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Zen master Sagan poised for big 2018

ADELAIDE, Australia (VN) — Peter Sagan is cycling’s ultimate zen master.

The preternatural two-wheeled virtuoso lives in the here and now. Blessed by the cycling gods, Sagan doesn’t worry about the weight of history, even when he’s making it. Those concerns are for mere mortals.

“I do not know what is going to happen in life,” Sagan said. “Why do I have to think about that? I am here now.”

After a winter of hibernation, the Sagan Show was back under the spotlight at the WorldTour season opener in Australia. A stage win and the points jersey at the Santos Tour Down Under to open the 2018 calendar suggests he’s poised for a big season.

While journalists grit their teeth trying to paint him into a box, Sagan is simply enjoying the ride. (And helping out when he can).

Saganism comes to us in snippets. He’s the ideal star for the Twitter age. A gesture, a turn of phrase, or a video clip can instantly go viral. He has the uncanny ability to turn the banal into something entertaining (remember his chair slide during last year’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad?). Fans love him and so do most of his colleagues in the peloton.

If anything sums up Sagan’s bon vivant character and live-and-let-live attitude, it’s a new tattoo emblazoned across his right hip. The dark ink features a Sagan-like Joker character from “Batman,” with the slogan, “Why so serious?”

“Why so serious?” when asked about the fresh ink. “Everyone is always so serious, especially the journalists. You can also take life not so serious. You can have fun. When you lose the fun, then everything goes down.”

Sagan clearly enjoys life as three-time world champion, and he is poised to have a lot more fun in 2019.

Turning 28 this week, he comes into the 2018 racing season fitter and more at ease with his rising profile. Becoming a new father adds another layer to Sagan’s world, and he rolled out of the Santos Tour Down Under with expectations flying high.

After a short break at home, he’ll ramp up his European calendar with Strade Bianche, Tirreno-Adriatico, and Milano-Sanremo. He doesn’t like to look much further down the road. When asked if he’s coming back to the Tour Down Under next year, he replied, “I do not know what I am doing tomorrow. So how can I know about something from a year from now?”

Those close to him are working hard to let Peter be Peter, but at the same time, they’re trying to elevate his game just that much more.

“He is an artist. He is a special rider who can do things no one else can,” said Bora-Hansgrohe sport director Patxi Vila. “We have to take care of him, because it would be impossible to replace him. Sometimes cycling is becoming too serious. There are too many numbers. Sometimes I think we are losing the real DNA of the sport. Cycling is fun, and it has to be fun. That’s what Peter brings to cycling right now.”

Maintaining that balance between fun and amusement, and the hard work and preparation that professional cycling requires is a balancing act for the Bora-Hansgrohe staff. Sagan has quietly built a strong support system for himself both on and off the bike, with such key riders as new arrival Daniel Oss, his brother Juraj, and Maciej Bodnar, as well as Vila, agent Giovanni Lombardi, and press officer Gabriele Uboldi behind the scenes.

Everyone is working to help Sagan win a lot of races without losing the inimitable spirit and energy that he brings to cycling.

“Peter is unique in today’s cycling. He races on instinct and passion,” Oss said. “Of course, he is professional and he does the work. But he is a rider who can improvise and create magic in any race he starts. No one can do that today in the peloton like he does.”

All the pieces are stacking up for what could be another exceptional season. After reeling off green jerseys and hogging the rainbow jersey, the team’s first major focus are the spring classics — not the yellow jersey in Paris. Everyone within the organization senses that Sagan could emerge this season as the dominant force in the monuments. With one victory at the Tour of Flanders and a lot more close calls, more big wins seem all but inevitable.

Sagan is the superstar that cycling so desperately needs. He rides his bike because he enjoys it. He races because he’s naturally good at it. And he wins because something clicks deep inside him when he sees the finish line.

“Everything changes in the race,” Sagan said. “You can be normal in everyday life. When you are 5km from the finish, when you are there, you have to try. It is also some kind of job. After all of the energy, all of the work, the finish line is there. You come so close. You want to be the best.”

How does he do it? Sagan doesn’t get bogged down in the details (“That’s why Patxi is here,” when asked about his power numbers) and he doesn’t dwell on the pressure to win more monuments.

“I don’t think about that,” he countered. “If you think about what you want to expect, you can also have some disappointment.”

Sagan simply wants to enjoy the moment. That is an elusive freedom that comes with the unfettered mind.

For Sagan, it’s simply destiny.

“When I was nine years old, I started to ride bikes, and I figured out I have some talent for it,” he said. “Now I just continue.”

That’s pure Sagan. Zen master of the peloton.

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