Even as I type the name Peter Sagan, I imagine a massive, collective chuffing at the thought of featuring a ‘roadie’ on the virtual pages of bikemag.com. But, for the sake of those who’ve been living under a rock for the past week-and-a-bit, it’s July, and more important than the random displays of Chinese pyrotechnics that celebrate American independence, July is about the Tour de France.
That’s right, Le Tour–as viewed globally by more eyes than the UCI Downhill World Cup, Rampage, Joyride and the Olympic Mountain Bike Race combined. Perhaps those numbers might change at some point in the future, but the Tour’s been going on now for more than a century and it reins supreme in the cycling world. Which might be the one reason why a young Slovak cyclist by the name of Peter Sagan opted to make his living on skinny tires and keep the fat ones for recreation.
After collecting junior world championship titles in both cross-country mountain biking and the winter sport of cyclocross, Sagan focused his competitive interests toward the road. It wasn’t hard for anyone who saw him ride to imagine big things in his future, either. This was, after all, the kid who raced in sneakers and a T-shirt and summarily schooled everybody.
In 2012, at the tender age of 22, Sagan collected his first Green Jersey in the Tour de France (and got a shiny new Porsche as a thanks from his sponsor). He repeated the process in 2013 (I don’t know anything about fast cars or other bonuses) and, barring injury, looks pretty solid to take home another overall Green in this year’s Tour.
Though everyone knows that the Yellow Jersey is worn and won by the overall leader on time in the Tour de France, the Green is absolutely its prize for the biggest badass. That means Sagan has to throw himself into the sprinting mix more than anyone else and ring up more top-10 finishes than his competitors.
And if you think that sounds like a simple measure of fitness, think again. Big bunch sprints in pro road racing are terrifying, 40-mile-per-hour mosh pits of people wearing basically nothing but underwear. I’ve survived more than a hundred of them, and watching them on TV still makes me cringe.
To put that into mountain-biking perspective, here’s a text I sent photographer Adrian Marcoux last week:
“The thought of working that sprint in London today (i.e. leading it out) is about as terrifying a proposition as riding Lyle’s [Kyle Strait’s] Red Bull Rampage line. Luckily I was doing neither, but rather enjoying the race from my couch with a frosty cold cocktail in my hand.”
Sagan is truly somebody special. I have been a fan of all forms of wheel sports since my very first conscious thought, and I’d put it out there that the Slovak is perhaps the most exciting and entertaining wheel-sports athlete I can remember. And that’s a pretty tall statement, too, considering that I’ve had the incredibly great fortune to know and ride with some of the best road- and mountain-bike athletes the world has ever known.
This is, after all, the rider who completely shocked our staff with his ability to murder a hamburger and a pint of beer faster than Charlie Sheen could hoover a bag of cocaine. This is the guy who played grab-ass with some podium girls (and got ohh so in trouble for it). This is the guy who crosses the line of Tour de France uphill stages riding a no-handed wheelie, and who has celebrated race wins with a wheelie as opposed to the classic two-hands-raised salute. We’re not talking about some anemic, clean-and-jerk to shit-I-hope-no-one-saw-that kind of wheelie, either. No, this guy can ride a bicycle — and he’s fun to watch.
As you read this in the early hours of the morning on the east coast, Sagan is likely preparing for the day’s Tour de France stage while plugged in to the band Rise Above — which I find unfortunate, tragic even, but since he’s only 24 I’ll cut him some musical slack. Hey, whatever it takes.
If you’re reading this on the west coast, Sagan is probably pushing the pedals of his Cannondale road bike, whose top tube has been painted with a likeness of Hugh Jackman as Marvel Comics’ The Wolverine. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure about that one either. But hey, whatever it takes.
Still not convinced? Watch the following video of Peter Sagan shredding the dirt once again.
Former top-level mountain bikers Cadel Evans and Ryder Hesjedal have won the Tour de France and the Giro d’Italia respectively, and both events are monuments in the road-racing world. I’m wondering if a certain Tour de France Green Jersey winner might ever entertain a shot at one of gravity mountain biking’s monuments like the World Cup or … Rampage? Yeah, probably not, but stranger things have happened and I have seen pictures of him wearing goggles and a full-face.
For a full length profile on Sagan, read here.