. But can he, should he, be the new icon of men’s pro cycling?

It wasn’t long ago, days even, that Peter Sagan was being hailed as serial loser, at least from the peanut gallery. All those second places earned him number one in the World Rankings but he, as Antoine Blondin wrote about Merckx, belongs to the cast of champions “who loses when he doesn’t win”. For example Tiesj Benoot makes the podium in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and that’s great for him but Peter Sagan “only” finishes second, he lost to Greg Van Avermaet. A similar story in the E3 Harelbeke, the two-up sprint with Michał Kwiatkowski was as much about Sagan’s defeat as it was the Pole’s triumph.

Sagan Rodez

All this shows the interest and attention given to Sagan. It’s been happening long before he became World Champion, the story was similar at the Tour de France last year where Sagan took the points jersey early but couldn’t win a stage despite his prodigious efforts. A year ago his spring classics campaign was defined, sadly, by the image of him empty his bowels in a ditch early in Paris-Roubaix.

What a difference a year makes

Something seems to have changed since his win in the Tour of Flanders. Finally he’s landed the Monument classic he’s been aiming for. It’s generated a lot of “Sagan is good for cycling” pieces in many languages, there are too many to point out by cursor and it’d be unfair to single out one piece.

However what is there to get excited about with Sagan? Plenty of course but a lot of it, the animated GIF’s of him pulling a wheelie or groping a podium hostess, or pruned quotes like “no one wants to work with me, it’s always better to drop everybody” seems inconsequential. He bought a remote control car this week and it made the news, as if buying a toy is newsworthy. It’s the stuff of internet viruses but like, say, a dancing cat, equally trivial.

There’s obviously a more substantial side to Sagan, or rather several substantial sides. For starters there’s the cyclist, the raw power that’s so visible you don’t need an SRM display to spot it: when he goes the others are gone. At times he almost looks too big, a ball of muscle: the Incredible Hulk goes cycling. Mario Cipollini met him out on the bike – as happens – and told him to get a bike fit because he looked clumsy on the bike. Certainly Sagan doesn’t have that indescribable class on the bike with the fluid pedalling or the elegant poise. But obviously it works.

There are other sides too, when Sagan won the Worlds he launched into speech about the migration crisis in Europe which had his interlocutor doing the verbal equivalent of pulling up the handbrake. Was Sagan just letting rip with verbal diarrhoea after 250km having seen five minutes on the subject of CNN the night before; or is this a topic about which he’d formed ideas after more reading and review? We don’t know. Similarly he’s got his own rider development team too, an interest in giving opportunity to others, a most laudable venture. In some ways Sagan resembles the moon, we see one bright side with the wheelies, the long hair and that Grease video but don’t see the hidden side. His English has improved and he speaks decent Italian but I wonder whether a fuller interview in his native Slovak would bring, presumably he’d be more expressive and expansive. Nobody expects him to hold court on a range of topics but we surely learn a lot more. Maybe it’s a good thing, he’s already fled Slovakia for Monaco citing privacy reasons, it’s not that we need to know everything and he’s entitled to his private spaces too.

Above all the idea behind this piece is concern that if Sagan is being held up as something good for cycling then it shouldn’t really be for him to carry the sport. Half of the attraction of Sagan is his parrhesia, a Greek term that means “to speak everything”. There’s no wooden language, no stock corporate tone in his responses as he seems to say what’s on his mind. It’s this lightness of being that is refreshing. In short he’s busy being Peter Sagan rather than a flag bearer for pro cycling. Whether it’s floating around a bike race, dancing in leather trousers or breaking mini-taboos about leg shaving, the best thing is that he’s out there doing just what he wants rather than doing what we or others want or need.

When it comes to flag bearers it’s better for the sport if other riders share the load and fortunately they do. For example it’s little reported but Marcel Kittel played a huge role in the return of German television to the Tour de France. He helped convince them over a coffee… and another coffee, apparently the meeting went on for hours as Kittel convinced the broadcasters to return. He’s just one example but look to how Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish have excited interest in Britain, how Romain Bardet and Thibaut Pinot have rekindled excitement in France. Even the stoic Nairo Quintana has cycling back on top on Colombia.

Peter Sagan is an exciting rider. Some of the excitement like the wheelies and throwaway quotes seems trivial although sections of the internet will thrive off this and in a competitive media landscape I suppose it’s good if a wheelie or a musical youtube clip about cycling displace a footballer or a cat, it can only help. Yet on a more profound level for me it’s his racing that’s the most interesting aspect, the ability to impose himself on a race and to express himself on the bike, he can unlock races in a way others cannot. Yet for all we’re seeing before, during and after a race, for all the showmanship and the power, there’s a nagging sense that we’re only seeing one or two dimensions of Sagan when there could be so much more. Saying he’s the key to renewed public interest in the sport seems unlikely, one person cannot do it all and besides Sagan is too busy being himself to worry about the politics and dynamics of pro cycling. If he’s as good as he promises to be now then his repeat wins could, whisper it, become boring.

