“I don’t care if he wins the green jersey another five times. He’s definitely the best guy out there, he can win on every parcours. He’s good for our sport because he attracts people from outside cycling. You like it or you don’t. I think he’s just cool. Other riders say they don’t have time for such fun, but he just does it.” – Bernie Eisel of Dimension Data, teammate of one of Sagan’s biggest competitors in the Tour de France, Mark Cavendish.
Unsurprisingly, the Sagan we’ve come to know and love (Cavendish maybe excluded) was always some form of character in cycling. Starting at age 9, he would frequently race in tennis shoes and t-shirts. At the Slovak Cup as a junior, after selling his bike and not getting another from his sponsor in time, he had to borrow his sister’s to race on. He won. After winning the Mountain Bike Junior World Championship in 2008, he joined Quick-Step for road testing in 2009 but failed to gain a contract. Temporarily quitting road cycling until his parents convinced him to start again, he would go on to become one of the greatest cyclists of the modern era. Here’s why we should be thankful he did, and how he’s helping save a sport almost ruined by its past…
Blunder Turned Thunder at the Tour Down Under
His first Pro Tour race could’ve started better, as the young rider was involved in a crash on the second stage in Australia. However, showing true determination at just 19-years-old, he carried on with 17 stitches in his arm and thigh – to attack on the Willunga queen stage just 3 days later. Alongside Cadel Evans, Luis León Sánchez and Alejandro Valverde, they broke away to contest the win, with Sagan finishing just 6 seconds behind winner Sánchez.
His… Unique Celebrations
It only took 2 days at the 2012 Tour de France for Sagan to claim his first stage win, and in true Sagan fashion, he celebrated rather interestingly. Beating prologue winner and yellow jersey wearer Cancellara to the line, he pulled some form of chicken dance after the finish. He topped this just two days later, after winning stage 3 and demonstrating his Forrest Gump inspired celebration.
The other evening my teammates and I decided that if I won again, I’d do it like Forrest Gump: when they told him to run, he ran; when they tell me to win, I win. I like doing something that makes people smile. When I watch sport on the TV, I’ve always liked it when someone adds a touch of fun to their victories, like Valentino Rossi does. Now that I’m winning, I try to do the same thing.
Not a stage win celebration, but it was at the fourth stage of the Tour de France in 2015 that after an intermediate sprint, Sagan joked to Greipel, Degenkolb, Rolland and Cavendish to form a breakaway. Degenkolb laughed as Greipel eventually caught on, with Rolland behind missing the joke completely and Cavendish not looking at Sagan while the peloton caught up with them.
Peter’s partial to a wheelie, too. Pulling one while grabbing some cookies at the Tour of California, or no handed in the world champion jersey while training. Most impressively, no handed while climbing up Alpe d’Huez in 2013. What can he not do?
Gunning for Green
It seems like only a (right or wrong?) jury decision to take Sagan out of the Tour de France will stop him from obtaining yet another points classification jersey. He started strong back in 2012, winning a bet with the Liquigas management that he’d win two stages and the green jersey. He won the jersey, 3 stages and a Porsche. His 2013 victory in the points classification at the 100th Tour was certainly one of the most memorable – turning up next to an unsuspecting yellow jersey-donned Froome on stage 21 with a green beard and afro was a sight to behold.
If that wasn’t enough, here’s Sagan getting hands-on with a teammate.
Despite being keen for green, the world champion Sagan’s stage 2 win of the 2016 Tour saw him put on the yellow jersey for the first time in his career. Instead of showing off some new celebration, Sagan used his time in the yellow jersey spotlight to tell fellow riders his displeasure at their risk-taking and called for respect in the peloton.
Everyone rides as if they don’t care about life… in this moment I’m not an important rider in peloton [to change things]. Nobody cares. It’s as if they lost their brains. I don’t know what has happened.
With his prominence in the points classification, the 4-time winner was surely a shoe-in to win in 2017? This year, the Tour de France took a different turn. Initially it was a close shave for a stage win; Sagan at first thought he attacked too early on stage 3, and went on to unclip as he started to sprint. But that’s right – he unclipped and still won a sprint.
“I decided to go, I guess it was too early – it was 400m to go. It was far away, in the moment, I said ‘f–k, again too early’. Then I started my sprint, and as I pushed – I pulled my feet out from the cleat. It was another mistake, I was like, ‘what is happening today?’”
Unfortunately for Sagan, that’s where his Tour success ended. Stage 4 ended in a sprint finish, but a messy one at that. Originally with the helicopter shot, it was thought Sagan elbowed Cavendish into the barrier, causing him to crash. Yet the head-on angle conveyed the fact that Sagan’s elbow came out after Cavendish was already falling and unclipping. Surely a penalty of relegation on the stage and points taken off would be enough?
Not for Dimension Data. Despite messy sprinting and crashes being part and parcel of cycling… (Cavendish and Gerrans, 2012? Cavendish and Veelers 2013? Cavendish and Viviani 2016?) the jury decided Sagan was to be thrown out of the Tour de France. So, right or wrong decision? It seems cycling fans are split.
