What's Cool In Road Cycling

PEZ Bookshelf: Sagan – My World

Peter Sagan is, without doubt, one of the most interesting riders in the pro peloton, combining elements of the Class Clown with exceptional athleticism, tactical nous, and a relentless will to win. His new memoir, as written by cycling author John Deering, provides an interesting insight into the sport’s preeminent colourful personality.

Slovakia, a country of five million, is noted much more for producing hockey players than pro cyclists and as such its cycling support structure is weak and disorganized. It is delightful to picture the consternation of officials when the boy Peter Sagan arrived at a race on his sister’s shopping bicycle and proceeded to win the event. Although his older brother was much more focused on riding, Peter was a natural talent, and his career has not only included road cycling at the professional level since 2009 but he also carried his country’s colours successfully in cyclocross and mountain biking, in the latter discipline winning gold in the men’s junior cross-country World Championships in 2008 and competing in the Rio Olympics in 2016. With so much time spent in the saddle, it is no wonder that his bike handling skills are remarkable, as one can see from the famous video of him riding his bicycle up onto the roof of the team car to park it! He also mentions the fallen rider he had to get around at the 2016 Milan-San Remo he had been preparing to win but seeing the video it is a masterpiece of riding on display.

Peter Sagan’s world is an interesting place. One has the impression from interviews that he comes across as a person somewhat stoned and confused and at other times sharp and focused but the book really indicates that the Clown Prince of Cycling—his motto, repeated throughout the book, is “Why so serious?” is actually a dedicated and very shrewd individual. The book really focuses on his unprecedented three consecutive wins of the World Road Championships and how they were accomplished.


Sagan is accurate in saying that there is no single race but that when you have 100 riders you have 100 different stories and endings. One is made aware of the confusion inside the peloton during a race, when nobody knows exactly what is happening, even to the point where Sagan wins a stage without realizing that there was in fact nobody ahead of him.

Happy with another win

Sagan’s high-spirited personality requires a different level of support than a typical rider and thus was born Team Peter, a small group of confidants surrounding the star. This mini-peloton includes his brother and another Slovak rider, his manager, masseur, and a general factotum who seems to basically arrange his life for him. The elements that make up Team Peter, whose entirety was shifted from the Tinkoff team to Bora-hansgrohe in 2017, are the subjects of practical jokes and relentless teasing. Bets seem to result in constant visits to the tattoo parlour. We also learn that Mr. Sagan loves to set off fire extinguishers.

Worlds No.2 in Doha

It is difficult to categorize Sagan as a particular kind of rider as he has shown the stamina to win long-distance Monuments including the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix (coming a close second in Milan-San Remo), as well as being able to outthink and outpace some of the best sprinters of this generation. His technique is highly opportunistic, seeking out gaps in the field and positioning himself perfectly for the final surge in a race. This was very much apparent in 2015 in Richmond at the World Championships, where, as captain of the tiny and undergunned Slovakian team, he was invisible for almost the entire race until exploding out of the group on one of the final cobbled climbs to finish alone. At the GP Cycliste de Montreal in 2013 (a race not mentioned in the book) he did not rely on this sprint but simply picked the ideal moment and rode away at the end of the race to finish unopposed.

Montreal Sagan solo

The book has excellent accounts of his wins at the Tour of Flanders in 2017 and Paris-Roubaix in 2018, both of which were marvellous to watch. He is also very generous not only to praise the support of Team Peter but also his teammates at Bora-hansgrohe who set him up to win. Of course, Peter Sagan, for all his goofiness, loves to win and this hunger for success differentiates the stars from the water carriers. On the page he seethes with frustration when the wins don’t come and Fate played cruel tricks on him in 2016 at the Tour de France, where he came second five times, third once and fourth once, ultimately taking the Green Jersey without winning a stage that year.

Sagan in green

Sagan is not above relishing his own disasters, and the chapter about his effort at the Olympics to win the mountain bike race is hilarious since everything that could go wrong more or less did. He is also anxious to set the record straight about the incident that saw him thrown out of the 2017 Tour de France following a collision with Mark Cavendish. Although a jury review exonerated him subsequently, it damaged his reputation and was the biggest story of the Tour that year. Given his popularity, it is no surprise that his crashing out at the Tour of Flanders that same year was bigger news than Philippe Gilbert’s spectacular 50 km solo ride to win but he gives credit to his competitors and is respectful of their performances. Although he likes to consider himself polite, there is no mention in the book of the notorious Podium Girl Incident of 2013, when his clowning looked crass and childish.

The flower apology to podium girl Maja Leye

Peter Sagan is the most marketable personality in pro cycling, not only for his wins but also his wheelies and his rotating hair styles. Unlike the asthmatic dullards or stone-faced silent types who seem to populate the sport and hinder its wider acceptance, he openly states that he is there not only to win but to entertain. As he said at the 2016 Tour: “We are actors. No, we are artists.”

Worlds win No.3

He likes to do flashy things — when out of the Tour in 2017, he chartered the legendary Christina O, the yacht once owned by Aristotle Onassis, and took Team Peter and relations on a cruise of the Mediterranean — but is also a supporter of developing cyclists in his home country. His participation in a charity ride for victims of the fires in California raised $70,000 in a few hours this fall. He is not only apparently the highest-paid pro rider but he earns millions for his sponsors as well. He is not shy about how his bread is buttered and laughs off the ad he did for sponsor hansgrohe, taking a shower and promoting their bathroom fixtures.

His palmarès include not only the aforementioned Cobbled Classics and three Worlds victories but six Tour de France Green Jerseys (tied with Erik Zabel for the record), fifteen Grand Tour stage wins, three wins at Gent-Wevelgem, the Tour of California stage race—in all, currently 109 career wins. It should not be overlooked that he is only 28 years old and is still hungry for wins.

More wins – More fans

“Peter Sagan: My World” is a fun read about a great athlete. Self-deprecating as well as analytical, it lets us into Team Peter and the world of pro cycling as seen through the highly observant eyes of its most idiosyncratic practitioner. Why so serious indeed?

“Peter Sagan: My World” by Peter Sagan, with John Deering
320 pp., illustrated, hardcover
VeloPress, Boulder, Colorado, 2018
ISBN 978-1-937715-94-6
Suggested Retail Price: US$ 24.95/C$ 33.94
For more information: www.velopress.com.

# Photos not from the book, apart from the cover by Sam Baker. #

“Peter Sagan: My World” by Peter Sagan, with John Deering available from AMAZON.COM.

When not gazing in awed rapture at his Peter Sagan-signed Rainbow Jersey, Leslie Reissner may be found being not so serious at www.tindonkey.com.

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