127 thoughts on “The Unbearable Lightness of Being Sagan”

  1. The thing about Sagan is, on top of everything, and matching it, is the way he races. He does attack, he does improvise, he does take chances, he enjoys surprising, he doesn’t hide, and relies very little on teamwork. He feels his racing, and hence makes the fan feel with him. That’s why it can be said that Sagan IS cycling more than most riders of today (and to put this guy in the same perspective as Kittel is doing the German a very underserved favour).
    One more thing: cycling is made to a very large extent of trivial elements.

    • I think this is key. When Cavendish, Froome, Quintana or Contador win, it’s clear that they couldn’t have done it without their team, no matter how much thanks they give for that backup. Sagan’s lone wolf approach (since the Liquigas days) means that his wins are earned by his own craft and hard graft.

  2. He’s great, very versatile and consistent with surprising attacks too. It must be tiring to hear about your second places as complete fails but he seems to have the fortitude to get over that.
    He’s bulked up a lot. He wants to be able to drop strong men and not rely on his sprint that much, because people won’t work with him only to get beaten in the sprint, but will some of those that will eventually work with him now be able to beat him in the sprint, for a change (did Kwiat do just that?) And will this mean less success in the bunch sprints? Will it help more win green jerseys? Maybe, depending on the points scheme. They tried to make it more difficult for the sprinters in the past few years.
    Also, will he be able to climb those longer climbs better or worse now, with added killos? Will Tour of Cali remain his best GC race?
    His TT seems to be better now.

  3. Obviously, Sagan is sensed differently in Slovakia than in other parts of the world. Here he was elected the best athlete of the year, overcoming world champion in race walking or Marian Hossa of ice hockey, 3 times Stanley Cup holder. As a small nation, Slovaks take pride in the fact that someone from us manages to be top person is a highly competitive sport, that is naturally a very rare occurrence. Frankly speaking, a few years ago it seemed like impossible dream to see Slovak in the spot where Sagan is now. But it is important to realize that it is above all an incredibly hard work that Sagan has to undergo in addition to all his natural talents, that has put him there. He can be a textbook model for anyone here – and maybe everywhere where he is popular. Model showing that hard work is necessary for large success.
    (Wheelies just add to popularity.)

  4. He’s 26, loaded, and very talented at his job.
    Enjoy it Peter, lad.
    Stay away from tablets, smart phones and the internet. There’s plenty of time for all that crap when you’re past it 🙂

  5. I’ve always been in the “what’s not to like?” camp when it comes to Sagan. On the bike he is a (very) large and unusual talent. Off the bike he has convinced me that he is more thoughtful and/or considerate than the stereotypical athlete with so many opportunities to preen. The booty-pinch on the 2013 Flanders podium was deemed good-natured by my wife, and he was smart enough to acknowledge the mistake. I don’t think he wants to be the center of attention the way Cipollini did, so it would be good for everyone if there are other riders to “carry the flag” by having press attention directed at them, too. And he’ll need some good rivals on the cobbles if he is going to set records as a hard man without looking for other challenges, but that probably will not be a problem. It’s been mentioned here that if he turns out to be as good on cobbles as it seems, he might try to win all 5 monuments for the extra challenge.

    • I’ve come around to him over the past year. The bum pinch and his t-shirt (google “peter sagan t shirt” and look at his charming blue number with a wonderful equation for ‘good times’) in 2013 certainly had me off side, but that’s more likely a difference in cultural norms and he’s admirably reigned that in as he’s aged and presumably been advised.
      The kid’s a monster, as Big Ring Riding once said, and his racing is inspired and wonderful to watch.

  6. I’m not sure whether Sagan will have the ‘star power’ or disposition to draw many new fans to cycling. He is, however, one of the only riders today that I feel compelled to keep an eye on no matter what race he is in, from the beginning of the season until the end. His versatility as a racer and his willingness to risk losing in order to try to win makes him good for every race he enters and, thus, ‘good for cycling.’

    • “I’m not sure whether Sagan will have the ‘star power’ or disposition to draw many new fans to cycling”.

      I, for one, already know some brand new Sagan-made cycling fans.
      Though, I agree with you, when bigger numbers are concerned, it’s to be seen.
      I’d be happy enough with a renewed interest by the not-so-generalist-but-neither-that-much-specialistic public towards the Classics.

      It’s incredible how despite having had two all-times talents clashing against one other (more or less) as we had in Boonen and Cancellara, or on a lesser but however notable level the likes of Valverde or Gilbert in hilly Classics, while at the same time living a low moment – in historical terms – when quality in stage racing was concerned, still many fans (not “hardcore fans”, obviously) struggled to perceive the huge value and technical meaning of one-day races, except, perhaps, some occasional media-boosted Roubaix.

      If Sagan was to change this, at least in a couple of core countries, it would be a huge “gift” to cycling…

      • I’ve been through a few “star phases” in cycling at this point in my life and while it is great to see such dynamic racing from the few gifted athletes that make it into the sport, it typically temporarily improves awareness and then things go back to a core audience.

        Verbruggen definitely transformed the UCI into a much larger org and has generated much more revenue. But, the core audience is probably about the same size, the miracle of London 2012 games excluded.

      • You can count me as one of those Sagan-made cycling fans, but the reasons why probably don’t apply to many people. I lived in Slovakia for several years, my wife is Slovak, and the Tour of California comes by my house nearly every year giving me an opportunity to see him in action.

