A chat with the champ: Peter Sagan has done just about everything. What’s next?
It’s good to be Peter Sagan.
Over the past eight months the Slovakian star has become a father, won a third consecutive road world championship, launched his own line with Specialized, won Paris-Roubaix and Gent-Wevelgem, and put his name behind a pair of gran fondo events in California, the first of which was held over the weekend. He’s currently leading the UCI World and WorldTour rankings, and this week he heads to the Amgen Tour of California, an event he has participated in every year he’s been a professional, holding the record for stage wins at 16.
At an age where many riders are reaching their prime — he turned 28 in January — Sagan is now refocusing his priorities. Early career objectives such as winning the Ronde van Vlaanderen, Paris-Roubaix, and a world title, have all been accomplished. He’s repeatedly stated that while he wants to win big races, it’s just as important to him that he puts on a show for his fans. Repeated forays into mountain biking and gravel events reveal his passion for riding off-road — and why he loves gritty classics like Strade Bianche and Paris-Roubaix.
But he also revealed that he doesn’t pay close attention to the muddier disciplines in the sport. When asked what he thought of Mathieu Van der Poel’s decision to forego a pro road contract until after the 2020 Olympic Games, Sagan answered “Who is that?”
For this interview, CyclingTips reached out to Truckee resident Katerina Nash to chat with Sagan before and after the event. Like Sagan, Nash has excelled in mountain-bike and cyclocross racing; both have medaled at the cyclocross world championships, both have competed in mountain biking at the Olympics. Her fluency in Czech — not the same language as Slovakian, but similar — was an added bonus. CyclingTips provided the questions; Nash asked them and provided an audio recording.
CyclingTips: Of all of the things to happen in your life recently, becoming a father has to be the most profound. What can you share about the experience of becoming a father — and how has fatherhood changed you?
Peter Sagan: Until now, not too much. For sure, I want to spend time with my son, but it’s difficult. But I’m very happy, and it’s a very big gift that I can have a healthy boy.
CT: From the outside it appears as though you have been riding this incredible wave for a very long time. What does it feel like from the inside?
PS: It depends. I didn’t really expect to win so much, but after it came to me, I was really happy. For sure I have the period where I want to be good [in certain races], where I am going to ride, but after, if I am second, third, fourth, or I didn’t finish, then I go for another one. Then I have more chances for success. You forget about it, and you look forward — as always. I won the world championships three times, and it was always a surprise for me.
CT: It seems as though you are having more fun than the average pro road racer — enjoying a beer, popping a wheelie, mountain biking… do you think that’s true? And if so, why?
PS: You have to be with friends to have fun. Otherwise it’s going to be boring. I am very happy with my team and the people around me. They work hard, and I see that. But everyone, we have a very good relationship, and we move forward together.
CT: What is the hardest part about being Peter Sagan? And is it hard to go back to Slovakia now that you are one of the most famous Slovakian people in the world?
PS: Well… [pause] for living, for sure, yes. If I’m just going to visit my family, I stay with them at home. We do more private things, not so much restaurants. If I’m going to visit, it’s okay. But to live there? Yes, it’s really hard. I can tell you life can be very nice and easy, but it can also be very shitty. It depends what you make of it.
CT: In September 2016, at a fondo in Los Angeles, you mentioned to a group of reporters that you might retire in “three, four, or five years.” Three years from that quote would be after next year. Is that still something you’re thinking about? Does fatherhood factor in that decision?
PS: Retiring isn’t something I’m thinking about. But for sure it’s coming.
CT: Now that you’ve won three worlds, Flanders, Roubaix, what keeps you motivated? What’s the next big challenge?
PS: What keeps me motivated is to do something, and to have fun. That is, I think, the best motivation.
CT: And was [Saturday’s dirt fondo] fun?
PS: Oh, for sure. It was much better to ride the gravel roads, with many people, than another boring day training on the road. I’m very happy for that.
CT: Are there any stage races you would like to try to win?
PS: I don’t think about it, ever. I won Tour of Poland once, and Tour of California once, but that was lucky. I never thought that I was going to win those races.
CT: What would a retired Peter Sagan do with all his spare time?
PS: You always have to invent something to do. You can’t just sit on the sofa and relax. It’s not like that. I don’t think about that. For me, you have to do what you have to do, and what you’re good at. After that, life shows us what we can do.
CT: In the week before Paris-Roubaix, you and Tom Boonen exchanged words in the media and online, with Boonen saying you sat on wheels and didn’t attack. Then, of course, you won Roubaix after a long breakaway. Has there been any communication between you two since your win? If so, what have you said to one another? And if not, why not?
PS: No, I didn’t meet with him after that. For me, he is a big rider, and I don’t need to have some complaining, or discussion, between us. We’re a different age, and he was always like an idol for me. What can I do?
CT: Can you talk about your reasons behind racing mountain bike in Rio, and if we might expect to see you racing more MTB in the future?
PS: The Olympics are still far away. We’re going to plan it next year. For now, we are thinking about what we’re going to do tomorrow.
CT: What do you think of Mathieu Van der Poel’s decision to race mountain bike instead of road through 2020 Tokyo Games?
PS: Who is that?
CT: Mathieu Van der Poel. He’s a star of cyclocross.
PS: Well… everyone can do what they want. That’s it. If he wants to do mountain bike, that’s good for him.
CT: What did you think of Wout Van Aert’s debut at the spring classics this year?
PS: He was very good, yeah. He’s going to be every year better and better as he gets more experience.
CT: Who are your closest friends inside the peloton? And who are your biggest rivals?
PS: Biggest rivals? Everybody. Close friends? Yeah, for sure. The guys in my team, Daniel Oss, Michael Kolar, my brother, Juraj. Also Oscar Gatto, who was my teammate in the past. And a lot of different riders, but not too many. It’s different, what kind of position in the team guys have. If I’m going to be best friends with a leader from another team… it’s hard. If you imagine you are friends with somebody… for example, in business, if you become in the same level, you were friends before, but now you are competitors. What is better — to be competing, and after be friends, or just lose the relationship?
CT: You’re one of the more technically adept riders in the peloton. Does that affect how you choose your equipment?
PS: I was always riding a mountain bike as a kid, and I think I took some skills from that. I also rode cyclocross, motocross, and if you stick everything together, it helps you for sure. I think we have the best equipment, from Specialized — the frames, the tires, the wheels. I was thinking that as a junior, and now we have it.
CT: You seem to be fearless in the bunch, in sprints, on descents, in corners. Is there anything that scares you in bike racing?
PS: I’m just living in the moment. There is one quality from our family, with my brothers, we have no fear. For what?
CT: You’ve become a hero to a lot of people. Who were your heroes when you were growing up? Do you have any heroes today, in or out of cycling?
PS: For cycling heroes, first of all my brother is the biggest gift for me, because I would not be here without Juraj. I was inspired by Jan Ullrich, and Tom Boonen. For mountain bike, I was inspired by Filip Meirhaeghe and Miguel Martinez, they were very good. And now? I just want to be myself.