Who is Peter Sagan? He’s the rider in the green jersey and the rainbow bands, the one who does the wheelies, the videos and more. Yet for all the iconic images and animated GIFs the person behind them seems elusive so here’s his autobiography with 260 pages to explain more.
L’Equipe’s Philippe Brunel, who has seen some champions in his time, has put Sagan alongside Merckx for the way we describe how others may win races but it is also a story when Sagan loses. In Merckx’s case it was because the Cannibal won so often, so compulsively; with Sagan it is perhaps more because he’s a media phenomenon too, the kind 12 year olds will have posters stuck to their bedroom wall, so his autobiography is bound to be of interest to cycling fans and possibly a wider audience too.
“My World” is structured around his three world championship wins with substantial chapters devoted to first-person accounts of these triumphs. It makes a change from the routine rider autobiography: childhood, their start in the sport, the rise up through the ranks, turning professional, the first pro win, more success, sometimes a setback or two, then more wins. Departing from this is interesting but the result is the book skips a lot of the background to Sagan’s pro career to focus on what we already know, namely he won three rainbow jerseys. There is a section on his early years but it’s brief and at other times the book touches on his upbringing, family life and suchlike but it’s oblique at best. I remember a Slovak TV report with his devout mother packing rosaries into his luggage before a Liquigas team camp, the kind of scene the book doesn’t cover.
It’s ghostwritten and at times the voice is that of a Briton rather than a Slovak, for example the second page describes his approach to the World Championships in 2017: “suffice to say the last fortnight was not the preparation I’d had in mind”. This feels like a turn of phrase an Englishman might deploy in between sips of tea, rather than Sagan. Sagan can communicate in English but he’s not fluent, his Italian is better but ideally he’d have told his tale in Slovak for translation. Similarly if the audience is mentioned, at one point he says you are probably a “roadie” if you are reading, non-cyclists might struggle with some references, for example we know what pavé means but the wider public may not.
I got a preview copy and it’s possible things were corrected prior to publication but there were several errors. Rival sprinter Matteo Trentin is called Guido, a mix up with the homonymous ex-pro. “Michal Kwiato” is mentioned throughout the entire book, a more casual sports fan might be confused as it’s never once mentioned this refers to Michał Kwiatkowski. Slovakia is part of “Soviet Europe”. Sagan says he had no Slovak riders to look up to before Ján Valach came along, although Giro stage winner Jan Svorada might have something to say about that even if he did later switch to Czech nationality. The book has Sagan recounting an anecdote about Sean Kelly and Adri Van der Poel but is Sagan a student of race history? He was once asked by a French journalist if, of all the past riders, he thought he resembled Sean Kelly the most, only he didn’t understand the question as he’d never heard of the Irishman. There are pages dedicated to his wife and their marriage but they announced their separation back in July.
You do learn more about Sagan, especially his entourage, “Team Peter”. It’s common for star riders when hired to come as a package with a trusted soigneur, a mechanic or a leadout guy. Sagan too with his agent Giovanni Lombardi as well having his own PR handler and general gopher in Gabriele Uboldi and their set-up is explained. While some riders and staff plan how to win races, Sagan and his crew almost assume he will and make dares and bets with each other should he win: a tattoo here, a sports car there. “Why so serious” is a mantra throughout the book, he’s out to enjoy life and doesn’t bore the reader about watts, diet or ascetic training regimes.
Sagan doesn’t give us too much new info. He briefly mentions he bought some land, started building a garage for his cars – is he a car enthusiast? – added some living space, one thing led to another and it ended up as a sports centre to house promising Slovak athletes. It’d be interesting to know how and why this all went from a parking lot to a sports facility, perhaps it might tell us more about him? We get more on the years with the Tinkoff team. One day Oleg Tinkov declared he wanted to cut Sagan’s pay after he missed out on the spring classics. The threat to shred Sagan’s contract prompts him and his agent to check their small print by which time Tinkov has laughed and forgotten about it.
He seems to have gotten into cycling thanks to his older brother Juraj. Why is Sagan just so good? It’s never explained, no VO2 Max or data feature nor how he got those technical skills although as a child he’d play in the woods while Juraj sat in front of the TV watching Marco Pantani, so we’re left extrapolating from a couple of lines about an active youth to early mountain bike riding and when he resumes the MTB for the Olympics the reflexes come back quicly. He does explain some of his approach to sprinting and that he probably won’t bother to challenge or change his body type, he won’t be targeting hilly stage races any time soon. He also mentions a recurrent hip problem which might explain his sometimes asymmetric position on the bike.