  7. The thing i took from this article is just how much the individuals are doing to advance the sport. Investing in the development. Pushing for more broadcasting. Not just Sagan but Wiggins, Kwiatkowski, etc. And it begs the question, why the hell isn’t UCI and ASO doing this? The way cycling is ran just seems so amateur.

    • To be fair to Cookson, he personally did a lot around meeting with German broadcasters etc to help push the return of the Tour to tv coverage there.

      And for the last 15 years or so UCI have been taking a fair number of riders every year and providing training facilities, coaching support, racing opportunities via the World Cycling Centre in Aigle – road, track, BMX. MTB. Every expense is met by the UCI including accommodation, food, expenses, travel, training, coaching, kit, equipment. There are satellite centers too in other places around the world. Pretty much all of the UCIs revenues from the Olympics is ploughed into training & development. There are things where one could point at the UCI and claim they are not doing x or y, but failing to support development is not one of them.

      As for the ASO, they do very nicely indeed without having to spent any time trying to woo the German broadcasters. They are obliged to provide a feed free to air to each national broadcaster anyway.

      • They are obliged to provide a feed free to air to each national broadcaster anyway.

        Think about this statement again. We don’t know how much ASO sells the rights to the Belgian broadcaster. The Belgian broadcaster is the one who has to broadcast it cost-free, not ASO. I don’t know the arrangement in France.

        We know in obvious cases who owns broadcast rights to events. (P-R, TdF) But, we don’t know in all cases. One of Verbruggen’s longest interviews to a blogger had him discussing in great detail the UCI’s efforts to aggregate broadcast rights as “growing the sport,” nothing else! There is quite a bit of money at play in these arcane issues with little transparency. In this way, restoring German broadcasting was, I’m certain, a huge win for the UCI.

        • The fact that is has to be provided free-to-air does affect the price that ASO will get for the rights, though, as it limits the number of broadcasters who are able to bid for the rights. Fewer buyers = lower price, all else being equal.

    • Only yesterday the UCI announced it’d done a deal to ensure the Worlds are shown free to air across Europe. ASO is a race organiser but has invested in broadcast technology, for example the telemetry trial at last year’s Tour de France.

      The subject of “why can’t the UCI do this or that” is a regular theme but it’s a weak governing body, people often expect it to do a lot but it doesn’t have the power to do all the things we want, it can barely bring people to the table sometimes, yet alone rule the sport.

      • It is a weak governing body, but is the president simply ‘weak’?
        Cookson (the very next day) on the UK doctor who said he was doping athletes in the Sunday Times report:
        “It looks to me highly dubious set of claims from this doctor, who I believe is under some sort of disciplinary hearing from the general medical council himself. I don’t know anything other than what I saw on the internet this morning.”
        Before seeing a shred of evidence, he instantly dismisses doping claims. As McQuaid and Verbruggen always did.
        Blind nationalism? Incompetence? Complicity?

        • JE – but it does look exactly like that doesn’t it?… a discredited doctor boasting of his ‘client list’ to win private (seemingly illegal) business without one piece of genuine evidence, or one actual name to hang it on?
          I know we all need to be sceptical given the history, but that story looked like a real bit of clickbait to me, and judging by the response to it, it worked a treat for the Sunday Times…

          • Sunday Times have had the story since Oct, and in all that time despite all their efforts to do so they haven’t managed to find a single piece of corroborating evidence to back-up the good doctor’s boasts. I’m not holding my breath, personally.

        • The President is a visible, but weak role at the UCI.

          Cookson has lifetime appointment Verbruggen “managing” the sport as he pleases and a Management committee that still supports Verbruggen despite a largely accurate, but biased, CIRC report.

          As much as his predecessor McQuaid was disliked, some of which was his own doing, he too was under the same constraints. Verbruggen did whatever he felt was good for the sport and the UCI Management Committee making decisions that the President enforces.

      • I’m afraid the fact is that there doesn’t seem to be a single sports governing body who earns plaudits from all of that sport’s stakeholders. Bit of a no-win situation in that respect.

  8. Sagan is the anti-Sky. Where Sky are measuring everything and fine-tuning their fine-tuning, Sagan just rides, ‘balls-out’ (so to speak). Sky’s principal aim is winning a three week tour or two and I’d be measuring/calculating everything in that scenario too, but it’s so refreshing to see someone just ride as hard as hard can be and win… and joke about it. He is fantastic for cycling. “Show me your power meter skinny man… I will eat it”.

      • It was meant metaphorically. I personally like the guy and the classics as the racers here aren’t scarily waif-thin (no big cols), they’re built for a tough day in the saddle. When in Brussels (or nearby) use your muscles.

    • Although, of course, when he won the Worlds, the first thing Sagan did before pushing his bike away was to remove the power meter from it.

  9. This kid may not be a “pedaler of charm” on the bike, but I’d rather watch him ride than the guy Italians call “Il Frullatore”. Beyond that he demonstrates some personality in a world of dull sound bites and most important for me – he’s a guy who races to win rather than trying not to lose. I’m hoping his recent success means he’ll pay less attention to the DS yelling into his earpiece and race even more on instinct and passion. The sport needs heroes (and villains) to combat the dreary, scientific watts/kgs and equipment-centric focus that is far too prevalent these days.

