(Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

The last ride of Juraj Sagan

by Iain Treloar

photography by Getty Images and Dave Rome

The results sheet for the World Championships men’s road race was a study of two Sagans in microcosm. At one end, Peter Sagan, taking his sixth top-10 finish in a list that includes three consecutive rainbow jerseys. At the other end, Juraj Sagan with a DNF. 

For the duration of his 13-year-long pro career, Juraj Sagan – Peter’s older brother – has toiled in relative anonymity. The length of his career as a pro is due in part to his fraternal bonds and position in the Sagan entourage, along with the likes of Daniel Oss and Maciej Bodnar – where Peter goes, they tend to follow.

But there’s no space in a top cycling team for pack fodder, and everyone has a purpose, even if they’re in an entourage. And so, Juraj has forged a career out of helping others get the best out of themselves, shepherding his kid brother around the world. His final tally of wins is four – all of them Slovakian road titles, half as many national championships as the generational talent that is his little brother (Peter has 113 pro wins so far). 

Team Slovakia in training in Wollongong. (Photo by DIRK WAEM/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images)

Last Sunday was Juraj Sagan’s final race, wrapping up the career of one of cycling’s best-known, lesser-known domestiques. It was a DNF, but it was more than that. Having observed him throughout the day, it was a fitting farewell, no matter what the results sheet says. 

Here’s the story of the last race of Juraj, The Other Sagan.

Within 10 minutes of the flag dropping, Juraj Sagan is off the front in the early breakaway. An hour in, they’re five minutes up the road. Peter is tucked away in the peloton as it approaches Wollongong and sets off up the steep Mount Keira climb; Juraj is diligently taking turns to hold the group’s advantage. 

Somewhere in that long line of riders, Juraj Sagan rides his final race. (Photo by Con Chronis/Getty Images)

The laps of the city circuit begin. Along the waterfront, through the TAFE, up the steep pinches of Ramah Avenue. A chase group catches the Juraj Sagan group, making it a bunch of 16. Still they work together. With half of the day’s distance done, they hold a bit over six minutes.

I’d heard whispers that it was Juraj’s last race so I check in with a Specialized team liaison. Our exchange is a neat encapsulation of Juraj’s existence as a pro. Specialized Guy misunderstands which Sagan I’m asking about, tells me Peter is contracted to TotalEnergies for another year, and it takes a couple of minutes of spirited back and forth before I make him understand that I actually want to know about the other Sagan. I also learn that most English speakers have been pronouncing his name wrong for his entire career, and that it’s ‘You-rai’, not ‘You-raj’.

Never too late to correct the record, I think.

By 70 km to go, it splinters apart and Juraj Sagan begins his slide backward through the remnants of the peloton, before crossing the finish line with a handful of laps remaining, drifting to the right into the pits and clicking out for the last time. 

Juraj Sagan drifts off the back of the breakaway. (Photo by Action Plus/BSR Agency/Getty Images)

An hour or two later, Remco Evenepoel solos to the rainbow jersey and Peter Sagan finishes seventh a few minutes behind him. After the line, the crowd along the barriers heading into the pits is several punters deep. Rolling past them, Peter has the thousand-yard stare of someone that’s just ridden extremely hard for an extremely long time. “We love you, Peter!”, a guy next to me yells. The more famous Sagan gives a knackered wave back. 

Rider after rider after rider. The Stavanger Stallion drinks a little can of Fanta as his bike is checked for weight and motors. Julian Alaphilippe, 51st, wraps Remco Evenepoel in a passionate embrace. Magnus Cort, sunburn striped across the back of his neck like a tiger, signs some autographs. Michael Matthews gives a thumbs up and a broad smile to his home crowd as he rolls to the stage to collect a bronze medal

Juraj Sagan is down the other end of the pits, away from the limelight. I watch him roll along with a couple of wheels in his hand, while a staffer wheels Peter’s spare bike next to him. I watch him helping the mechanics pack up for the long journey back to Europe. Our tech editor Dave Rome watches Juraj put his own bike up on the roof of the Slovakian team car.

Then, as Rome starts walking away, Juraj calls him back, miming a camera. He wants a photo to remember his last ride by.

There, sitting on a gutter in Wollongong, surrounded by his friends, Juraj Sagan’s life as a pro cyclist comes to a close.

It’s not Juraj that’s on the billboards and banners and basketball boots. It wasn’t an illustrious career. But it was an honest one.

Photo: Dave Rome
Photo: Dave Rome
Photo: Dave Rome

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