An easy read, “My World” tells only a part of Sagan’s story. There’s much on his three world championship wins, a remarkable feat with detail added such as his expectations ahead of the race to his cornering technique in the final moments. As such it’s more “My Rainbow”. Yet we know he won the worlds already, surely it’s the other parts of Sagan’s world that fascinate, from his background to his talent and skill to his atypical charisma and his view of the world around him remain largely unexplored. It’s fine to be guarded about private life but at the same time he does explore topics like family life including celebrating his marriage which has ended prior to this book’s publication. If he were to read this review he might say “why so serious” but the UK edition is £20 for the hardback, which is a lot. If there’s a diligent Slovak biographer out there – and perhaps they are sensibly waiting for his career to end before drawing conclusions – then there’s a good read about the Sagan phenomenon to come out one day.
- “My World” is published in the UK by Yellow Jersey press and the hardback retails for £20. There are translations in various languages like Italian, German, Spanish and Dutch.
- Note: a PDF copy of the book was sent by the publishers for review
A list of previous book reviews at inrng.com/books
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Thanks inrng. Think I’ll probably give it a miss. This book sounds like sponsor pressure to maintain Sagan’s image in light of the fact that he was inevitably going to pass in the rainbow jersey this year.
Hopefully a more substantial account of his life and career will be published in years to come.
Couldn’t agree more. I’d imagine he’s as obsessed with his training, power and diet as every other professional, and amateur, cyclist but that wouldn’t fit with his ‘just turn up, pull wheelies and win’ image. In general I’d always say its a bad idea to read a sportsman’s autobiography whilst they are still competing anyway.
There is some evidence for that, because Hansgrohe used the press event for the bio to launch its Peter Sagan line of shower heads. Has there ever before been a celebrity shower head?
That’s worked as it’s associated the product in people’s minds. I’m not sure the book is a sponsor effort although he is happy with them and certainly namechecks them several times.
I get the impression he’s a bit of a closed book psychologically so either not capable or not willing to reveal much insight about his inner world and what really drives him. Which is fair enough but a bit limiting in an autobiography.
Re Cars I think he is a bit of a petrolhead and owns a nicely modded Dodge Challenger amongst others
Here’s a link to his car…
1000 horsepower, should win a few sprints with that
Thanks, the article about Sagan and his car covers a lot about him in one web page, from an interest in American culture to the way he started with a small project that goes much further, like the parking lot story above, it seems to use one example to paint more of a picture than the book did, even if it’s Tedro’s side and not Sagan.
Thanks for the review. I would probably have given this a miss anyway, but it’s nice to know I’m not missing anything. An autobiography of a man just 28 years old is bound to be a little thin even if every day was recounted. A decade from now a decent one can probably be written.
Granted, a decent autobiography of a man just 28 years old is likely to be thinner than a decent biography of the same 28 year old – but there is no reason whatsoever to assume that an autobiography or a biography of a 38-, 58- or 78-year old would be fuller.
And although I would tend to agree that books written after a sportman’s career has reached its full span are generally more rewarding reads than books quickly written or ghostwritten and rushed to the market when the iron is hot, so to speak, it is not something that is bound to be so.
Besides, the best reviews of books are those that give a thumbs up for a book that one would have probably given a miss. And those that wisely help to avoid wasting one’s time on a book that one would otherwise have assumed to be hugely interesting and definitely worth spending a few hours with:-)
The problem for me with mid-career autobiographies is that they are rarely truly insightful. How can you fully scrutinise events when only half the story is written.
Compare LA’s ‘it’s not about the bike’, this was written shortly after his first win, and gives no proper insight into his other 6 ‘wins’, or even his doping. The main protagonist just does not have the distance of time to fully assess the orbit of their career. As such any premature tome such as this probably captures bits of their personality, what they want you to see, rather than balancing things.
Strange to pick LA as an example of a mid-career book with little content. Charting his path through cancer, having a growing career ripped away and working hard to win it back, is a fascinating read miles ahead of a lot of sports biographies.
Compare it to say, Mark Cavendish Boy Racer. Boy Racer has a few funny stories and good quotes but overall lacks real interest. There’s minimal conflict or challenge and the lack of time from events makes the book feel uninteresting and shallow.
I haven’t read that one.
To be fair, I steer clear of nearly all mid-career autobiographies.
Honestly, I just don’t get the Sagan-mania. Incredible skills and physical ability for sure, but whenever I read or hear interviews with him he’s no more charismatic or interesting than other pro-cycling “personalities”. I don’t find him “gnomic” “wry” etc…, he just doesn’t have a great grasp of english and that comes across in his answers. Mitch Docker, De Gendt, Phinney, Dumoulin, off the top of my head, I find to be much more engaging, interesting individuals.
