I can hardly say how much I love this story.
First, some background.
Back in the dark ages of the 1980s, I raced bicycles. If you’ve ever raced on skinny tires, you’ll understand it when I say that I was obsessed. I don’t know what happens to a normal person’s brain when they start wearing skin-tight clothes on two wheels, but it doesn’t take long before bills, children, and your wife’s birthday all take a backseat to your next training ride and to those new brake cables, impregnated with Teflon. The only other obsession I know of that is as powerful is what I call the horsey-girl syndrome. My wife is one of the few women ever to escape the clutches of this nefarious disorder. Having twin girls helped.
So, I’m racing bikes and doing pretty well. And I drool all day long over those two-page foldouts of Guerciottis and Binacis and Colnagos. You can have your Playboys and Sothern Living – I’ve got the latest copy of Bicycleworld in my back pocket. At races, I would work hard to wedge in near to these darlings. If I were lucky enough, I might get to rub their paint a bit. When no one is looking. One day, I won a twenty-mile time trial. It was a local race with mostly weekend riders, and I won by such a margin that I was accused of cheating. I had to prove that I put in the miles by the trip record on my primitive cycling computer that I had traded a week’s vacation in Savannah for.
While I was lolling at the finish line, other bikers started to finish up, and I noticed something. Most of these locals were riding the bikes that I drooled over. And right there, I still remember it, one of life’s greatest lessons hit me: unless you are the best of the best and are competing against the other two or three bests, then your skill and conditioning and ability far outweigh your tools. I was riding a bike that I paid $250 bucks for and beating people who were riding bikes that cost ten times as much.
How much time do we waste waiting for the cool tool?
And now there is Peter Sagan, racer extraordinaire.
Tolstoy wrote War and Peace longhand with an ink stylus.
Feynman worked out nuclear physics with a slide rule at topless bars.
Sagan is a bicycle racer from Slovakia, my homeland. He is young and brash and is turning cycling on its head. He crosses the finish line doing wheelies. He doesn’t shave his legs, and he rides road bikes, mountain bikes, and cross bikes. He does whatever in the hell he wants to do, and, as far as I can tell, he does so because he loves it. He is having fun in a sport that is well known to grind any bit of fun right out of you.
But get this. It’s my favorite story about Sagan. When he was a teenager and had just started riding, he set his heart on the National Junior Championship of Slovakia. With with the prize in sight, he looses a couple of races and thinks that he is out of contention for the finals. So he gives his bike away. Why race if your can’t win? Then, apparently, just before the race, he finds out that he has made the cut and would be riding in the finals. This is where the best of the best meet. What to do? Swipe your sister’s bike that she purchased at the local grocery store, that’s what. This is something like racing in the Tour de France on bike that you bought at Ace Hardware
Sagan shows up with this heavy, slow, bike. He doesn’t shave his legs and races in tennis shoes instead of cycling cleats and beats the pack. All of the artifice of the whole sport just goes out the door. The silly business about how to dress and how to carry yourself and how to be a pro bike racer goes right out the door when this guy with thighs like oaks just keeps pumping his legs and beats everyone. His antics turn cycling on its’ head. Cycling is a sport with a long history of this is how we do it. And, weirdly, maybe more than any sport, this culture is woven into every race. You break these unwritten rules at your peril. Unless you’re so damned good and fast that people are forced to deal with you.
This is Peter Sagan. Or as he is sometimes called, Peter the Great,or the Tourmanator.
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Want to be a crazy-fit bike rider? Read my review of the Peloton indoor fitness bike:
Peloton Bicycle Review
Another athlete who broke the rules:
She hired a track coach at 77. You think you are old?
I haven’t read it yet, but it looks good!