After months of dread and angst leading up to the Tour de France, Peter Sagan reminded everyone Sunday why July can be so much fun.
The three-time world champion did more than win his ninth career Tour stage and claim his fourth yellow jersey. Sagan gave the Tour the bolt of joy it so desperately needed.
“Life is always good,” Sagan said with his trademark snicker. “And life is even better when you have the yellow jersey.”
When the Sagan Show is on, everyone wins.
With controversy swirling around Froome and larger questions throwing in doubt the integrity of the sport, many see Sagan and what he represents as just the rider who can save the Tour from itself.
For at least a few fleeting moments Sunday, the drama and controversy of the long-running Froome case wasn’t in the headlines. Racing was.
“I am not afraid of [Sonny] Colbrelli,” Sagan said of the sprint finale. “Well, maybe sometimes at night …”
Thanks, Peter, for breaking the ice.
With every success, Sagan remains approachable. Just this morning, before the start of Sunday’s stage, he stopped three or four times to sign autographs and pose for photos with fans as he pedaled from the team bus for the lineup. You’d be surprised how many pros never do that.
“I need to keep both feet on the ground,” he said, before adding with a laugh, “and both tires as well.”
At a professional level, his return to the winner’s podium Sunday is payback for his controversial expulsion from last year’s Tour in his highly contentious crash with Mark Cavendish.
The race jury at the time ejected Sagan from the Tour despite near-universal agreement that Sagan was not to blame for the crash. The Tour lost one of its brightest stars last year and the race was lesser for it.
“Revenge? I don’t think about revenge,” Sagan said Sunday. “I could see it was going to be a good year. This makes up for last year.”
Over the winter, the UCI did a rare U-turn, and ruled the Sagan-Cavendish crash was an “unintentional race incident.” That bureaucratic legalese meant the world to Sagan, who always insisted he never intentionally rammed Cavendish into the barriers.
“It is not my fault what happened,” Sagan said. “And the UCI also said it. I just don’t think about it anymore. I am here this year.”
And many are thanking the cycling gods he is.
After barnstorming through the spring classics, including his emotional Paris-Roubaix victory, Sagan brings his star power back to the Tour. In a sport short on big-name stars, Sagan is a ray of light.
Sagan had a big contingent of family and friends on hand to watch, and he didn’t disappoint. Sagan was quick to thank his teammates and dedicated the victory to his son, Marlon. He added if archrival Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step) hadn’t crashed, “he probably would have won again.”
“This the Tour,” he said. “Sometimes you are lucky, sometimes you are not so lucky. Today I was the lucky one.”
On Sunday, he claimed the yellow and points jerseys to go along with his world champion’s rainbow jersey as well as his national championship title. His daily prizes of the stuffed lion he gets as the yellow jersey holder he gives to friends, and once, to former teammate Roman Kreuziger.
“I keep one jersey from every race I win to put into my museum,” Sagan said. “The others I give away.”
Sagan will don the yellow jersey in Monday’s team time trial, but he knows it ends there.
“You cannot compare winning Paris-Roubaix to the yellow jersey, at least if I only have it for one day,” he said. “If I was winning it in Paris, that would be something else.”
It’s a good thing that Sagan isn’t racing for yellow in Paris. If he was aiming for GC, he wouldn’t be nearly as fun and engaging as he is as an unfettered classics rider and sprinter.
Sagan unleashed is so much more fun to watch.