Culture

Golden nuggets from a cycling summit between living legends Freddy Maertens and Peter Sagan

While decades separate Peter Sagan and Freddy Maertens, similarities — including multiple world championships — brought them together.

“Many of us have sacrificed three or four months of our lives planning and training for Roubaix, only to find out now that it is going to be in October,” Peter Sagan says to Freddy Maertens as the two historic champions talk about the state of the sport past and present.

When it comes to great road sprinters, it is hard to do any better than these two historic champions. After all, between them, they have won no less than five rainbow jerseys, 10 green points jerseys in the Tour de France, and nearly 300 races between them. But aside from their immense list of achievements, the two champions share a sincere friendship.

Needless to say, VeloNews was only too happy to get them together in the days leading up to last Sunday’s Ronde van Vlaanderen.

It was bike talk at its best. Sagan listened with interest to Maertens when he spoke about racing in the 1970s and 80s. And Maertens could not have been happier holding court with his favorite cyclist today. The two talked about the art of sprinting, winning the rainbow jersey, Flanders without fans, and the long wait for Paris-Roubaix.

Here are just a few nuggets from a golden moment with two giants of the sport. For the complete story of Maertens and Sagan talking bikes please consider signing up to be an exclusive member.

Peter Sagan knows Maertens story — even a near-brush with death while flying. Photo: James Startt

On sprinting:
Maertens: One key is really studying the roadbook. You have to know the last kilometer and you have to know the final turn so that you can be on the outside of the final turn. If you are on the inside, almost always you lose.

Sagan: Today, there is no train anymore. The best sprinters have one or two guys leading them out, so I think that sprinting is actually more like it was before, more like what you describe Freddy. Today we are more just back to pure sprinting. And I have to say that for myself, I have never had that kind of a train. I always sprinted with my own strength and intuition. And I have always really had to study the last kilometers to know where the roundabouts are situated.

On winning the world championships:
Maertens: The secret is firstly training…

Sagan: Yeah you have to have great condition, but you have to have lots of luck also. When the worlds was in England two years ago, I was in tremendous condition. I felt much better than when I won in Qatar (ed. 2016) or in Norway (ed. 2017). When I won in Norway, I wasn’t the best. I got dropped on the last climb, and just got into position in the last kilometer. And in Qatar I got a little lucky because I was near the barrier in the sprint, and a little gap opened up perfectly. But 10 centimeters closer to the barrier and I would have been boxed in.

On race tactics:
Maertens: Well as they say in Italian, Peter is furbo — “crafty.”

Sagan: Well that has not always been the case! I have lost plenty of races because I showed everyone that I was the strongest. I have already lost two Milano-Sanremo races because I showed how good I was too early.

Maertens and Sagan exchanged stories, talked sprinting tactics, and a love of the culture of the sport. Photo: James Startt

On the postponement of Paris-Roubaix:
Sagan: The October date is not a bad date, and I will sure[ly] be motivated. It will come just one week after the world championships so I will be really motivated to do both. But still, it is disappointing to sacrifice so much, to train so hard, and then to see all of the work we have just done to just go up in flames. And the worst part is that we still really do not know just how long it is going to last this virus.

A very special thanks to the Koers Museum in Roeselare, which supplied Freddy’s and Peter’s original world championship jersey for the photoshoot on such short notice. Next time you are in Flanders, stop on by as they have one of the all-time great cycling collections.