I’ll take a stab at it for you Chris. First, with the exception of Dumoulin, the “engaging, interesting” individuals you have listed have yet to win anything of note compared to Sagan. Next, none of them exhibit the almost child-like joy in just riding a bike in the way Sagan does. Then there’s his “Why So Serious?” persona in general – a genuine breath-of-fresh air in a world of data, marginal gains, etc. He also is outspoken in his views that cycling’s not the most important thing in life. You might remember his victory speech at Richmond? He also seems to be almost universally liked in the pro peloton and returns the respect. Lastly he looks like a normal human being in comparison to the skeletal form of many of those you listed. This quote from Eroica’s Giancarlo Brocci explains that better – Let them eat! Introduce a minimum body weight. Then they will be attractive to watch again, and they will last more than one month a year. One of our L’Eroica mantras is: “From heroic cycling to the sweet life,” when cyclists were good-looking sex symbols, not to be pitied, like anorexic models or patients suffering from a chronic illness, queuing up for a drip.
Does that help?
I mean, it helps explain why you like him I guess but no, doesn’t really explain it. I was hoping for some actual examples of a personality unlike others in the peloton.
So, winning something of note, not really top of the agenda for meaning someone has an interesting personality, for me anyway. Otherwise Froome would be Mr Charisma. Child like joy – examples please? I saw at least 2 other mid-level pros doing wheelies this year. There are whole gangs of kids doing them near me. Again, I just don’t see that as personality. “Why so serious” persona – where is this persona I keep hearing about? Because he got a bad tattoo, that means he’s charismatic now? Speech at Richmond, again, nothing that I couldn’t see someone like Phinney saying if he had Sagan’s talent to dominate. Universally liked – so what, so are plenty of people. Your last point about him having a bigger physique. No, sorry, again that doesn’t make him interesting to me, it makes him a sprinter.
I’m an unabashed fan, Chris.
Sagan has extraordinary cycling ability and possibly is the best example of natural talent, if one can put it that way.
Perhaps there’s a forgiiveable tendency for onlookers to portray other non-sporting qualities on one so talented, whether they’re present or not?
Maybe his talents finish on the sporting plane? Maybe they don’t?
It would be nice to know.
Personally I feel he’s far too young at present and we should just enjoy what he’s doing now.
The other things may come, with experience and maturity, and as others have pointed out, that would be the time to discover the ‘real’ Peter Sagan.
I think elan and panache are two words which ring true with his greatest wins. When he rides there’s voltaic charge being powered through the pedals not present in the competition. You get a sense of joy when he wins, and it is infectious.
But if you don’t get it, you don’t get it.
None of that was just me, these are things my cycling friends, clients and wife give as reasons they like him. I note you project a lot of these qualities onto those you noted as a “well, they could do that too” idea, but the fact is they either haven’t, can’t or won’t.
I’m sure there are plenty of nice, charismatic riders out there, but few of them attain the kind of success that gives them the kind of platform to express this in the way Sagan does. Perhaps you don’t watch enough of the races the man wins (or the ones he doesn’t) after the finish line is crossed to see how the guy behaves as compared to his rivals? Finally I note your last sentence, are you saying sprinters are not interesting? I really have no problem whether you like the man or not, I was just trying to help you understand why so many do. Perhaps you can explain what is so exceptional about the people you listed as engaging and interesting by way of contrast?
I’d add, to Larry, that Sagan’s greatest years have come during his three year reign as World Champion and that, in itself, is more than enough for us fans.
I’ll never forget the Spring when he seemed to have declared a one-man war on Quick Step and every race had an electricity to the rivalry.
I’d even go so far as to compare it to some of the sporting rivalries that have assumed legendary status over time. It was absolutely riveting.
The odd thing was, Sagan seemed as if he was oblivious to this. Perhaps it just did come naturally to him, or was it a mantle that he felt naturally obliged to assume?
I’d like to think the latter, and so I don’t entirely agree with Inner Ring’s conclusion about Sagan being uninterested in history etc.
I think he has been acutely aware of how he’s ridden as World Champion, maybe never more than that Spring (even to his ultimate detriment, at least podium wise although not to his standing).
He’s been a fantastic World Champion. And we can’t ask any more than that.
My favourite memory of Sagan is actualy off the bike.
