this article originally appeared on The Roar
There are a couple of anecdotes about Peter Sagan that tells you just how precocious the 24 year old from Slovakia was as a teenager.
Having started racing bikes at the age of 9, he had already made a name for himself by turning up to road races wearing normal shorts and t-shirts, riding an MTB with a pair of tennis shoes on his feet – and still winning.
Later, as a junior racer he entered the Slovak Cup, but after selling his mountain bike he was left without a replacement as his team’s sponsor couldn’t get his new bike to him in time. Faced with racing on any bike he could get his hands on or not racing at all, he borrowed his sister’s supermarket special – and carried on to win the race anyway.
I’m an admirer of Sagan and have been since he turned up at the EPO Tour of California in 2010 and won Stage 5 & 6 and carried off the White Jersey for Best Young Rider and the Points Classification for good measure.
Here was a guy who looked like the real deal, and you could see that anyone who had that build yet could still climb a bit and win uphill sprints must be packing some serious firepower in his legs.
He didn’t remind me of Boonen nor of Cancellara but more of Bernard Hinault and Laurent Fignon, perhaps even with a bit of Sean Kelly thrown in there too. He was reminiscent – and still is – of those riders before the days of the Lance Armstrong ‘inspired’ specialization, when these tough nut all-rounders threw themselves into every kind of race they could get their hands on, and quite often won too.
And if his riding style conjures memories from another era, that pinching of a podium model’s backside after the Tour of Flanders just compounded that. It was a sign of immaturity, and it’s one that extends to his riding too, which I’ll get to in a minute.
Sagan is so good that many commentators started tipping him as a future Grand Tour winner. He has the flatline speed to become a good time trialist, and the legs to become a very decent climber if he can lose a few kilos of his upper body muscle, but I have to say I am on the fence on that one.
With the kind of specialization we have today, with riders like Chris Froome basing their whole year around one race and turning up with 3% body fat, it’s hard to see Sagan competing for the podium in any of the big stage races any time soon.
But where he can cement a legacy and establish himself as one of the greatest of all time is in the Classics.
Indeed, he might have already started along that path had one or two of the big races gone his way. Instead, he has so far racked up two ‘mini’ classic wins (Gent-Wevelgem and Brabantse Pijl last season), and a whole truckload of close calls.
2012 saw him claim 2nd at Gent-Wevejgem, 3rd at Amstel, 4th at Milan-San Remo and 5th at the Tour of Flanders.
In 2013 he was second at Strade Bianche, 2nd at Milan-San Remo, 2nd at E3 Harelbeke, and 2nd at the Tour of Flanders.
This year, he was again 2nd at the Strade Bianche and 10th at Milan-San Remo.
One of Sagan’s problems – and he has very few it seems – is that sometimes he is just too good and doesn’t know what to do with it. In some races, like the recent Strade Bianche, Sagan took off so fast and at a point when only one other man could go with him that he effectively handed the race to Michal Kwiatkowski.
Alessandro Valverde has a saying that goes like this:
“When you are not strong, take a chance. But when you are strong, do nothing until the end.”
Of course, we love to see swashbuckling riders who take big chances and give it everything, but that game is a little hit and miss. If Sagan could pull back his natural instincts just a fraction I think he would win even more races.
Strade Bianche was a case in point. Cancellara said afterwards that from the get go it was obvious that Kwiatkowski was on a flyer. Did Sagan not see that too? Or did his natural egotism get the better of him? Perhaps Kwiatkowski would have won no matter had there been 30 riders at the finish, but Sagan carried him to the line on a finish that suited the Pole rather than him.
Sometimes in bike racing you have to be prepared to lose it all, to win.
That Sagan is one hell of a Classics rider is not in dispute. Neither is the fact that, if he wants to win at Flanders or Roubaix this season, he will have to usurp two of the best Classics riders of all time: Fabian Cancellara and Tom Boonen.
Not just good, these too, they are truly great riders, proper legends in an era when so many have fallen by the wayside. When they roar, the peloton listens, for they are lions of the peloton.
Can Sagan be as good?
Judging simply from wins and age, he is actually doing better than Cancellara was at 24. In 2005, at the same age Sagan is now, Cancellara had in terms of Classics’ results one 4th place at Paris-Roubaix to his name.