“Take your time and watch the replay in slow-motion. Then forget about Peter and Cav. Focus on Demarre. [sic] He is the first to change trajectory. So when we start punish people- maybe consider him first. His move almost crashed Bouhanni, he is trying to save himself and moves Sagan.
“Then Sagan moves over to the right and there is no space for nobody left. Its either be safe and break and lose, or maybe win or crash.
“So in my private opinion-the disqualification is too much. I am ok with -80 points in green jersey, last place [for the stage] and a time-penalty for Sagan.” – Jens Voigt.
Fighting Alongside Froome
To many people after the prominent figure of Bradley Wiggins as Team Sky’s once-leading cyclist, Froome appeared more reserved, more calm – seemingly the opposite of the extremely outgoing Slovakian? Yet Sagan is a personality in cycling that appears to appeal to the masses, and the two have shared a lot together in cycling. Podiums at the Tour de France, fun interview moments and breakaways on sprint stages.
In 2015, the pair were on the podium together in Paris, alongside white jersey winner Nairo Quintana. Sagan had some fun on the stage, pretending his trophy was a machine gun and bowing to the pair. Froome laughed, poor Quintana wasn’t exactly too sure what was going on.
It took many by surprise when, on a windy sprint stage 11 of the Tour de France in 2016, the unlikely pair suddenly attacked and worked together with 10km to go alongside teammates Thomas (Sky) and Bodnar (Tinkoff). By the time sprint trains had tried to organise themselves better and catch the quartet, Sagan had already won the stage while Froome placed 2nd, gaining valuable bonus seconds over his GC rivals.
He also likes to ‘video-bomb’ interviews. Whether it’s appearing over Nibali’s shoulder and nodding to everything he says, finishing an interview with Laura Meseguer then abruptly resting his chin on Greipel’s shoulder, walking over to Froome mid-interview just to put his arm around his shoulder, or interrupting another Froome interview just to say “Froomey! How are you?”, he does it all. When Froome replied “what happened, you didn’t win today man?”, the pair laughed as Sagan would channel Kellan Froome 2 years later, and try to steal Froome’s hat. (Chris’s son would succeed, however.)
At Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, he bluntly told a reporter that it’s just “normal for people to go to the toilet”, before an interesting interview alongside Sep Vanmarcke. Beginning in typical Sagan show stealing fashion, he lowered his chair to the absolute minimum, then went on to ask Sep straight out “why didn’t you attack?”
Tackling Tinkoff’s Threats
A poor start and lack of major results at the beginning of 2015 caused Oleg Tinkov to threaten to cut Sagan’s salary, while the team chef left at the Giro next year due to “threats and other inexcusable behaviour”. With this kind of environment, some could have struggled, under the pressure of a loss of income and management from a xenophobic sexist. It’s true that his season started on the back foot; he was in the lead group at E3 with 4.4km to go before being unable to follow Thomas’s attack and slipped from podium hopeful to 30th position. Yet despite this, Sagan soon appeared to perform better than ever. A surprise stage win ahead of van Emden in the time trial at the Tour of California awaited him, while he would go on to win the overall by millimetres – a bike throw gave him necessary bonus seconds over Alaphilippe of Quick-Step by 3 seconds. Amends for his lack of a contract in 2009, perhaps?
When Tinkoff folded at the end of 2016, as Sagan attacked solo and won the World Championships in Richmond, he joined teammates Bodnar, Kolar and brother Juraj at Bora-Hansgrohe.
Peter the Performer
While one Sunroot advert shows him demonstrating his impressive bike talents, (wheelies, descending, bunny hopping up some stairs), it is perhaps the other one that generates the most interest. In the style of Gladiator, with his long hair flouncing and holding a sword, he eventually kicks down his competitor. The mise en scène then switches to Pulp Fiction style, with Sagan and his wife interpreting the dance scene. It’s… interesting to say the least. His latest advert with Bora is less extravagant. Turns out even someone like Peter Sagan can’t dress up and interpret many films to sell Bora.
Love him, hate him, or just impartial to him, it’s hard to admit that this man hasn’t had some form of an impact on cycling. After a while it only seemed the news was full of negative press about the sport, and while cyclists like Kittel and Martin are doing well for the sport in Germany, and Froome improving the sport in Britain, Sagan is definitely a figure that appeals worldwide. It’s easy to see why. While I haven’t agreed with all of Sagan’s actions (like that time Sagan pinched a podium girl’s behind and she was “frozen to the spot” trying hard to keep calm…), it looks like cycling is becoming Sagan’s show, and we’re lucky to witness it. Cycling needs a personality like him. I’ll end this post with one of my favourite Sagan quotes, away from the cycling circus. Feel free to add your own.
“The problems in the world we have to change… I think that in the next years it can all be different. I think this competition and all the sport is very nice for the people. And we are motivation for the people. The situation is very difficult. I want to say to all the people: change this world.”