The three-time world champion likes to say, “Why so serious?” and he even has a tattoo that displays the same.
For years, Sagan’s been able to walk the tightrope of trying to have fun in the very serious world of professional bike racing. So long as the wins kept coming, Sagan could do pretty much what he wanted. What happens if the well runs dry?
Looking at a possible no-win season, the three-time world champion kept knocking at the door. A string of top-5s and podiums might be enough for mere mortals. A rider of Sagan’s caliber eats victories for breakfast. And despite not notching a win since the 2019 Tour de France, Sagan never lost his appetite.
On Tuesday, in trademark panache, Sagan tore the legs off a breakaway group, held off the chasing pack, and rode alone to the finish line.
It was a victory that the battered Giro d’Italia needed. On a day when the immediate future of the race thrown into question, following a wave of COVID-19 positives and the departure of two teams, Sagan the showman delivered and diverted everyone’s attention from the bad news.
For years, Sagan promised to race the Giro, but his tried-and-true template simply didn’t allow for it. For most of the past decade, Sagan followed a similar pattern of racing the spring classics, the now-defunct Tour of California, and then the Tour de France before the world championships.
That blueprint worked wonderfully, and Sagan emerged as one of the superstars of the peloton.
But there was some unfinished business with the Giro d’Italia. Sagan had checked off most of cycling’s milestones, but the Giro remained as a blank spot on his otherwise prolific palmàres.
Sagan’s decision to finally commit to the Giro raised eyebrows because it meant he was giving up on a chance to win another Tour of Flanders or (the since canceled) Paris-Roubaix. Sagan lived up to word to race the Giro, with the reworked racing calendar that moved the grand tour to October, putting it in full conflict with the rescheduled northern classics.
That decision looks even wiser now after such races as Amstel Gold Race and Paris-Roubaix have been shuttered due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Giro, at least for now, rolls on.
And Sagan’s victory came just in the nick of time.
With the Giro facing possible closure at any moment due to Europe’s worsening health conditions, Sagan wanted to get his Giro win sooner than later. After a few close calls, Sagan decided to take control of his destiny on a classics-style course laden with short, steep climbs. Rather than risk going to the line in a group that might get reeled in by the chasing pack, Sagan followed a surge from Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers) and just kept going.
The interrupted 2020 season has been far from ideal for Sagan, who likes to have some racing in his legs before hitting his top targets. Going into the Tour, he was a bit undercooked, with only eight race days in his legs before starting in Nice. Despite six top five finishes, a victory eluded him at the Tour, and he left Paris without the green jersey for the first time in his career.
And perhaps more than anyone else, Sagan needed the ‘W’.
At 30, Sagan appears to be hitting a bit of a career crossroads. His jack-of-all-trades profile worked wonderfully for years when he could win the occasional bunch sprint, pounce out of reduced groups, and use his pure power and class in the classics and world championships.
Now, there are sprinters faster than he is, and there are puncheurs who have more punch, and a new generation of young and ambitious classics riders are muscling in for their spot in the buffet, just as Sagan did a decade ago.
With 114 career victories, and almost all of them at the WorldTour level or HC-category, Sagan is clearly in a class of his own. No victory is easy at the WorldTour, and the pack is deeper and better prepared than ever before. Yet with barely 10 days of racing remaining for him in 2020, Sagan was looking at a no-win season.
With Arnaud Démare making easy work in the sprints, Sagan knew his best and perhaps only chance for victory came Tuesday.
Tuesday’s success also puts Sagan into the elite club of riders who’ve won stages in all three grand tours. He also clawed closer in the ciclamino points jersey, but Démare won again Wednesday to widen the gap. Just as he faced off against Sam Bennett at the Tour, Démare is faster than he is in the bunch sprints, meaning Sagan might not win the points jersey in his first and perhaps last Giro.
Many wonder what the future holds for Sagan. There are whispers that he’s “bored” with racing, but it’s hard to see evidence of that. Maybe he’s weary of the racing and the demands of being a pro, but when he’s on the bike, it’s obvious the passion for racing still burns.
Sagan has one more year left on his contract at Bora-Hansgrohe, and there are some rumors that Sagan might end his racing career in 2021. There is no official word, and according to sources close to him, Sagan has not made any decision one way or another. Bora-Hansgrohe is clearly pivoting toward a more GC-oriented direction, but if Sagan wants to keep racing, the German team would be where he’d likely stay.
Sagan wanted that win Tuesday. Wait, scratch that, he needed that win. Sagan will keep fighting, he always does, but it’s obvious the victories are not coming as fast and easy as they used to. So that makes every Sagan win even sweeter.