When Peter Sagan burst onto the pro-cycling scene back in 2009 he was the next big thing. I was unconvinced. Apart from anything, he was born in the 1990’s.
“Are you trying to tell me it’s got to the point where people born in the 1990’s are in charge…” I thought to myself, sounding worryingly like an old man. I was to learn that yes, they are.
But it wasn’t just the alarming youth that had me resisting the rise of Sagan. It was that name. It’s common currency among cycling fans now, but back then it was a tricky one. “Is it SAG-an? SAY-gan? Sa-GAN? I could get neither my head, nor my mouth around it.
“He’ll never catch on” I thought.
Think about it. Compare two random Belgian cyclists; Tom Boonen, and Guillaume Van Keirsbulck. Admittedly Van Keirsbulck isn’t realistically in the same league as one of Belgium’s greatest ever pro-cyclists, but with that name was he ever going to be?
Boonen trips off the tongue. Two strong, memorable syllables. We all know where we are with Boonen. Even for those of us who pronounce it wrong – because to an English speaker BOW-nen doesn’t sound right – there’s no problem.
Tom Boonen. You hear it, you read it, you know it.
Guillaume Van Keirsbruck…not so much.
Maybe this is making me sound like a narrow-minded English speaking Eurosceptic (I’m not…), but what can I say? Peter Sagan just didn’t do it for me.
And then he started finishing second in every race he entered. I would nod sagely, feeling vindicated. “If he had a surname I could confidently pronounce he would be converting all these podiums in to wins”, I concluded, now clearly beginning to lose my marbles on the whole Sagan thing.
But slowly, over time I came to enjoy the wheelies, the green-dyed beard, the funny interviews, the hair, and the off-bike outfits. It became clear that in comparison with almost every other pro-cyclist he had a style on the bike and a personality off it to be celebrated.
My mood morphed from the strangely mean-spirited “I knew he wasn’t as good as you said he was,” until one day I found myself thinking “…this isn’t fair, he’s clearly the best, he HAS to start winning EVERYTHING for the credibility of the sport.”
And then he won the World Championships Road Race in Richmond Virginia in the most exciting finish of any bike race in 2015; thrillingly, off the front, escaping from the entire field, along streets thronged with whooping Americans. It’s not often I find myself jumping around and screaming at the TV.
SAG-an? SAY-gan? Sa-GAN? Who cares – the man’s a STAR!
His gloriously mangled winning speech about the migrant crisis in Europe was the icing on the cake.
Since that day he’s won, among other things, the Tour of Flanders, Gent-Wevelgem, three stages of the Tour de France, the World Championship Road Race (again), and the overall UCI World Tour.
And now it’s fair.