Tour de France

Peter Sagan — could cycling ask for a better superstar?

Some compare Sagan to Merckx. With his popular appeal and terrific results, the Slovak is a cycling hero for the modern era.

In his latest video offering, Peter Sagan goes over the top yet again. And how delicious it is.

“My life has always been like a movie,” Sagan starts. We see Sagan chopping wood, pulling logs, and climbing cliffs, all with a hint of more to come. Sagan dressed as a gladiator? Saganitacus Brutus. Bring it on.

With his antics both on and off the bike, Sagan is clearly cycling’s modern hero, capable of making the sacrifices and winning the big races, yet at the same time, engaging with the larger public. A natural-born extrovert, Sagan seems to grow in the spotlight.

“It’s how he carries himself, his personality,” said Sky principal Dave Brailsford. “He’s the star of the peloton.”

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What’s most endearing about his latest video offering is that we get to hear Sagan speak in his own language. Sometimes we make fun of his Saganisms (“Tour is Tour; was what was”), but even in his ever-improving English, he is fast becoming the Yogi Berra of the peloton. With zingers like this: “I will think about tomorrow, tomorrow,” he says, adding a giggle. “Today was today.”

For many insiders, Sagan is just the kind of rider the sport of cycling needs.

“Everyone loves him. He’s a beast,” said Tinkoff sport director Sean Yates with a laugh. “He’s everything that’s good about cycling.”

It’s not so much what he says, but it’s his attitude, his inflection, and his sense of youthful exuberance that is endearing. When he was dropped Wednesday, losing all hope of the yellow jersey, Sagan just laughed, shrugged his shoulders, as if to say, “Every day is a party!”

In his world champion’s season — there’s no curse there — Sagan is confirming his role as the big breakout star the sport so desperately needs. Skinny GC riders obsessing over power meters aren’t going to engage the Millennial generation.

“He is like the Ronaldo of the peloton,” said veteran cycling writer Hugo Coorevits of Het Nieuwsblad, referring to the Real Madrid soccer star. “And most important, he is a big star for the young people. They can connect with him.”

With his future up in the air (reports link him to an expanded Bora team in 2017), Sagan is delivering the goods in this Tour, just like he has all season. He made history Sunday when he snagged the yellow jersey while wearing the world champion’s rainbow jersey (the last was Thor Hushovd in 2011), and became one 18 world champions to win a Tour stage in the rainbow jersey.

In many ways, Sagan comes along just at the right time. Today’s current kings of the peloton — Bradley Wiggins, Fabian Cancellara, Alberto Contador and Tom Boonen — are all nearing the end of their respective reigns. Sagan is boldly stepping into the void.

And Sagan is continuing on his incredible Tour consistency. Though he will fade in the mountains and he’ll (probably) never win the Tour, in every other terrain, he is always there. Before his win Sunday, he had finished in the top-three some 27 times in Tour stages. So far in this Tour, he’s been in top-six in every stage, except Wednesday. Last year, he was in the top-five in 11 stages. This year, it won’t be so easy, not with an endless string of mountains, but he already has a lock on what will likely be his fifth consecutive green jersey.

“The plan is to go to Paris,” Yates said. “As a physical specimen, there is not a lot like him. Cancellara, Hinault, Indurain, he’s a special one. He’s a beast. Just look at him.”

Sagan is a certainly a pleasure to watch race (and avoid crashes, like this at Roubaix, or the Milano-Sanremo sprint crash), and when he wins, he genuinely celebrates. When he won the Tour of Flanders, he jumped on top of a car, and celebrated with the thousands of rowdy Flemish fans. After he won the worlds last year, he turned around and celebrated his victories with the guys he just beat. Tom Boonen and everyone else was high-fiving him as they came across the line.

“Sagan is one of the great ones. He’s the Merckx of our time,” Coorevits said. “He’s so gifted on the bike, and joking aside, he is very serious, and he respects cycling. He is a big star already.”

For Sagan, the party is just getting started. As he mentions in the latest video, he feels destined for something greater than his humble background in Slovakia.

“Life is life,” he said. “Everybody has some destiny. I am here now, and I’m enjoying it.”