Peter Sagan was at his bizarre best at a pre-season media conference Sunday.
For 15 minutes of conversation with the English-speaking press, Sagan laid on a masterclass in the bemused, amused, impatient and impish. The Sagan Show may not have given reporters the answers they wanted, but it was a timely reminder of what has made the Slovakian the standout personality of the modern peloton.
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As beguiling as Sagan’s persona can at times be, it goes hand-in-hand with what has made him one of the most exciting riders of the past decade. Let’s hope the 30-year-old’s return to his mischievous best this weekend is also a sign of good things to come in the saddle.
“What is your motivation for 2021?” asked one reporter Sunday.
“Milano-Sanremo. Is that what you want to hear?” came the riddling response.
“How do you feel on a team that is no longer all about you, but balanced with other GC and sprint options?” came one slightly taunting inquiry.
“It’s good. The more stronger guys there are, the stronger the team is,” Sagan said. “I’m still here, I’m the number one [smirk].”
The impish grin said more than many of Sagan’s at times surreal and swerving responses. He seemed to be having fun. While the Slovak was insightful and patient 50 percent of the time, the remaining 50 percent of the online conference made for Peter playing cat to the mice of the media corps.
Sitting in an eery, echoing room at a pre-season camp at Lake Garda, Sagan had the majority of Europe’s cycling press boxed in and at his mercy, sometimes letting us free with a nugget of insight, then pawing us back into a corner with the unsettling, abrupt or just plain weird. If it was a game, Sagan won.
On the bike, Sagan is one of most captivating riders of the pro peloton, boasting racing flair and physical prowess that makes for Wout van Aert, Julian Alaphilippe and Mathieu van der Poel rolled into one.
Off the bike, Sagan divides opinion. Some love his weirdness, wheelies, and bigger-than-cycling charisma. Others are understandably put off by his at-times childishness disrespectfulness, pinching the behinds of podium girls, refusing to back down after on-bike clashes, and other general mistimed tomfoolery.
Some were worried that Sagan may have lost his edge when he was bettered by Sam Bennett in the battle for the Tour de France green jersey last year. The Bora-Hansgrohe man bounced back from frustration in France at the following month’s Giro d’Italia, salvaging his season with one of the most convincing and enthralling victories of his career.
While Sagan’s sublimely surreal – if at times frustrating – conference from Lake Garda failed to give us any firm indication into his schedule and ambitions for 2021, it suggested that the 30-year-old is still having fun. Generally, a happy rider is a fast rider, right?
Sagan could have been defensive after a sub-par season. He could have rolled out the trite, PR-cleansed responses about teammates, sponsors, and schedules that we’re so used to. Instead, he just did what he did best. Be naughty.
Sagan produced the media show that has made him a cycling celebrity Sunday. Though he frustrated reporters and eluded answers, it betrayed a confident relaxation. As far as Sagan is concerned, he’s in his prime.
“I am in my best years,” Sagan said when asked whether he had ever thought of life after the bike.
“It’s a very bad question to me, ‘Why I continue with cycling?'” he continued. “I started with cycling and now I’m here, the made product [grin].”
Let’s hope Sagan expresses himself in the saddle this year with the character to equal that bizarre 15-minute video call last weekend.