Since Peter Sagan’s first race of the 2016 season at the Tour of San Luis, there was a subtle but profound irregularity in his appearance. A hundred year old tradition had been broken while wearing the most prestigious symbol in cycling – the rainbow jersey.
The tradition of cyclists shaving their legs runs so deep that it nearly defines who we are. Cyclists cite many reasons for shaving their legs – aerodynamics, road rash care, massage. All valid reasons for professionals, but perhaps more of a stretch for us amateurs. If anyone can point out another example of a pro cyclist of Peter Sagan’s stature in history who has done what he is doing at this moment with his leg hair grooming, then please step forward. We can’t think of one.
So is Sagan disrespecting one of the oldest traditions in cycling while carrying the world champion title? Or since Peter Sagan is one of a kind, does his talent and showmanship give him the right to shun ‘the rules’ and make up his own?
In Stephen Roche’s opinion, he doesn’t: “In one sense, without creating a polemic about it, I don’t think it is a good example. He’s wearing the world champion’s jersey, and he owes it to be respectful and to be clean and presentable. Okay, you might say, ‘well, there is no law that says you have to shave your legs.’ But why then have we been doing it for the past 100 years? It is because it doesn’t look good.”
“When we saw guys coming out with beards on them, we already started crying out about it. It was also mentioned for aerodynamics – the first thing that hits the wind is your face. And yet here we are having riders with beards, which also don’t look very good.
“Okay, it is fashion for the riders, maybe it is a feel-good thing that they want to show off or have something for beards. I just hope that it doesn’t last. It is the same thing with the unshaven legs, I hope that doesn’t last.”
The peloton’s reaction
Phil Gaimon, Cannondale: “I think the day he shows up at the start line with legs shaved, everyone else will panic and go back to their hotel.”
Taylor Phinney, BMC Racing: “I fully support Peter in doing whatever he wants with his body hair.”
Chad Haga, Giant-Alpecin: “You won’t see me with hairy legs at any time of the year, but the World Champion is entitled to them if he so chooses.”
Chris Juul-Jensen, Orica-GreenEDGE: “If one rider can get away with riding with hairy legs it’s him. What a legend.”
Alex Howes, Cannondale: “I think it’s totally bad ass. If I won the world championships, I’d never shave my legs again.”
Tejay van Garderen, BMC Racing: “I just think it would make getting massage pretty painful. Must need a lot of lotion.”
Kiel Reijnen, Trek-Segafredo: “Conventional is boring. I rate it. When did we decide shaving legs was a prerequisite for cyclists? As long as it doesn’t bother the soigneurs I could care less what the peloton decides to do with their leg hair.”
Ian Boswell, Team Sky: “I have a lot of respect for Peter and the way he races and carries himself. If he doesn’t want to shave his legs that’s fine by me. I only recently started to shave my legs regularly. That said my leg hair is hard to see. He is the world champ, maybe he sets a trend? The main reason I shave my legs is for massage. With my fair complexion and freckle plastered skin I am prone to skin irritation. Shaving seems to help.”
Michael Gogl, Tinkoff: “My point of view is, that it doesn’t matter at all. OK, when he came to the team camp in Gran Canaria [in the off-season] he was already unshaved. Everybody thought that he was going to shave in the season and we all thought it was funny and made some jokes. I still think it’s funny and he breaks an unwritten rule and a lot of people are upset. But to be honest, I’m also lazy when it comes to shaving my legs. I won my first UCI race with unshaved legs.”
Kristof Ramon, cycling photographer: “I love the fact that he’s here to ‘kick in some holy houses’, as we say in Flemish. It shows he’s an individual that lays his own tracks. Really! It’s considered such a taboo, something silly like leg hairs. It also shows again how confident and comfortable with himself he really is. You gotta give it to the guy: he is such a breath of fresh air in cycling. More ‘bad’ boys! More personalities! More punk in cycling! F*ck the Velominati snobs and their ‘Rules’! Welcome leg hairs!”
To the golden question – why?
Many have talked about Sagan not shaving his legs, but few have asked why. We’ve been speculating. When we asked Stephen Roche what he thought the answer was, he replied “I can’t think of a good reason other maybe it is too cold. Perhaps he wants to keep it on for a bit of heat. I can’t see any reason.”
He agrees that it could be linked to him chasing his first victory in the rainbow jersey. “Maybe that’s the case. You often hear of guys letting a moustache grow until they win a race, or whatever. A lot of guys have had different things over the years. If that’s it, hopefully he wins soon…”
Roche continued, “My thing in the early season was I would let my hair grow. When I felt the form really coming, I would go and get a really good haircut. I would have new socks, new shorts, everything would come out. But when I felt I was still in training, when I didn’t have the great form, I wouldn’t have been too interested in looking good.”
Sagan hasn’t won a race yet in 2016, but has come a close second in San Luis, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, and Tirreno – Adriatico. With the Spring Classics on our doorstep, we still might have to wait a while. He’s come agonisingly close to winning a major Classic, but still never standing on the top step of the podium.
We reached out to Team Tinkoff to get a definitive answer on what’s going on with Sagan’s leg grooming. They replied with a disappointing but expected, “I think this is a subject that doesn’t really fit with Peter’s and the team’s focus right now.”
It seems one age old tradition that won’t die so quickly is cycling taking itself too seriously.
For now we’ll trust what Sagan’s former teammate Chris Juul-Jensen said on OGE’s latest backstage pass:
“He’s going to shave his legs after his first victory.”
— Peter Sagan (@petosagan) March 13, 2016
Thank you to Neal Rogers, Shane Stokes and David Everett for their contribution to this piece.