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The Slovakian superstar will race down the Via Roma for the last time Saturday as he bids farewell to WorldTour-level racing and the monument calendar that so marked his racing career.
Of course, he’s been racing and saying adieu to fans since January. Yet this week’s Milan-San Remo and the opening of “monument madness” is a poignant reminder that Sagan’s days are numbered in the peloton.
Italy’s “La Primavera” is a monument he never won, but one that he lit up year after year, including two second-place finishes.
It will be hard to say goodbye to one of cycling’s most iconic and transformative riders.
Little more than a decade ago, it was Sagan who was hailed as the “new Merckx” and was knighted as a swaggering wunderkind who was shaking up the norms of a creaky and seemingly out-of-touch peloton.
Now 33, Sagan quickly emerged as the poster child of the Twitter Age. His ready-for-T-shirt soundbites were perfect for a public yearning for fresh faces and a new style of aggressive and exciting racing.
“Why so serious?” was his personal mantra, so much so that he tattooed the slogan on the side of his torso.
Sagan helped spice up a dusty sport and gave a generation growing up on Instagram and social media a new instant superhero.
“Saganator” gleefully played his end in that bargain.
He popped wheelies, raced with wild abandon, and enjoyed every moment of it, except perhaps the pre- and post-race interviews when he couldn’t hide his boredom with an endless string of inquiries of when he was going to such-and-such race or if he was indeed the “new” Eddy Merckx.
Sagan played to the crowd, and the fans loved it.
His larger-than-life persona was expressed in ad campaigns, mock-up musical videos, and superhero moments ranging from The Hulk to “Run, Forest, Run” sprints to the line at the Tour de France.
As one of the top names in the blessed generation dubbed the “Class of 1990,” Sagan delivered a mix of verve, humor, and pure unadulterated passion that the marginal-gain-obsessed peloton so desperately needed.
Sagan was loyal to those most loyal to him. He was never a freelance mercenary chasing a paycheck, though for several seasons he was cycling’s highest-paid racer.
Instead, he built a village around him and brought that support system with him to every team he raced on. His brother, Juraj, who inspired him to race as a precocious teenager, was his anchor. Maciej Bodnar and Daniel Oss his faithful lieutenants. His entourage also included a personal PR officer, his manager, and his favorite mechanics and soigneurs.
Though he could be argy-bargy in the bunch, he was liked and respected by his peers.
One of the more indelible moments in Sagan’s many greatest hits came after he barnstormed to the first of his three straight world titles in Richmond.
After the spectacular victory, rival and colleague alike celebrated with him as if his victory was a win for cycling.
And in many ways it was. Everyone wanted Sagan to win because he made winning so much fun.
Peter Sagan walked so Pidcock, Van Aert, Van der Poel could run pic.twitter.com/RGsbsZ474B
— (@SwaganP) January 27, 2023
After helping to elevate Bora-Hansgrohe to WorldTour status, he joined TotalEnergies on a three-year deal in 2021. No one, perhaps except Sagan, ever expected it would be his last contract.
His unabashed joy for the game was undeniable, and fans knew it. His loyal legions would cheer him from victories at Paris-Roubaix, Tour of Flanders, and a history-making three straight world road titles.
There was nothing disingenuous or fake about Sagan. His exuberance was real, authentic, and original.
While more than a few superstar riders or national heroes would annoyingly sign a few autographs only when the TV cameras were on them, Sagan would genuinely stop to pose for photographs and a chat with fans before every race he started.
Sagan knew that one of those nine-year-old kids might someday grow up to try to emulate him.
And almost ironically, that’s what’s happening to Sagan and inevitably to every professional cyclist — younger riders are coming up.
And just as Sagan would race with no fear and brazenly elbow his way to the front, a new generation of riders is doing that to him.
In February, Sagan confirmed 2023 will be his last fully dedicated to road racing. We’ll certainly see him at mountain bike races, the Olympic Games, and probably on the gravel circuit, but it’s hard to imagine a WorldTour season without him.
The past few years have been marked by illness, COVID-19, and inconsistent performances not becoming his status.
Yet Sagan’s authenticity and joy of racing remain eternal.
#Giro104 🇮🇹 / Dans l’intimité de 🇸🇰 Peter Sagan (BOH), avec son célèbre tatouage “Why so serious ?”
(📷 : RCS Sport) pic.twitter.com/OEvauZTB8Q
— Renaud Breban (@RenaudB31) May 29, 2021
After San Remo, he’s slated to return to his favorite hunting grounds at E3 Saxo Bank Classic, Gent-Wevelgem, Tour of Flanders, and Paris-Roubaix, all races he’s won at least once.
Even if he’s no longer right at the front and driving the conversation like he was for so long, the monuments and the peloton are going to be a bit less fun and colorful without him.
Sagan gave so much to cycling. His rock-star presence and unplugged exuberance will be hard to replace in a sport renowned for sacrifice, denial, and self-control.
Fans will be cherishing his every move over the next few weeks in the spring classics.
It’s the last chance to see Sagan fly.