When he won in Richmond, and the security guard was hassling him to go to the protocol tent, Sagan just rolled his bike to the guard who instinctively caught it, and the had to stand there holding his bike while Sagan celebrated with the fans throwing his gloves and helmet into the crowd. I loved that.
Lots of people win races, he does it exceptionally well, but that was pure panache.
And the solo to win Flanders in the rainbow stripes, with the camera bike alongside, gave us a truly iconic image of the man.
I mean have you seen the Grease video? Besides just being awesome, it is, unlike virtually everything nowadays, NOT some dumb viral marketing thing. He just made it with this wife (well, ex) for kicks. The guy is a legit goof. Sometimes it shades into Wes Andersonian whimsy territory – like showing up to that one UCI gala dressed as a 1930s Silesian coal baron/dandy vampire cout – but even that it seems like he’s just having a good time. The non-native English speakers say the darndest things media angle is a bit irritating but it’s hard to lay that on him, more reporters desperate for good copy, which he gives. Then combine all that his massive talent, style on the bike, etc and it’s not hard to see why he’s so popular – its exceedingly rare for a transcendental athlete to also be so engaging, not least because the maniacal focus required for highest-level athletic success make it hard to have interests outside that focus (not that Sagan doesn’t train hard, but clearly things comes easier to him than to most).
Certainly he’s more interesting than the vast majority of pro athletes, especially in cycling with its long traditions of grim-faced, dour suffering. That side of cycling is very important – it’s so intrinsic to the sport’s history – but it’s also nice to have a guy who can puncture the ridiculous levels of pomposity and self-seriousness cycling can exceed to.
(and not go on about the Grease video, but can you see Froome or Contador or Valverde doing such a thing? it is so dumb and so enjoyable. tbh it probably is – after A Sunday In Hell – my 2nd-favorite extracurricular cycling video of all time)
The Grease video was meant as a promo for Sunroot, Katarina Sagana’s business. But it was still fun and a long way from a commercial. I think one reason people are wondering what they get from Sagan is because of language, he can’t be very expressive in English. His Italian is much better and he does have more to say in Italian. In Slovak it’s hard to find that much, a lot of the content about him is tabloid-style rather than long interviews. Which is why the book disappointed, it tells about the racing and a bit more in and around but not enough to get a clearer picture.
Ah I stand corrected about Grease, tho the point still basically stands.
His English seems to have gotten much better in the last couple years? Tho I’ve experienced the frustration of trying to express complicated thoughts in a language that you speak decently well but aren’t quite fluid in. Either way he still says more interesting things than most athletes, I think. He reminds a bit of Ichiro Suzuki, who managed to be highly expressive despite having much more limited English than Sagan.
I’m not surprised about his biography tho – as others have said, how often is it a young, still active athlete releases a biography that is at all interesting? These things pretty much always seem like glorified press releases/potential revenue streams.
I was pretty impressed when after winning the Uraidla stage at the TDU this year, he then helped lack down the course.
After that, on his ride back to the Hotel, he stopped in at a local winery for a tasting – just because it was on the way.
I don’t critique why people like or dislike something. Ever try to convince someone why pizza is better than burgers?
That said, Sagan never has touted himself as a philosopher of the road (Phinney does, and is great to read/listen to him). But how many other riders (nay, athletes) you know that win a world championship and the first interview they give is an appeal to refugees?
What’s attractive about Sagan is that if you catch him at the right time he’ll give you a non-guarded answer. Whether that appeals to someone specifically reveals more about them than about the Slovakian.
i find these ghostwritten biogs a real waste of time. from what you say, this one has at least a different format, but the content seems like it is no more edifying than the usual pap. I seem to recall Sagan tweeting that he was looking forward to the slovak translation, which seems somewhat backwards for an “autobiography”.
On ghostwritten biographies, I enjoyed Geraint Thomas & Tom Fordyce’s “The World of Cycling According to G” Again, it had a different format, a collection of topics within cycling, from echelons to fans, and it made me chuckle more than a few times.
I suppose if you get the right people to do it, it can be ok. fordyce is a pretty decent journo and I expect G had a hand in the style.
For those in the US, My World will be released the first week of December. You can pre-order it on Amazon now.
Sure I heard the ghost writer on a podcast (Rouleur?) admit that the whole book came out of one 4 hour interview conducted on a flight home from a race, so not surprising it’s a little thin on details. Think I’ll pass.
Thanks. Nice to read the review, won’t pick up the book though, sports autobiogs are never something that catch my attention.
I was interested by your note of ‘why he’s so good’…
I know many times unusual physical attributes have either been overblown or undermined but later doping accusations… but from your want to know I assume it’s the sort of info you don’t complete ignore?