In terms of big wins in big races such as the Tour de France, Sagan is way ahead on that score too (Sagan has 4 already, Cancellara has 8 in his career to date).
Cancellara though had won Roubaix by 2006 when he was 25, the first of his three wins. His record since has been one of the best in the modern era, with two Flanders wins, one Milan-San Remo and four victories at the E3 Harelbeke.
He’s looking good this year too despite a sluggish start that saw him not at his best in the Middle East. Last week’s 2nd at San Remo though will have buoyed him and indicated that he is near top form.
Then we come to Boonen. At the age of 22 he was third at Paris-Roubaix. By 24 he had won Gent-Wevelgem and the E3 Prijs Claanderen, the Points Jersey in the Tour de France and two stages there too.
By 25 he was World Champion, and in the same year won Flanders And Paris-Roubaix. His one day classics palmares is unrivalled even by Cancellara, with 4 wins at Roubaix, three at Flanders, three at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, three at Gent-Wevelgem, five at E3 Prijs Vlaanderen and a host of smaller wins too.
On paper Boonen is the best Classics rider of his generation and absolutely one of the best of all time. Cancellara’s wins may be more spectacular, generally, but it is Boonen who has the numbers (Boonen’s tally at the Tour by the way is 6 stage wins).
It is these two men that Peter Sagan will come up against in the following weeks as he strives to claim his first Monument Classic win.
Cancellara is firing and Boonen had been having another great start to the year until the still-birth of his first child last week forced him to miss Milan-San Remo (and I’m sure all out thoughts go out to him and his partner at this time).
But, Boonen is already back on the road and determined not to let his training over the winter go to waste.
And so, can Sagan win at Flanders or Roubaix?
No, not this year. Barring an accident to the other two, I can’t see him winning on firepower alone. Perhaps if he could manipulate a situation to have them negate each other, maybe, but for one, the Swiss and the Belgian are too experienced to fall for anything but the con job of a master and for another, Sagan just isn’t smart enough yet to do that.
There is also the fact that the skills of Boonen and Cancellara mean that Sagan comes up lacking, if ever so slightly, in comparison. Boonen has a far greater wealth in experience of conserving energy for the sprint at both races and can go it alone too, when on his absolute best form. Cancellara of course can go it alone from just about anywhere, even if at 90% against most riders.
There’s no doubt that Sagan is very, very good, but he has some way to go to be considered in the league of Boonen and Cancellara, and he’ll have to wait another year at least to claim a win at either Roubaix or Flanders.
Philippe Gilbert is one of my favourite riders on the World Tour – since he debuted with Francaise Des Jeux back in 2003, the man has done enough to be considered a living legend.
His first year in the pro peloton brought the Points Classification and a stage win at the Tour de l’Avenir, no small feat that.
2004 and especially 2005 saw a raft of wins in minor races, but it was in 2006 that the Belgian started to show his colors, flashing his peacock tail to take the mini-classic Omloop Het Volk with a raging series of attacks that saw him ride the last 7km alone.
In 2009 he again won Omloop and claimed the victory at Paris-Tours also, signaling to anyone with a modicum of bike sense that this was a serious prospect for just about any one day honor he set his sights on.
In 2010 he won Paris-Tours again, claimed the 20th stage in the Giro and managed his first ever Monument win in the Giro di Lombardia, a race he would win again the next year too.
Lombardia suited him, with its rolling hills and snaking lanes, but interestingly he was also third at the Tour of Flanders in 2010.
And who can forget his year of brilliance, 2011? He seemed to be able to win at will, with scintillating victories at Liege-Bastogne-Liege, the Amstel Gold Race, La Feche Wallone and the first stage of the Tour de France, among others.
It was an incredible run of form that brought him the accolade of the Number One ranked rider in the UCI World Tour for 2011.
He signed for BMC Racing for 2012 and things generally began to come apart for Gilbert – which might seem a ridiculous statement coming in the year he won the World Championships on the road, but it’s true nonetheless.
Later, Gilbert put his dip in form down to deviating from his usual training plan to adhere to the one devised for him by the BMC coaches, and also to a switch of pedals and saddle.
