Peter Sagan: The maverick of the road

Slovakia's three-time road race world champion continues to put the fun into cycling. But can he claim an elusive Olympic medal at Tokyo 2020?

Peter Sagan is the most popular rider in road cycling.

The charismatic Slovak has three world titles and seven Tour de France green jerseys to his name, but remains without an Olympic medal.

Having finished down the field in the road race at London 2012, Sagan decided there were too many climbs in the course at Rio 2016 and opted to race in the mountain bike cross country event instead.

A puncture ended his hopes in Rio.

He turns 31 next January ahead of the delayed Tokyo 2020 Games which will be his third Olympics. This time the riders have to negotiate the lower slopes of Mount Fuji, Japan's highest mountain.

Not ideal for Sagan as he is hoping to claim the one prize missing from his collection.

Peter Sagan with a trademark wheelie celebration after winning Stage 4 of the 2018 Tour Down Under
Peter Sagan with a trademark wheelie celebration after winning Stage 4 of the 2018 Tour Down UnderPeter Sagan with a trademark wheelie celebration after winning Stage 4 of the 2018 Tour Down Under

Sagan's early years

Hailing from humble beginnings in Zilina, Czechoslovakia (now Slovakia), Sagan won the very first race he entered at the age of nine.

That was a time trial, and the next day he won another race on mountain bikes.

Sagan continued to impress as he moved up the age groups, and even won the 2007 Slovak Cup on a bicycle his sister had bought from a supermarket.

Peter Sagan once borrowed his sister's supermarket bike to win a race

Peter Sagan once borrowed his sister's supermarket bike to win a race

The following year, he won the junior Mountain Bike world title after finishing second in the junior event at the Cyclo-cross World Championships and the Junior Paris-Roubaix.

Those performances earned him a professional contract in 2009 with home-based Dukla Trencin-Merida but his agents were keen to find him a top-tier team.

Having been rejected after a trial with Quick-Step, Sagan was signed by Italian outfit Liquigas-Doimo on a two-year contract starting in 2010.

He made an immediate impact, winning two stages in March's Paris-Nice on his way to claiming the green points classification jersey.

Sagan was in contention for overall victory at the Tour of California, but had to settle for two stages wins, top young rider and another green points jersey triumph.

Peter Sagan after winning Stage 5 of the 2010 Tour of California, flanked by runner-up Michael Rogers (L) and David Zabriskie.
Peter Sagan after winning Stage 5 of the 2010 Tour of California, flanked by runner-up Michael Rogers (L) and David Zabriskie.Peter Sagan after winning Stage 5 of the 2010 Tour of California, flanked by runner-up Michael Rogers (L) and David Zabriskie.

He carried that form over to his first Grand Tour, the 2011 Vuelta a Espana, where he won three stages including the finale in Madrid.

While Sagan struggles in the mountains, he excels on courses with short, steep climbs and is equally effective in sprints and breakaways.

He is also more than capable in truncated time trials, beating eventual two-time Olympic champion Fabian Cancellara in the prologue of the 2012 Tour de Suisse prologue before taking three conventional stages and the points classification.

A fortnight later Sagan began his first Tour de France and, after Cancellara had won the prologue to take the yellow jersey, he got the better of the Swiss again to claim victory in Stage 1.

He won two more stages, including a memorable 'Forrest Gump' celebration in Stage 3, on the way to securing the green points jersey.

Peter Sagan performs a 'Forrest Gump running' celebration as he takes Stage 3 of the 2012 Tour de France
Peter Sagan performs a 'Forrest Gump running' celebration as he takes Stage 3 of the 2012 Tour de FrancePeter Sagan performs a 'Forrest Gump running' celebration as he takes Stage 3 of the 2012 Tour de France

The Olympics

London 2012 was something of a disappointment with Sagan finishing outside the top 30, but he soon set about establishing himself as the man to beat in one-day and Classic events.

"I have never seen a rider like him. I don't think anyone has. He is the first-of-a-kind rider. He can win what he wants. Anything." - Two-time Giro d'Italia winner Ivan Basso to Bicycling.com in 2013

After Liquigas-Doimo was renamed Cannondale, Sagan moved to Tinkoff-Saxo for 2015 after his third Tour de France green jersey.

He spent two years with the Russia team before joining Bora-Hansgrohe where he remains to this day.

Those moves have done nothing to disrupt his almost complete dominance of the Tour de France points classification, winning five in a row before being controversially disqualified in 2017.

Normal service has since been resumed with Sagan victorious in 2018 and 2019 to take his tally to a record seven, one more than Erik Zabel who won six straight points jerseys from 1996 to 2001.

He also became the first man to claim three consecutive road race world crowns, the last of those at Bergen, Norway in 2017.

The entertainer

While Sagan's achievements are extraordinary, he has always been keen to enjoy himself and make cycling fun for the spectators.

That Forrest Gump celebration at the Tour de France was decided by his team-mates with Sagan saying, "The other evening my teammates and I decided that if I won again, I’d do it like Forrest Gump: when they told him to run, he ran; when they tell me to win, I win. I like doing something that makes people smile."

Unlike many of his peers, he does not take his sport too seriously and embraces a philosophical outlook.

When claiming his first yellow jersey at the 2016 Tour de France, he said, "If I'd finished second today I wouldn't be here now. Life is life. Life brings me things and I just take them.

"What can I change? I believe everybody has a destiny that is up in space or somewhere. If I'm here, I'm here." - Peter Sagan

This year's Tour de France, and Sagan's bid for an eighth green jersey, is in serious doubt due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tokyo 2020 has already been postponed by 12 months with Sagan deciding late last year to focus on the road race instead of mountain biking at the Olympic Games.

Gold in Rio for Greg van Avermaet, a regular rival in Classics, suggests that perhaps he would have been better off sticking to his usual discipline.

And while the course for Tokyo looks every bit as demanding, Sagan is determined to give it his best shot.

"It’s quite hard. But in the Olympics you never know how it will go, so it’s worth trying." - Peter Sagan to Cyclingnews

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