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Book review: My World, by Peter Sagan

27 Sep 2018

Slovak-speaking World Champion phones in life story to English-speaking journalist. What could possibly go wrong?

Cyclist Rating: 
• Good insight into his training and racing strategies
• Personality and humour appear lost in translation

Peter Sagan seeks to defend his rainbow jersey at this Sunday’s UCI World Championship Road Race in Austria. In the meantime, at the ripe old age of 28, he’s penned an autobiography that looks back at his life and career from the perspective of being the first rider to win a hat-trick of World Championship titles.

Actually, it’s more 'phoned' than 'penned' as much of Sagan’s spontaneous and mischievous nature appears to have been lost in translation.

If you’re expecting the tone to be similar to his heart-on-sleeve, post-race TV interviews or as self-effacing as his appearances in TV commercials for bathroom and kitchen appliances, you’ll be disappointed.

Buy My World, by Peter Sagan from Amazon here

To remind us that he actually is a loveable rogue, he regularly punctuates his anecdotes with the mantra, 'Why so serious?' though by the time you’ve read this for what seems like the 856th time, you’ll be wanting to stick your head in one of those kitchen extractor systems he regularly advertises on Eurosport.

It’s worth persevering through the 293 pages though, because there are occasional flashes of insight and candour, particularly about his time at Tinkoff Saxo.

Here, he clashes with Bobby Julich, 'a coach who was destroying me week by week.' As far as Sagan was concerned, Julich’s methods were 'training for its own sake.'

'No bike race has ever been won on a power meter,' writes Sagan. 'Nobody ever got UCI points for wearing the Maximum Output jersey.' It was, says Sagan, 'death by numbers.'

On the eve of the 2015 Tour de France, Sagan took a call from team owner Oleg Tinkov. He wanted to 'renegotiate' Sagan’s contract, because he had been 'shit at the Classics.'

As Sagan relates it, Tinkov goes on to say: '"I didn’t sign you because I wanted a points jersey in the Tour of fucking Switzerland. I want a Roubaix, a Flanders, a Primavera…..So, basically, you owe me your March and April salary."'

Completing his less than ideal preparation for the Tour, team manager Stefano Feltrin then orders him to work for Alberto Contador, but Sagan insists he wants to defend his green points jersey, arguing that there are seven other team members to help Contador.

On the morning of the first stage time trial, the air is finally cleared when Tinkov comes up to him and tells him to forget 'that stuff the other day about the contract', continuing: 'And all this stuff about team instructions and riding like a domestique for Alberto? Fuck ‘em. Fuck ‘em all. Get me that green jersey.'

Sagan duly obliges, recalling the decisive moment with probably the most strained analogy in the history of cycling literature:
'I’d nicked enough points off Greipel to get my favourite Robin Hood-coloured jersey back. Rob the rich to give to the poor?

'The way things were going [repeatedly finishing second on stages], I bet if I ran the Sherriff of Nottingham’s coach off the road, I’d get to the treasure chest and find Greipel or Cav had already helped themselves.'

There’s another curious paragraph later in the book when Sagan reinvents the world’s geography by describing how, while relaxing at his beachside villa in Brazil during the 2016 Olympics, he watched 'as the sun sank into the Atlantic'. (Brazil’s Atlantic coast faces east, the sun sets in the west.)

Sagan was in Brazil to contest the Olympic mountain bike race (he finished 35th) only after striking a 'Faustian pact' with Tinkov that obliged him to win two stages of that year’s Tour, the Quebec and Montreal GPs and compete in the Eneco Tour.

Fulfilling this last demand results in Sagan emulating Greg LeMond’s infamous toilet emergency during the 1986 Tour, though with a bidon instead of a casquette and in the back of a speeding car rather than on a bike.

Elsewhere, Sagan is one minute addressing the refugee crisis of 2015 that left hundreds of bodies floating in the Mediterranean, and the next describing in gratuitous detail how he rented the world’s most luxurious vessel to sail on those same waters with 28 of his friends to thank them for their support after he was kicked off the 2017 Tour (for causing Mark Cavendish to crash during a bunch sprint).

It’s a jarring contradiction that appears at odds with Sagan’s humble public persona.

It’s also disappointing to discover that, away from performing those impressive wheelies in front of his fans during races, his 'craziest' exploits amount to little more than setting off fire extinguishers – 'Come on, who among us can put hand on heart and say they have never ever thought: "Ooh, look at that. Shiny and red. Fun, surely?"' – and the commissioning of a truly awful tattoo (there’s a photo) – 'It’s the Heath Ledger version of The Joker with a bit of me thrown in. And what’s he saying? Can’t you guess? Why so serious?'

But once back to the cycling, Sagan is on surer ground. His descriptions of his cornering and sprinting techniques – he prefers a wider line with no braking and doesn’t like lead out trains – are genuinely illuminating.

He saves the best to last.

The Epilogue recounts his victory in this year’s Paris-Roubaix, and his respective descriptions of riding through the Arenberg Trench and trying to straighten his stem 40 km from the finish by banging into the rear wheel of the rider in front – 'What the fuck, Sagan? What are you fucking doing?' is the shocked response of Jelle Wallays - are gripping pieces of prose.

Buy My World, by Peter Sagan from Amazon here

Sagan isn’t expected to retain his rainbow stripes for a fourth consecutive year in Sunday’s World Championship race, and he refers to the burden associated with the jersey: 'Fans want drama. And if you can’t make the effort to give them something to shout about when you’re wearing the rainbow jersey, well, frankly you shouldn’t be wearing it.

'People often ask if I feel the pressure of the jersey. Well, I feel the jersey, it’s true, but it’s not pressure. It’s a responsibility to entertain.'

As long as he continues to entertain us as a rider, we can forgive him his lapses as a writer.

My World, by Peter Sagan, is published by Yellow Jersey Press on 4th October


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