How the hell … has Peter Sagan started to annoy me?

Last week Journal Velo told how his animosity for Alexandro Valverde has turned to admiration. This week it’s the other way around. The current world champion has started to grate. He begs the question: How the hell has Peter Sagan started to annoy me?

Like many, if not most, cycling fans I’ve been an admirer of Peter Sagan. He has impressed me with the way he’s won multiple green jerseys at the Tour de France [five so far and counting – ed] – I’ve enjoyed the way he has played to his strengths to rack up the points summer after summer. Certainly his three successive world championship wins are no trivial feat [of the five riders who have won three rainbow jerseys, Sagan is the only one to win them in consecutive years – ed]

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One particularly strong memory comes from the 2015 Tour de France when Sagan was at Tinkoff. We caught sight of him standing on the side of the road helping teammate Alberto Contador who’d crashed. Sagan was in the green jersey at the time but he acted like an unselfish team player, putting himself in the service of his team leader, when other Tinkoffs couldn’t hear their radios [>cough< Majka >cough< – ed].

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But in the past couple of weeks, his interview comments have taken a disappointing turn and I can feel some of that respect slipping away. How the hell has Peter Sagan started to annoy me?

It started after stage 6 of Tirreno-Adriatico – the stage where Sagan skilfully, almost magically, avoided a crash involving Fernando Gaviria. He changed his bike and went from back of the bunch to second place behind Marcel Kittel – and he did that all in under eight kilometres. “I don’t care about victories, it’s more about show,” he said in the post-stage interview.

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How many ways did that quote annoy me? Let me count the ways! Firstly it devalued Kittel’s win: “Yeah, Kittel won but who cares about that because I was more entertaining to watch?”

Secondly, it smelled of BS. This, from the same Peter Sagan who used to have a different celebration for each new victory? A strange way to behave if you don’t care about coming first. Mind you, riding your heart out for eight kilometres and then battling with Kittel on the finish line is also a strange way to behave if you don’t care about winning. Why not tootle home and pop a wheelie over the finish line if it’s all about the show?

Finally, I found it disrespectful to his team  – not only because Bora pays him more than any other professional rider but what about his teammates? Whether it goes to plan or not, they do the hard (mostly unnoticed) work to protect him throughout the stage and then (hopefully) get him into a strong position at the end of the stage. Are they supposed to work themselves to the bone only so Sagan can take the applause of the crowds and thrill the fans? Wouldn’t they rather get the kudos and joy of being part of the winning team – not to mention their slice of a win bonus?

He was at it again before Milan-Sanremo. The world champion said winning the race in the style that Michal Kwiatkowski did in 2017 wouldn’t please him. Sagan made a break for it on the Poggio that year, Kwiatkowski bridged across with Julian Alaphilippe. The pair let Sagan do the vast majority of the work until the final sprint and the fresher Kwiatkowski prevailed.

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However, let’s look at the last 30 kilometres of that race: Sagan followed wheels and conserved energy on the Cipressa. So is it alright to limit your efforts at some points but not others? We also see that Alaphilippe and Kwiatkowski had more cards to play. With their teams’ sprinters 10 seconds behind, they knew that Sagan needed to push on to avoid a pure sprint finish. The duo sat tight knowing Sagan couldn’t sit up. Welcome to bike racing, Peter! Instead of saying ‘that’s racing’, he tried to devalue Kwiatkowski’s Monument win. For me, the world champion should be better than that.

Look, I get he’s trying to take the pressure off a bit – a little trash talk to get at one of his biggest rivals, a few glib quotes to mask his own disappointment. In racing, being the strongest and most high profile isn’t always easy. I understand he’s probably frustrated at being marked so closely race after race and finding allies is getting harder to come by. I’d just like to see a classier reaction when it doesn’t go to plan.

So how the hell has Peter Sagan started to annoy me? The most respected rider of the moment has started to disrespect others – and we know that he’s better than that. 

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