Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Peter Sagan

People who don't know me well are often surprised when they learn that I watch a lot of sports on TV.  Not baseball or football or soccer or basketball. My interests lean more to sports where the individual is the star or they are working in concert with a small tight-knit team. I watch Formula 1 car racing, professional cycling and curling. The nature of those sports, and the way they are covered on TV, lend themselves to lots of learning about coaching and the human experience.

In all the sports, certain personalities float to the top. Sometimes it is because of their competitive edge and sometimes it is because of their attitude to their sport regardless of outcome. Rarely does anyone come along to match Peter Sagan. Sagan is a professional cyclist from Slovakia. He has ridden for a number of professional teams and most recently signed with Bora-Argon 18. Check out the Wikipedia article for more info.

What sets Sagan apart is his individuality and his performance. He started as a mountain biker but converted to road cycling years ago and he has had enormous success on the road. But in this year's Olympics he chose to ride the mountain bike race. He managed to fit some training into his busy road schedule and was actually was doing very well in the race in Rio until he flatted (which may have been because of lack of experience on MTB tracks over the last few years.)

Sagan won the World Road Championships in Richmond Virginia last year with a courageous move very near the end of the race. He carried that championship into the 2016 season and surprised many by not succumbing to the curse of the world champion. He had one of his best years, posting amazing results and participating in some moves which will go down in history. After one memorable stage in the Tour de France, he answered "We are artists." when journalists asked why he rode the way he did.

It is very difficult to repeat as world champion. The organizers plan courses which favour different sorts of riders from year to year. In Richmond in 2015 there was a lot of climbing. The 2016 course in Doha was 257 km, almost completely flat and favoured the sprinters. Crosswinds broke up the peloton and only 80 riders were in the front group. Sagan was the last to hang on to that group. He spent most of the race near the back and only emerged at the front with a couple of hundred meters to go. He then outsprinted the best sprinter in the world to win his second world championship in a row. When he was asked how he prepared for the race his response was very different from many of the other cyclists. He didn't sweat it - he just showed up to race. “When I came here, for the first day, I was sleeping all day because I traveled overnight. Then one day I did three hours and already I was, ‘oh no, it’s too much.’ Then the next day I did just one hour because today was the big day."

And that's what I admire most about Sagan. He has managed to find an activity he truly enjoys, he doesn't take himself seriously and he has made art of his life. Here are some examples of why he is beloved in the cycling peloton and by admirers on the sidelines all around the world.

Sandy is played by his wife.

This wheelie was performed on one of the most difficult climbs in cycling.

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