  10. Peter is prototype of “classic racer” we´ve seen in past. He is just racing. His tactics depends on his heart and feelings in the race, than on team tactics from radio. Everybody feels, that his bike is his part of body, and combination with his simple and straight sense of humor makes him so “watchable”. Internet part of his person is made only for saturation of his funs, its work of his manager, may be sometimes overexposed. But it doesnt matter. Everybody is waiting for his next race and his high-powered efforts.

    • Larry, vlt, how do you guys know what Sagan hears through his earpiece? For all you know there is a creative DS that plays a big part in his tactical choices. Not every team is like Sky, high-risk, high-gain is a valid corporate strategy and you only have to look at Contador’s racing choices to see that the Tinkoff team is no stranger to that way of thinking.

      • Interestingly in his Flanders post-race interview, he was very specific about the time gaps in the final 15 km – which suggests he was fully plugged in to his DS and coherent enough to register what he was being told.

      • AK, all I know is Sagan himself said after coming in 2nd at E3 that he was told to pull. I assumed that without that, he might have played things differently…and maybe won the race? Since I don’t remember a car coming up with a guy yelling out the window I assumed this instruction was via the DS and the earpiece. And yes, for all I know there could very well BE a creative DS, but I still want the guy to make his own decisions rather than be ordered about by a guy in a car. There are lots of great stories about champions telling the DS to go-to-hell and making their own decisions. I want more of those, not less.

        • @ Larry: Just a hypothetical question out of curiosity, if the rider was the more conservative one and the DS was yelling in his ear to go for an all-or-nothing attack would you still prefer the rider to follow his own instincts? In other words, is it the instructions themselves you object to or is it about the style of racing?

      • I don’t really know about Sagan, but Contador is indeed a commanding character who can actively ask the team to execute a plan he himself has decided, sometimes against the opinion of his DSs; and who showed in the past (on more than one occasion! And that’s only what the general public has happened to know…) that he can even go straight against the plan some DS has put in place for his team. Obviously, many times credit must be given to his DSs for making the plan decided by the leader work, managing the other riders properly.

    • Agree, he is the most watchable rider in the peloton, all the rest watch and don’t attack, Sagan is like an old school classics rider – best thing to happen to cycling in years …

  11. Great bike racer, that’s for sure. The showman style is not my cup of tea but at least he seems authentic, which goes a long way. Van Avermaet, Degenkolb, Kristoff, Matthews, Stybar and Kwiatkowski have all recently shown they can beat him when they’re in one piece and on top form, so I’m not too worried about things becoming boring. Paradoxically though, often the popularity of a sport increases when there is one ‘hero’ that is so good that he or she always wins. The now despised Armstrong is an example in cycling, but also e.g. Michael Jordan in basketball. Apparently the need to admire is stronger than the desire for suspense.
    It’s interesting how much is made of the Flanders win. The extremely high value that is placed on wins, compared to other podium places, distorts the view of a rider’s talent sometimes. It is much, much harder to get second places in three races in a row than it is to win a single one.

    • +1
      … to the couple of points you’re making here.

      And, besides the names you made.. even if he might not win a Monument in his whole career (I hope it won’t be so!), I’d say that Sep Vanmarcke makes for a deserving opponent, too. It’s a common fate on cobbles, think of Hincapie or Flecha. Or, even if they managed to win their Monument, the likes of Ballan and – incredible may it sound – Pozzato. Riders whose level on the cobbles is simply *absolute* and who make their opponents’ victories even more precious, but whose palmarés will always tend to show more podium places than something else.

      Benoot and Lampaert (both out because of accidents, an especially uhmmm “funny” one in the case of the latter) might prove themselves very fine opponents for the future, too.

  12. A bike rider races to win, the sole purpose of the competition is attacking for victory .

    Peter Sagan is the epitome of this adage, and a breath of fresh air at a time where the rather dull and defensive tactics of control and management have been too much in evidence. All his other attributes are simply an enormous bonus to the sport.

    A note of thanks to JE. Without your kind comments, I would be finished contributing to INRNG.

  13. What’s won me over is his post race interviews with Ned Boulting in the Tour, where he comes across as good humoured and always has plenty of time to stop and chat, on what I would think is low on his lost of interviews?

    I also respectfully disagree and I think he is the key to the renewed public interest. Given that he can win (or get second…) all year round (ok not stage races, but points jerseys), and his personality can take cycling to new places. I agree with the examples you gave, but those other riders seem to have an impact in their own countries whereas Sagan transcends that.

    However he does need to keep winning monuments to get to that level (clearly), and I still question whether he’s motivated by racing and winning or by money.

  14. So much talent on a bike – so great bike handling skills(avoiding crash MIL-SRM final for example) – I don’t remember having seem Sagan crash very often.
    his attack and descend on the Tour stage, when others refused to work with him –
    I think he is giving a lot to cycling be being himself – and seemingly enjoying riding and racing.

