Cycling: Life's still joy ride for champ Peter Sagan

By Jonathan Liew

Peter Sagan skipped the Olympic road race to compete in the mountain bike event. Photo / AP
Peter Sagan skipped the Olympic road race to compete in the mountain bike event. Photo / AP

Before we begin, a question: do you like your job? Never mind for a moment about the money or the benefits package or the staff discount or the manifold opportunities to pilfer stationery. Do you actually enjoy doing it? And if not, why not?

To Peter Sagan, then, the 26-year-old from Slovakia who won his second consecutive world championship on Sunday. Sagan has a fair claim to being one of the most compelling sporting figures in the world right now: a man redefining an entire era around not just his monstrous talents, but his inimitable personality.

We need not waste time listing his achievements: you can look them up if you want. Suffice to say that Sagan can win a bike race in more different ways than anybody else, and will continue winning bike races for as long as he can be bothered to do so.

No, the bare facts of Sagan's career are far less interesting than the manner in which he has gone about it.

He launches outrageous attacks. He crosses the line doing wheelies. He skips a winnable Olympic road race in order to enter the mountain bike event, a discipline in which he has not competed seriously since he was a teenager. He becomes world champion for the first time, and devotes the first answer of his post-race interview to the European migrant crisis.

Earlier this year, Sagan was embroiled in a vaguely ridiculous micro-furore when he refused to honour the ritual of shaving his legs. You probably had to be over familiar with cycling's curious mores to gauge the true significance of this. Cyclists have been shaving their legs for more than a century. And yet here was Sagan, leg hairs dancing in the wind, gently toying with the sport's conventions and earning himself a good deal of criticism in the process. "Who came with this style?" he retorted. "Nobody knows, and yet everybody is shaving their legs."

Then there were the two years he spent building and customising the 1970 Dodge Charger from The Dukes of Hazzard. Or the time he filmed an exquisite shot-by-shot re-enactment of You're The One That I Want with his wife Katarina in the Olivia Newton-John role, for no apparent reason other than that Sagan thought it would look pretty neat. This is, in short, a man who plays by his own rules, who navigates his career not just by training schedules or power outputs, but that strange and much-neglected currency: fun.

This, perhaps, is the most revolutionary idea of the lot. Consider Novak Djokovic: a man with all the talent in the world, but who admits to spending the last few months trying to regain the simple enjoyment of tennis. When we talk about what motivates athletes, most of the same themes tend to recur: trophies, medals, money, fame, legacy. How often do we mention fun?

Sagan mentions it a lot. "My hobby is my job, so I can ride, have fun and make some money," he said recently. There is a simple childlike lust there that you occasionally glimpse in other sporting geniuses: Lionel Messi, Bubba Watson, Sachin Tendulkar. Strip away the straggly beard and the sponsors' logos, and you still see the Sagan who first sat on a bike all those years ago.

Why dedicate yourself to a job unless you truly enjoy it? Why settle for anything less? Whether on the bike or off it, Sagan reminds us that sport should be fun. Going to work every day should be fun. Hell, life should be fun. And whether you are on a dreary commute, or sitting in an office wondering if anybody will really miss that blue stapler, perhaps we can all learn something from that.

- Daily Telegraph UK

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