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Olympics roundtable: Sagan’s MTB adventure

We locked ourselves in a room to discuss the big news about Peter Sagan's foray into Olympic cross-country racing.

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By now you’ve read the news that reigning road cycling world champion and known Grease fanatic Peter Sagan will ditch the Olympic road race in order to compete in the cross-country mountain bike event this summer. Sagan is an experienced off-road racer, having won the 2008 junior world championships in cross-country mountain biking. He also finished second at the junior world cyclocross championships later that year.

Sagan’s step into the Olympic mountain bike race is equal parts weird and exciting. What’s he thinking? How will it impact the sport? Can he win? Let’s roundtable!

Sagan racing the Olympic mountain bike race is cool or meh?

Chris Case: A little of both. The guy is so talented, it will be a shame to be without his presence in the road race, even if the course doesn’t suit him. On the other hand, the guy is so talented, it will be fun to see how far his skills can take him on the Rio dirt.

John Bradley: Very cool. Will probably bring unprecedented interest to the Olympic XC race (which has never really been a crowd favorite) and won’t really hurt the road race, which will still have plenty of stars. Plus, as difficult as it may be for him to medal there, he’d be super marked in the road race. We know he can still win even when he’s marked out, but anyone thinking a road medal would be easy for him is mistaken. Also, how many opportunities does he get to do important mountain bike races? The guy loves riding bikes and loves hitting the dirt. If excursions like this keep him happy and loving bikes in general, that’s better for all of his fans.

Spencer Powlison:  Meh. I get that the road course doesn’t suit him, but neither does XC mountain bike racing. He’s a brilliant, talented rider, but mountain bike racing has evolved to the point where he can’t just hop in and expect to be a factor after only a few months of specific training. He’s got a better shot at riding opportunistically in the road race.

Caley Fretz:  Cool. Sagan brings much-needed cool to a sport that’s been lukewarm for at least a decade. He probably can’t win the road race, and doesn’t need to anyway. Our last road race winner was Vinokourov. Who wants to follow in those footsteps?

Fred Dreier: Started out meh, but now I think it’s cool. I was in Beijing, and it was pretty empty at the MTB race. If Sagan and his wheelies attract more fans, then he’s cool in my book.

How will Sagan finish?

Chris: Sagan clearly loves to have fun. He also loves to win. He’ll be prepared to race in Rio and could surprise a lot of people, especially his competition. He’ll wheelie his way into the top 10.

John: Seventh.

Spencer: He should be happy to go top 20. Olympic XC is a huge focus and the World Cup mountain bike field is very deep and talented. Sven Nys pulled off a ninth-place finish in Beijing, but cyclocross is far more analogous to MTB than 260 kilometers of cobbled bergs in Flanders.

Caley: He won’t win, but he won’t suck, either. Fourth. Or Sixth. Somewhere in that region.

Fred: Top 20. World Cup-level XC is such a specific effort.

What lasting impact (if any) does Sagan’s participation have on cross-country mountain bike racing?

Chris: Not a damn thing. Nothing can save it.

John: That’s an interesting question. XC, and mountain bike racing in general, isn’t what it used to be in terms of prestige. A lot of people blame the Olympics for that — that making it an Olympic sport forced XC into a format that robbed it of the technical terrain that made it so much fun to begin with. So it would be kind of ironic if Sagan’s participation in the Olympic race led to a resurgence of interest. That said, I think the sport’s struggles have more to do with courses than lack of personalities.

Spencer: This is actually the one good reason I see for Sagan’s participation. It will help draw attention and interest to a discipline that’s often kind of snoozy. Other roadies may follow suit. Cannondale’s Toms Skujins is vying for a start in the XC race too.

Caley: Probably very little. The discipline still has some fundamental flaws preventing the sort of growth and popularity we saw in the 90’s and early 2000’s. Sagan will bring attention, but he’s not a solution to anything.

Fred: My heart: Sagan takes a break after the classics every year and rides MTB, bringing new fans to the sport. My head: It won’t do much.

Number of wheelies Sagan executes between call-up and cool-down.

Chris: Four. One while rolling to the line, a second after passing fellow showman Marco Fontana, who has said Sagan will struggle to break into the medals. A third when he crosses the line in ninth place. Finally, he’ll do a wheelie as he flees from a flock of topless Carnival dancers who want to touch his gorgeous hair.

John: Three if he wins solo, otherwise two.

Spencer: Eight. And the final one will happen while Julian Absalon is lapping him on the finish straight, on the final circuit — no one will remember the Frenchman’s historic third gold medal, but the Slovak’s showboating will go viral, reigniting Americans’ passion for XC racing … well, maybe.

Caley:  Five. Call-up, two mid-race, finish line, cool-down.

Fred: Sooo many.