  15. Hero, or anti-hero, for some, Sagan seems not to care. Like his attitude in not winning every race, he doesn’t hold himself to some stringent standard of conduct–or achievement. To be quite honest, he seems to be a bit vacuous, or empty-headed, about his own popularity and notoriety. Maybe some people interpret that as a good thing–saying things like, “he’s so unpretentious and open about what he thinks and says.” Maybe the truth is he’s too unsophisticated to realize the real potential of his own success–except for the money upside, which might be all he cares about. As David Bowie said, “We can be heroes, … just for one day”–the day he comes in first place!

  16. Get to work, go to INRNG and boom… an article about a fantastic rider with a headline ripped from a fantastic Czech(oSlovakian) writer. Thank you, happy days.

  17. Nice piece.

    I hope – and expect – that Sagan will not become boringly dominant for a few reasons:
    1) His victory on Sunday was exciting and close – even with 10km to go there was doubt – he is not a million miles ahead of his competition.
    2) He will most likely enjoy more success in one-day racing; I think a problem with the dominance of some of the recent major stage races is that superiority is established, demonstrated early and rather removes the element of suspense (a problem the Tour seems to suffer from in particular).

    I wish Sagan luck, with his attacking instincts reminding me of part of Kipling’s If…

    If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
    And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;

      • The bit about Monaco and “privacy” raised a wry smile here, too.

        I’m personally not worried about Sagan winning so routinely that it becomes boring. Mainly because I don’t think it will happen – even with Boonen and Cancellara coming to their end of their careers, there are enough world class competitors to make absolute dominance on the part of any individual rider unlikely. But also because the way Sagan races means that I can’t ever imagine his victory being boring. For me, cycle racing is more about the nature of the victory than the victory itself. Put another way, I (normally) couldn’t care less who wins, so long as the race is exciting!

        I’m sure he’ll be in the mix on Sunday. Can’t wait.

  18. A couple of years ago I would have labelled him a right Richard Head! however I have warmed to him a great deal since and the obvious talent he has, which I think as observers tend to forget the hard work that goes with it. Whichever sport I have followed over my life I have always endeared to the “showman” type and peter is a great one. Good luck to him and I hope he invests his well deserved earnings wisely. He is a bright star who whose sparkle only emphasises how terribly dark, dull and bland others who frequent the peloton can be.

  19. A rather brilliant title for this piece, inrng –especially the nod to the eternal recurrence of Sagan’s second places: referentially almost geographically apt too.

  20. Great piece, as usual. I agree with everything you say. The best part is that he is not arrogant and you can really see when he is having fun and not. He is human.
    And he is great, only 26 years old, World Champion, points jersey TdF, Tour of Flanders and many more to come.
    Nevertheless, we have other great riders in this generation. Froome is great in his ways, so is Nairo, Gaviria, Thomas, Kwiatkowski, Landa, Aguirre, GVA, Martin, Cummings, Aru, Nibali,Pinault, Bardet, and many others. There are many. And that’s what makes cycling so great these days, the sport is not dominated by one person or a few, but by somewhat large group of talented riders. We cycling fans are happy not to be “monotheistic” but have the luxury to follow many!

    • Great comment – agree 100%

      We are lucky in having such a batch of talented and likeable riders around at the moment.
      I’m a brit and therefore follow Sky & the brits closely, but I also love Cancellara, Kwiato and Sagan in particular.

      Sagan sticks out for his animation of almost every race he’s in. Some have criticised his numerous 2nd places, but the sheer consistency of being in the mix, even if he doesn’t quite win, is impressive to me. This spring he’s been in the decisive break/final reckoning in almost all the races – who else can claim this. All this without a very strong team !

      His Flanders win in the Rainbow jersey was so very memorable – done the hard way with a long range attack, holding off Cancellara mano-a-mano at the end – superb, and seems a “passing of the baton” from Cancellara to Sagan to me.

  21. Good article. I’d love to read some interviews translated from Slovakian, myself.

    Sagan is one of the people my friend made a point of telling me about when she got me into cycling. With my usual fantastic timing, this was around about when his second-place streak really took hold 😀 but watching him through his highs and lows was all the more entertaining.

    At the same time, even when I was a super-newbie I could tell there were times people fixated on him when it didn’t seem to make any sense (like the 2014 Vuelta). It got annoying, more to the point I was legitimately worrying Sagan would burn out under the pressure for a while there.

    The sport lends itself to following multiple teams and riders. I’d like the media to use that as a strength, and look for stories across the pelotons rather than wait for the next zany Sagan tweet. I mean, this situation is _much_ better than waiting around for the next wacky Oleg tweet, but still.

  22. Sagan’s pedalling style is deceptive. Compare his cadence and fluidity in the run in to Oudenaarde whilst holding off Cancellara and Vanmarcke. No doubt he was “full gas”, would that any of us looked so relaxed working that hard, never mind after ~250km. Whatever (if?) he has changed in his training or mental approach it is working and long may it continue. I’ll take suspense over dominance in any race.

    • +1 ….that encapsulates exactly my thinking when I was watching the run in… Cancellara looked to be working so hard, dragging SVM along, while Sagan was just cruising and holding the gap.