Which led me to two questions:
Why do you think Sagan is so good?
You mentioned VO2 but I thought that was more for the climbers? Are we back on lactic tolerance or twitch muscles with Sagan?
Then… which riders physical attributes do you think warrant mentioning? I guess Lemond’s V02 and Miguel? I read something once about Anquetil’s back being perfect for Time trialing, and have never known whether or not it was baloney?
Dave, you can assume he’s got extraordinary figures across the board, otherwise he would not be this succesful. The only thing weighing him down on longer climbs is well… weight.
Sorry I phrased it wrong.
I meant is there something specific, like I was saying re others below.
And whether VO2 matters as much for a non climber.
Aside from any physical attributes, Sagan appears to have an exceptional ability to read a race.
I’ve seen a couple of gifs of him in the gym showing extraordinary flexibility and strength… I have a feeling that behind the chilled out persona there lies a lot of grit and a ton of hard graft…
totally agree with the general sentiments about athletes writing books mid career – I think I got bored half way through G’s effort (he’s got another one coming out about the Tour apparently…kerching kerching…)
I’d like it if people buy these mid-career autobiographies as e-books then when a follow up comes out it is automatically added to your account/online library.
On a separate side issue, not completely unrelated to book reviews, I re-read the Secret Race review posted by Inrng (guest written by Race Radio). It was interesting reading the comments. I wonder how many of the original posters would now hold the same opinions now that more water has passed under the bridge. It’s clear what a hero LA was to many.
Also, would love to know Inrng’s thoughts on ‘the End of the Road’. Alasdair Fotheringham’s account of the Festina affair.
It’s an interesting read, mostly as it slowly unfurls the gathering shit storm that was the Festina affair. Although I remember some of the events, I had forgotten the utter chaos that the arrests, and subsequent police searches brought. The legacy of which has been to cement the ‘demise’ of French cycling, while almost single handlely destroying the TdF.
I keep forgetting that Woets arrest was no accident, as it came about as a result of a tip off. Fotheringham briefly speculates about who it could be and why. Surely whomever it was did not anticipate that it would have such far reaching effects. The result of which neatly cleared the way for the Armstrong era.
Although Bobby Julich’s presence on the podium was surely an anomaly created by the circumstances surrounding the events of 1998, the Pantani’s victory was, for me, the thickest piece of irony at the time.
Thanks for the review, it’s what I expected. I think Sagan is relatively guarded because in truth he feels things deeply, and he has found it useful to be this way to protect himself. I’ve known some elite athletes, and they’re often like good pilots – very disconnected from their emotions. Sagan doesn’t seem to share this attribute.
I just listened to the Cycling Podcast “Vineyards, Valverde, and Sagan.” Highly recommended! The last half of it is a very nice interview with Sagan, and though it’s in English, and not terribly in depth, there are multiple moments where he reveals the depth of his feelings. I think the happy-go-lucky “why worry” persona is genuine, but I think it’s also a defense mechanism. I would love to see what comes out of an interview in Italian or Slovak, conducted by someone with the interviewing skills of a Terry Gross. I think in the moment he is much more revealing than he’ll ever be in a book that is going to be edited and re-edited and scrubbed of anything really interesting.
Sooner or later you find Contador’s biography ( not sure if he already had one written by one English ‘ghostwriter’) ‘My Years in Tdfs’ or equivalent … I find pro cyclists have a big crush with fancy sport cars more often than not. (Don’t get me wrong always free to do with his hard earn cash)
As to your reference to fancy sports cars…replacing “pro cyclists” with “men with a lot of money” would be simpler and more accurate, no?
I have a copy of the book, I went to the signing at Waterstones on Tottenham Court Road in London. Peter was charm personified, he chatted to everyone (there were a lot of people). Made me feel welcome and answered my questions patiently, he even cracked a few jokes. They say, never meet your heroes. I’ve met some other very well known cyclists and been left feeling pretty flat. No so with Peter Sagan.
At 20 of Her Majesty’s British Pounds it seems Sagan is serious about one thing: making money for nothing.
I hope he transfers them into Swiss Franc soon. Her majesty’s 20 pound would worth a bit less should certain negotiation fell flat.
Wouldn’t that be his publisher rather than him directly? Keep trollin’
English is his 3rd language. I’m not sure why we would expect anything too coherent should he pen the biography himself – in interviews some of the humor and slapstick moments are borne out of improv due to the language barrier.
I would be more interested in picking up a Slovak book that would later see translation to other languages. So that more nuances and real personality can shine through.