But whatever lessons were there to be learnt after a generally unimpressive 2012 didn’t seemed to have been heeded as the 2013 season unfolded.
Gilbert had a dismal season in the Rainbow jersey and was in serious danger of going winless through the year, something which would have had those who believe in the ‘Curse of the Rainbow Jersey’ frantic.
He finally managed a victory at the 2013 Vuelta a Espana on Stage 12, in what was undoubtedly his worst season, win-wise, as a pro.
And so on to 2014, and Gilbert has high hopes for a victory at Milan-San Remo.
Speaking at the unveiling of a new finish for the Italian Classic earlier this week, Gilbert said he was, “happy to see that San Remo is better for me and I will focus on this.
“San Remo is a race I love and I would love to win. I’ve been on the podium a few times and I’m still convinced I can win this and now even more.
“The riders make the race, but if we climb that climb with real climbing speed, I don’t see any sprinters – apart from [Peter] Sagan of course – being able to follow,” Gilbert said.
“Sagan is the exception, because he can climb, sprint and even [time trial], but the other sprinters, I don’t see a chance for them.”
Gilbert already knows a win at Paris-Roubaix or the Tour of Flanders is beyond him, partly because of his size (at 67kg he can’t compete with the likes of the 80kg-plus Tom Boonen and Fabian Cancellara) and partly because of the routes of those two races (Roubaix is too flat and the climbs of Flanders come too far from the finish).
But with the arrival of Sagan – whom Gilbert correctly points out as the main man for San Remo – the Belgian has an adversary that can beat him at his own game.
Sagan can and surely will win several Classics in the years to come, and was just pipped into second last year in San Remo by Gerald Ciolek. He won Gent-Wevelgem with a brilliant solo effort, as well as a host of other races.
His second at Flanders, to an incandescent Cancellara, was a great result even though he didn’t win.
Last year Sagan put down the markers for the older riders, announcing he has the legs not just to win the hard-men Classics like Roubaix and Flanders, but also the Classics more suited to the traditional all-rounders such as Gilbert.
For Gilbert – can he win Milan-San Remo? It’s a no for me. With fast men like Sagan and Marcel Kittel improving all the time, I can’t see him ever having another 2011.
And the other Classics where Gilbert has conquered all in the past? Pit a 100% fit Sagan against a 100% fit Gilbert, and I’d say the Slovenian gets the nod every time.
by Kate Smart
Now that we have all stuffed ourselves so full of food, we can barely reach for the remote control, it’s time to restore balance again by taking the time to reflect on those parts to the 2013 cycling season that didn’t quite make last week’s highlights list.
Bike helmets out of style
As a purveyor of all things vintage, you would expect little resistance to retro style bike helmets here.
Oh, how wrong you are.
I love the 80s.
The 80s were brilliant.
But, and there is a monumental but here, there are some things from the past that are best left in the past.
That includes retro style bike helmets.
They should never be resurrected. They should never be allowed to make an appearance in any suburban street, let alone in a professional bike race.
These old style helmets, that resemble a watermelon that’s been sliced in half and plonked on some poor unsuspecting cyclists head, were the torment of thousands back in the day.
And while on this little rant about all things retro, I can say back in the day, because I was there in the day. Back in the day cannot be said by anyone born after 1990.
Do we have an understanding? Good.
So, back to the helmets.
I know you hipsters want to think you invented cool. You all think anyone born before 1985 couldn’t possibly appreciate the wonderful objects of the past. I mean, it’s not like we were there for them the first time, right?
Call it vintage, call it retro, call it whatever you want, but the objects from the past we bring back have a style that is worth hanging on to. They have to. They are the artifacts from our past that fill us with warm, nostalgic memories.
The reality is, some things from when we were seven should stay back in 1983 and these hideous bike helmets are perfect examples of this.
Thank God Bernie Eisel found a use for these ridiculous, please return to some retro cabinet, never to be seen again helmets.
God bless ya, Bernie.
Sexism in Cycling
Well, now that I’m on a rant, I may as well keep going.
Sexism in cycling seems to be the topic that just keeps on giving in 2013.