  23. I like Sagan. Not because of the daft gifs, wheelies or arse pinching. I like his riding style and general appearance. Its easier, as an amatuer, I find to find something to admire in someone who is built and looks like a normal person. I think that is part of the reason why the classics are so popular. An anaemic looking 8 stone GC specialist is harder to connect with because I am never going to be 8 stone. Everyone admires power.

    With regard to his build and hulking style, is it just me or has he got much larger? His legs are noticably massive and he looks like the strongest built rider in the peleton aside from perhaps Kittel. When you look at pictures of him around 2011-12 he looks more akin to someone like van Avarmaet or Gilbert. In those days people were talking of him winning all 5 monuments but you couldn’t see him winning Liege in his current state. Not that he needs to.

    Also, people are talking about the Sagan era and are expecting him to totally clean up every race. But riders have had similar purple patches in the past and then found it harder to keep it going. I’m thinking Gilbert in 2011 mainly. This could be as good as it gets for Sagan. We’ll just have to wait and see.

    • As an OT side note, but speaking of physical built, I was surprised by the change in Landa’s, which was apparent in his last victory celebration.
      I must admit that I quite liked his old “solid”, “square” appearence (especially when compared to the typical climber), which went together with what any observer could deem as pure class, expressed in a light while powerful pedalling style – something that, luckily, he hasn’t lost at all, at least according to what we’ve seen recently.
      At the same time, his previous team had expressed its concerns about the rider’s ability to stick to an intense diet & training plan to achieve his full potential.
      Hence, I wonder and hope about team changing, which really might do good for him: even if, on the one hand, I can’t fully appreciate the physical evolution he endured, on the other hand I acknowledge that it might be both a clue of increased commitment by the rider and a medium to achieve better results, and thus a full realisation of his potential.

  24. There is no doubt that it’s unhealthy for any sport to allow one athlete to become ‘bigger’ than the sport in terms of promotion and growth. Look at Armstrong — he was easily the biggest rider in history in terms of market growth (i.e. he brought swathes of new US fans with him) and for that reason the UCI colluded in his cover up. He was too big to fail. I’m not for a second suggesting that Sagan is doping, merely that it’s unhealthy for the sport to bank too much on one rider; all it takes is for that rider to have something unsanitary crop up for cycling to be plunged into scandal.

    It’s a great thing that we’re in an era in which there is no one ‘dominant’ rider in any area of the sport — in sprinting we have Kittel, Sagan, Greipel, Degenkolb, Cav and others. In stage racing we have Froome, Contador (at least for now), Nibali, Quintana, Aru, Landa etc. Even in the Classics or the Ardennes there are a multiplicity of riders capable of wining. This is much healthier, both in terms of generating intriguing competition and in spreading the risk.

    That said, as others have mentioned, it’s Sagan’s ability to place highly year-round that builds his reputation — he’s visible all the time, generating column inches and fans. He’s certainly a big asset to the sport, but thankfully he’s not the only one.

    • The UCI colluded with Armstrong from scratch, right from his comeback, well before he was that big: for sure, everyone could foresee perfectly where that man and that story could bring cycling… but it was a prophecy working hard to fulfill itself, not a consequence of a state-of-fact domination.

      OTOH, it can be observed how less than two months before (!) cycling – and/or Italian sport – decided not to protect Pantani covering him up (from a test probably manipulated by “external forces”, on top of that, but that’s not the point).
      In that case, the existence of an athlete who was becoming bigger than the sport, and of a sport which was becoming bigger than *what suited it*, were perceived as a menace – thus, a good opportunity was taken advantage of to have everyone and everything *mind their place*. Note that the same athlete and the same sport had been, very probably, protected before, in different periods and circumstances, whereas from then on a very different tune started being sung.

  25. Nice Kundera reference in the title; I guess Sagan was born Czechoslovakian – surely he’s not too young for that!

    I liked the attempt to talk about the immigration crisis after his Worlds win. I couldn’t quite make out what he was trying to say – and the interviewer clearly wasn’t equipped to deal with it – but it was a massive issue for central Europe, and it’s refreshing for any sportsman to express an opinion rather than just platitudes.

  26. Are you kidding about his pedalling not being fluid? His pedal sole is so light and effortless, it’s a terrific to behold. As another commenter noted above, just look at his form on the run in to Oudenarde.

    Maybe one athlete can not do it all but one can certainly transcend a sport and be the absolute icon of it, like Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods, and dare I say it, as Lance did.

    Sagan is certainly refreshing and also good for the sport for all the reasons you cite.

  27. Sagan has never seemed that unique to me. Perhaps that comes from coming to cycling via the characters and openness of Cavendish and Millar in the UK. Peter 2agan (he’ll always have that name) is a brilliant opposite to so many top level athletes in other pro sports who are just so often cookie-cutter models trotting out corporate speak to please sponsors.

    Cycling still has this rebellious, almost amateur, aspect to it. Riders are pretty much free to do and say as they please and it makes them so much more human and engaging as a result. Other sports and sports stars are coming around (Vardy – chat s**t, get banged – comes to mind), so i do wonder how long this ‘unique’ appeal will last. Luckily for Sagan he can back it up with an attractive riding style that will always keep him popular.

