Peter Sagan turned 31 years old Tuesday.
What better way to celebrate the birthday of cycling’s superhero than to look back over some of his greatest moments?
- Peter Sagan is back in mischievous mode, and that’s a good thing
- Sagan faces new rivals in his quest for a fourth world title
- Sagan: I flatted and suffered at the 2016 Rio Olympics, but still had a little fun
From Tour de France green jerseys to cobbles-crushing attacks, Peter’s palmarès has more highlights than most. European editors Andrew Hood and Jim Cotton have picked through the lot to select their five marquee moments of Sagan swagger:
A star is born at Paris-Nice 2010
Andrew: Sagan didn’t waste any time in making a splash in his rookie season.
In fact, it was at that year’s Tour Down Under that Sagan put on his first show by attacking the field during the opening criterium, and later dropping Lance Armstrong on Old Willunga Hill. Everyone was like, ‘who is that guy?’
His European WorldTour debut at Paris-Nice a few weeks later saw Sagan put the peloton on notice that he was going to be a force to contend with. In what was the first of his career 114 victories to date, Sagan beat Joaquim Rodríguez and Nicholas Roche as the trio peeled clear of the main bunch.
Two days later, he won all alone in the photo, dashing ahead of the pack to win his second stage en route to 16th overall. The news was out — there was something special about this guy.
Sagan says: “I didn’t know I could be so strong so quickly at the ProTour level. I had my first taste of it in Australia, and I did well there. I thought I might go down a little bit, but that is not the case here at Paris-Nice,” he said in 2010. “All the champions on the ProTour are impressive, but Armstrong and Contador are even more so than the others. Ten years ago, I was still a small kid when I watched Armstrong on TV, and now here I am at Paris-Nice, which is very nice.”
Earning his stripes at the Richmond world championships
Jim: Sagan arrived in Richmond as one of a long list of favorites on the punchy, technical city center circuit. However, after no less than 12 top-1os but not a single win at that summer’s Tour de France, he seemed destined to be left playing the bridesmaid come the Broad Street finish line.
But he didn’t let it happen.
Sagan burst from the bunch over the 23rd Street climb to drop the unsuspecting field. He summited solo and uncorked a dazzling descent to launch into an edge-of-your-seat TT to the line, leaving the chasing pack riding in his fumes as he motored to a nerve-jangling three-second win.
If ever a world champion is defined as much by the performance as they are by the result, Sagan’s strike in Richmond is a perfect example. And better still, the winning move came from pure instinct.
Sagan says: “With my team, we couldn’t have a strategy, because we were just three in the race,” he said in 2015. “I’m no good at strategy. I can just do what I did.”
Conquering the cobblestones at the 2018 Paris-Roubaix
Jim: Sagan marked himself out as a master of the cobblestones in 2016 in a season that saw him win Gent-Wevelgem and the Tour of Flanders on consecutive weekends. Then, through 2017, some feared his monument mojo had vanished – second-place in Milano-Sanremo made for little compensation for anonymous finishes at both Roubaix and Flanders. Was his 2016 season a one-off?
Riding through the 2018 classics in his third rainbow jersey, the curse of the rainbow bands looked to be hanging heavy over Sagan.
The world champ’s spring looked to be heading toward another near-miss, with a win at Gent-Wevelgem the one bright spot of a frustrating classics campaign that saw him come close — but not close enough — at Strade Bianche, Milano-Sanremo and the Tour of Flanders.
One week after failing to chase down eventual winner Niki Terpstra at De Ronde, Sagan switched on the show at Roubaix. The Slovak turned on the turbos with 50km to go to dust the peloton before outsprinting Sylvan Dillier in the velodrome.
The Roubaix victory completed Sagan’s cobblestone set alongside Flanders and Gent-Wevelgem and landed him his dream victory – and one that us watching are unlikely to forget.
Sagan says: “When I was younger it was always my dream to win Paris-Roubaix. If someone would ask me to change my world titles for Roubaix or Flanders, I would say no — that is something more,” he said in 2018. “Now I have won all three [Flanders, Roubaix, and worlds]. I am very happy.”
The Hulk eats green at the Tour de France
Andrew: Sagan made his highly anticipated Tour de France debut in 2012, and with trademark panache, quickly left his mark.
He was in green by stage 2, won three stages in the opening week, and never looked back. Cycling’s “Hulk” roared into Paris with the first of a record seven green jerseys. His green jersey stranglehold was only interrupted in 2017, when he was disqualified in stage 4 for closing Mark Cavendish into the barriers. He’s also held the jersey a record 130 days during that run that finally came to a stop in 2020, when he ran into a superior Sam Bennett.
Sagan says: “This is the Tour of my dreams, but I know I have to improve on a lot of things. I need to learn that everyone will ride against them when I get into a break,” he said in 2012. “Winning the green jersey is important, and I hope to win more. The Tour de France is the stage race I love most.”
Finding redemption at the Giro d’Italia
Jim: Heading into the rescheduled Giro d’Italia last fall, Sagan’s 2020 season looked at risk of being a washout.
When COVID upturned the calendar, Sagan chose to bypass the cobbled classics to honor his commitment to race the Giro in a move that raised more than a few eyebrows. Coming off the back of a summer of close calls in the classics, and having failed to win a stage or the green jersey at the Tour de France, Sagan was facing down a lost year.
Nonetheless, on the race’s 10th stage Sagan reminded the world why he’s everyone’s favorite rider.
Having jumped into a stellar breakaway septet and ridden the massive motor of Filippo Ganna off his wheel, Sagan shook off Ben Swift in the tough classics-style finale to the stage before going solo through the rain-slicked streets for his first victory in 15 months.
Sagan landed into the rare club of riders to have won a stage at all three of the grand tours at last October’s Giro. But more important than that, it was a timely throwback to Sagan and his swashbuckling best and a reminder that he’s still got what it takes as he faces the relentless rise of a new generation of youthful talent.
Sagan says: “Finally I won in my style,” he said in October. “I do the race, do some show, take the victory, and it’s something special.”