Peter Sagan’s pinching of Maja Leye’s bottom on the podium at the Tour of Flanders brought condemnation from just about every quarter of the media.
Irrespective of your opinion of podium girls, these women are models employed to do a job and the sexual harassment of any woman is unacceptable.
Sagan did eventually apologize for his actions but his grab of Leye’s backside suggested for many that sexism is alive and well in cycling.
To add further insult, Sagan’s actions came on the same day the great Dutch cyclist, Marianne Vos won her first Women’s Tour of Flanders.
It’s hard the believe the Dutch champion, who has won just about everything on two wheels, only snared her first Ronde this year.
It would have been brilliant to watch but sadly coverage of women’s cycling is almost non-existent.
Cue segue into my next rant.
Women’s cycling does not lack an audience because no-one wants to see it.
The problem is, we can’t see it.
If we can’t see it, it becomes difficult to write on, which then makes it difficult to analyze, discuss or engage with.
This lack of coverage cascades into a range of flow on effects. If we can’t watch these races, it becomes increasingly difficult for event organisers to attract sponsorship. A further effect is the lack of prize money on offer. Whether we like it or not, sport is a business and without coverage there is minimal opportunities for this aspect of the sport to grow.
Pushing for this current state of affairs to change is something we should all put on our priority lists for 2014.
Maybe the reopening of a cycling store isn’t the ideal place to get your boobies out
When the well known Melbourne cycling store, Total Rush, hired topless models to parade around at its grand reopening, we Melbourne folk found ourselves deeply divided.
The marketing strategy may have been successfully used by luxury car brands to hawk its goods, but at a bike store the strategy failed miserably.
For many, this was just another example of sexist attitudes toward women in cycling.
The store’s owners did apologize but only after they had deleted Facebook posts and tweets.
For many the apology came about with little sincerity, with accusations that it was the high end bike brand they specialize in selling pushing for it.
Hiring topless models for a bike store reopening was a stupid move and one that seriously undermines the commitment of this store to women in cycling.
Total Rush pertain to have a commitment to women’s cycling through the sponsorship of a women’s National Road Series team here in Australia and they conduct weekly women’s rides.
This is obviously fantastic, but it appears these initiatives are nothing more than paying lip service to the role of women in cycling when they pull such an ill conceived stunt as this.
From a thoroughly cynical view, the suggestion is this store sees an investment in women’s cycling as a marketing strategy, not as a genuine commitment to enhancing the profile of women’s cycling.
Once again, though, there is a big but here.
Yes, Total Rush were stupid but some quarters of Melbourne were bandying about the accusation of misogyny like it is the latest buzz word.
Let’s reserve that word for men who are women haters. Just because a man does a stupid thing, and let’s be honest, men are always doing stupid things, they aren’t then misogynists.
All in all, it’s been a pretty disappointing year for the treatment of women in 2013 so let’s hope that 2014 can bring about some reversal of attitudes.
Those reversals, however, can only come about through working together and educating ourselves to be more respectful.
That’s why I don’t support boycotting particular shops and brands.
In this instance nothing is achieved by pretending we all live in some kind of Garden of Eden and we have some magical power to banish those we see as transgressing our rules.
There is a time and place for that punishment, but it is not here.
Looking to the future, though, I’m starting to get seriously excited about what I am sure will be a great summer of racing here in Australia.
I hope you all have a happy and safe New Year and bring on 2014!
Kate Smart is a Melbourne based freelance writer. She writes mainly on cycling, although tennis and Australian Rules Football (AFL) are her other topics of interest. She has a strong anti-doping stance and is most interested in the institutional cultures that encourage and foster such transgressions. After a lifetime on the sidelines, she discovered the joys of getting off the couch and getting involved. She’s completed a couple of half marathons, very slowly, and rides her bike in the same manner. You can find her on twitter @katesmart12.
“Canondale’s assault on the more traditional sprinters started off like a New York mugging but developed into a full on LA riot. There was more than just an undercurrent of malevolence to it. It was brutal, not to mention relentless.”
read all about it here.
yep, i am sh*t stirring, good and proper.
read all about it on The Roar, right here.