    Between Sagan and Armitstead we’ve currently got two of the best World Champions ever. It’s a brilliant advertisement and i enjoy them both hugely

    • Specialized must be loving both the World Champions riding their machines.
      I wonder if Tinkov does pack it up, where Sagan would go?
      Specialized would most definitely not wish to lose him, so you would have to think another of their stables. Which most likely would be Etixx?
      Could Kittel, Gaviria and Sagan be on the same team?
      Sagan and Stybar?

      • difficult to see him and Peeters getting along ‘Sagan, just ride the front and bring that attack back so that Tommeke can attack please…’

      • If this rumored petrodollar team comes to fruition, I’m sure the Big-S boyz will throw out whatever cubic dollars are required by the team to keep Nibali’s and Sagan’s bike downtube decals the same as they are now. Who might actually MAKE those bikes might be a different story.

          • I don’t like petrodollars or Riis’s Saxo bank partner, but i’d love to see Sagan and Nibali on a Riis managed team – that would make a spectacular attacking team.

          • There are few honest nickels in sport sponsorship and you drive a car and wear trainers, right?

            Riis is pretty much a genius. Sagan will benefit.

        • Specialized doesn’t make bicycles. They spec and buy them. Merida is 49%? owner of Specialized, so probably lots of Merida product with Specialized stickers.

          Lots of OEMs in the Taiwan bicycle manufacturing business. A few people at Specialized know which one is providing the UCI-raced bikes.

          • Channel Zero – I think everyone here knows this as Inrng has “Who Makes What” at the top of the page. I was implying something else, but since it’s off-topic let’s save it for another day.

      • Do Ettix need Sagan? They have Gaviria, who from the brief glimpses we have seen of him so far seems to be an equally phenomenal talent. Maybe we need not worry about Boonen and Cancellara retiring when we have the two of them facing off to look forward to. Plus, Sagan will be able to demand the highest pay check, and the Bahraini’s will be the ones who can pay it.

        • Gaviria’s a maybe – who knows if he is a potential Ronde/P-R winnder. And that maybe is only likely to come to fruition in 3-5 years’ time when it comes to Monuments.

          • I can certainly see Gaviria winning Milan-Sanremo. He probably would have this year had he not gone down. Admitedly he’s probably more of an Oscar Friere type when it comes to the classics. But him and Sagan may end up having a right old ding dong at the Tour and elsewhere. I hope so anyway.

          • really hard to judge gaviria just yet, definitely cannot deny the boy is fast, but how fast we’ll have to see.

            Oscar Friere was a very unique rider, it’ll be interesting to see how Gaviria develops over the years.

            Would be interesting to really analyse the different type of speedsters – each of Cavendish, Friere, Kittel, McEwen, Zabel, Cooke, Griepel, Goss, Boonen, etc. are all completely unique.

    • I never saw any comments about Cavendish or Millar having the ability to win all the monuments, so don’t see the reference here.

      And he as more victories than 2nd places, so maybe only in your limited view will the name “2agan” always exist.

  28. In a sport dominated, and being ruined in my opinion, by numbers I have to admit I love the way Sagan goes about riding his bike.

    I can wax lyrical about people who can hardly pedal a bike spending £1000s on unnecessary equipment and power meters but I won’t. I’ll just say that watching Sagan race is an absolute joy, and this is coming from someone who really disliked him and his behaviour in the past.

  29. The regular TdeF Ned Boulting interviews referenced above made him very easy to like – it turned into a long running comedy double act where the joke was on him.

    Having read this piece and just listened to The Cycling Podcast where they suggest his manager is asking for 6 million a year, I compare him to more positive “super stars’ than LA. Valentino Rossi in moto GP springs to mind – clownish victory celebrations earlier in his career, competes with flair, a ‘losing streak’ which gives them almost underdog status, and the ability to transcend the sport and become a household name.

  30. Sagan’s Wikipedia page says that he once competed in the Slovak Cup on his sister’s bike. Apparently he had sold his own bike and the replacement due to be provided by a sponsor hadn’t arrived in time, so he borrowed his sister’s supermarket shopper for the race – and won.

    I absolutely love the idea, but it seems hard to believe. Does anyone know whether that is true? Even better, does anyone have photos?

    • it is true. take it as a fact.
      there are more stories like this.

      another one from some years ago – when riding as a junior in the elite cat. for a first year, there were just rumours about him, noone really knew him.
      he went to a breakaway with 4 guys of the same team (the strongest one at that time).
      they had to work really hard to get rid of him. he finished 5th eventually but the guys reported it later definitely as a not easy task.

      • Will – of course not. But things aren’t automatically untrue just because they’re on Wikipedia.

        As I said, I’d love it to be true, but it does seem far fetched. That’s why I asked.

        • Just found this article in a US newspaper:

          Sagan says the story is true: “Yes it’s true. The bike was something like a mix of an old mountain bike and a road bike. Now it’s funny to talk about, but when I was a child I was happy just to have a bike.”

          So if it is a myth, it’s one he’s happy to perpetuate.

          He says the stories about him competing in tennis shoes and t-shirts, and drinking only water, aren’t true, however: “This was not really true, maybe out of competition, but luckily my parents always helped me to get what I needed to compete.”