Corsica! you kind of stole my heart there on Stage 3 with that incredible little lace of road , all a-weavin’ and a-groovin’ like that through the red lunar landscape, the ocean calling my name in the background. you’re kinda married to France but looking to divorce i hear, let me know and i’ll be over there with a bottle of vino and my mandolin, and into the sunset we shall elope. you’re wild, revolutionary, lush and super old – just my type…
read my Stage 3 analysis in full right here, on PEZCycling News.
Sagan squeezed, we suck, and sport has to strive for better.
naive at best is what you could call Sagan’s actions at the weekend. yet those amongst the organising committee who chose to follow ‘tradition’ and have long-legged chicitas in short skirts and big hair parading like trophies around the podium bear just as much of a responsibility.
it wasn’t their hand that reached out to cop a feel but they exploited the women’s sexuality via heels/skirts/hair, placed them in a very male environment and no doubt chuckled contentedly when the men in the crown whistled and ogled as the women appeared.
what of the women themselves? no responsibility? nah they don’t get out of it that easily, unless they truly are bimbos with absolutely no idea what they are doing. do women who dress as they were deserve to be harassed? no, but did they make a choice to allow themselves to be exploited in return for money?
did they think they were up there on account of their educational qualifications?
finally, us. i like to look at beautiful women and had never really questioned the appearance of the podium girls (see my ‘aboutapunk’, last photo to see evidence of that), and i’d wager most male cycling and sports fans are the same.
what does that say about us though?
not much. not much that is good, in any case.
the women’s race gets zero coverage, the podium chicks and a squeeze gets acres.
a bit depressing all round really, and those coming down only on Sagan need to step back and see the forest. it’s sticky, grimy, and not a little seedy, everywhere.
will it change? not likely. apparently it’s all part of the ‘history and culture of cycling.’
yup, cp taking over PEZ again!
get it while it’s hot… ok, it’s already lukewarm, but go get it anyway…
in a nutshell, yes.
clean? what do i look like, a McQuaid?
no not clean, but cleaner.
let’s look at the evidence.
that dude from Blanco wins the Tour Down Under. either he’s doped to his lids and snuck in to win when most of the others are shying away from the juice – as might have happened in the past, there have been some curious flashes in the pan the past couple of years – or (and this is more likely given the current climate – he’s just a very good and naturally talented rider.
what else? Gaudin’s win yesterday in the prologue in Paris-Nice. sure it was short but EPO doesn’t care if a race is 300km or 2.5, it still works. so does the rest of it. perhaps Gaudin, whom most of us wouldn’t know if we passed him in the street, is a very decent short course rider with superb bike handling skills. maybe he got lucky. but thing is, you don’t get lucky over any TT course, not at a race like Paris-Nice. you have to be good enough to win it.
Biel Kadri of Ag2r-La Mondiale (who? exakly! drink yer milk!) won the Roma Maxima on Sunday after a 127km solo effort. a huge miscalculation by the peloton? possibly. a stellar ride by a guy we barely noticed because hey, when riders are cleaner things get weird and don’t follow the traditional scheme of things? also – possibly.
going a bit further back, young riders like Peter Sagan (who may, a decade from now, be competing for a position in the top 5 of all time) have burst forth, and older, boring (or so we thought) riders like Cadel Evans suddenly became interesting and, dare i even whisper it, exciting. he suddenly found World Championships and Classic-winning form? no chance. it is far more likely that he rode clean whilst others juiced, then they had to limit their intake, and his class finally shone.
then you have the past couple of Tours, where guys have been crashing all over the place. why? cos their bikes are crap and they can’t handle them? well they’re not all on Pinarellos! [insert cabaret stand up comedy routine high hat noise here]. or cos the roads are bad? more likely that they can’t abuse the dope as they used to, the speeds have come down as a result and no single or two teams can control the peloton (remember Discovery?), so there’s more bunching, more guys chancing their arm near the front, and thus less space and hey bingo! you got it – more crashes.
i’ve been in love with this sport long enough to know that you’d have to be a fool to think that things have changed on any deep and fundamental level, or that riders are cleaner now because they realise doping is bad, but it does seem on the face of it as though less guys are taking less stuff just because they can’t, and that may be why we are seeing more unpredictable racing and, in turn, results.
i could be very wrong. i hope i’m not.