    • It seems to be true. Here is an interview with someone who was part of the slovak junior cycling team at the time. I tried to link the translation from Google but it was terrible so I translated the relevant part here:

      “It was almost impossible to beat him on a mountain bike. He used to ride a motorcycle as well, he had good power and great technique. It was unbelievable to watch the way he “flowed” over the terrain .
      We were juniors at the time and so we started in the mountain bike competition after men with a time delay of 3 to 5 minutes. It was not enough of a handicap for Peter. He broke away from us in the start and we found that in the finish he even beat the fastest man by a margin. That was unbelievable until then.
      One story says it all. We came to compete in Senec and Sagan mentioned that he is waiting for a bike from a sponsor. But the bike did not arrive before the start and he had to improvise. He came to the start of the race with an ordinary old bike looking like the kind you buy for a few euros at a supermarket right next to groceries. If I remember this correctly it had a name Turbo (or something similar) and he borrowed it from his sister. I was standing right next to him and so I told him if he is making fun of us and if he wants to compete with this bike. He just made some joke and the race started. Naturally, we did not see him after the start , he overtook the men and won the race.”

  31. “If he’s as good as he promises to be now then his repeat wins could, whisper it, become boring.”

    I don’t think Sagan will ever be boring.

  32. To summarize a quote from Tom Boonen, he went on about how other riders were racing “not to lose” rather than, “to win.” Peter Sagan does the latter, and I think everyone enjoys watching that over favorites and teams of favorites riding defensively. To me, he epitomizes the racing version of “live fast, die young.”

  33. I’ve said elsewhere that I’m not personally a fan of his ‘bro’-ish public persona – but it’s probably fair to say that he is , in purely sporting terms, the most exciting rider in the peloton.

    “Let’s make things hot for them” – that’s a line often used by the super-rich mischief-making protagonist in Terry Southern’s classic novel The Magic Christian; it’s a phrase that pops into my head when I see Sagan race – he’s always provoking, asking questions, putting his rivals under pressure.

  34. Sagan’s near certain future wins would be no less boring than repeated success of Cancellara and Boonen each spring in recent years. There will be anticipation in how he performs and executes and how challengers counter the Sagan factor. Inevitably, the conversation will shift to how long he can be a dominant player and who will replace him. This has been repeated numerous times in cycling history as top riders peak and wane.

  35. Peter Sagan is an exciting rider, a fierce competitor, and I love to watch him ride. But… I am having a devil of a time finding Spring cycling on US television. What’s all this about “renewed interest?” Not judging by my Verizon cable schedule! The TDF and the Tour of California are there, but the rest is slim pickings.

  36. dave – I guess being a star is better than being dominant, altho you can argue it both ways I suppose – Woods was undoubtedly a good thing for golf fpr a decade or so, but Djokovic winning everything seems dull (to me anyway)

    • Noel, are you an avid follower of tennis or a ‘casual fan’ (I’m not being facetious here btw)?
      Djokovic is very much a ‘character’ and somewhat in the Sagan mould actually (I’m old enough to remember Ile Nastase, who was also from that neck of the woods – give or take a country or two! – another Slavic comedian, in the nicest sense).
      If Djokovic were a Brit, he’d most likely be a ‘Sir’ by now and be most beloved of the masses.

      Would Sagan likewise, I wonder?
      Maybe it’s a good thing if the Establishment don’t take to him?
      Most of us old timey fans love his cycling style and ability but are there are any younger fans on here who can say that Sagan brings more to the sport than that? (When I was an earnest teenager i might have hated Sagan for his Monaco choice alone. Now I’m older and cynical, and know different *not better*).

      • not really a comment on his character, more on the seeming inevitability of him winning whatever tournament he enters right now, without appearing to break sweat, removing the excitement of uncertainty in the outcome (I’m definitely in the casual bracket fyi, and you are quite correct, he would be Lord Djokovic of Wimbledon by now….)

        • Fair point.
          Is there an unseen threshold at which exciting becomes inevitable becomes boring?
          Ahh Sagan, they mock you for your second places, only to resent you when you’ve turned them to victories. And then, when you’ve retired, they’ll miss you and call you a legend!

        • I don’t know his character (Sagan’s) but I get the impression that if he moved in to the large detached house on Acacia Avenue, he’d turn the lawn in to a BMX track and have floodlit races with his friends, with lager and very loud music in the background!
          Haha, I don’t know if I like him or not – I wouldn’t if I lived next door, but I’m not likely to live on an Acacia Avenue so maybe I do like him!

  37. Nice Kundera reference in the title, although the big difference is that as I remember it the book was about existential neurosis – something that Sagan wouldn’t know if it bit him on the butt during a comfort break.

    Like all highly successful people, he does what he wants without an apparent shred of self-doubt. That’s great when he’s winning, but it does concern me what he might do to avoid failure if his mental strength takes a hit in the future. Cheating is far more likely to come from a fear of failure, especially if the leadership is wholly fixated on a culture of sink or win as Tinkov clearly is.

  38. Same can be said of Contador. He loses when he doesn’t win.

    Similar off the bike following. A unique icon of the sport who barely has any team support most times

Comments are closed.