The term “hardman” is one of those cycling cliche tags.
It’s supposed to stand for a one-day Classics rider who is tougher and stronger, mentally and physically, than any other man on the start line. A guy who thrives on the nastiest cobbles on the coldest, wettest, muddiest, most miserable race day.
The hardman is tough as nails, hard as steel, a warrior among warriors. Think Cancellara, Boonen, Museeuw, De Vlaeminck, Kelly, Moser and, of course, the Cannibal, Eddy Merckx.
Then there’s the anti-hardman, World Champion, Peter Sagan. While he’s tough and strong, he has a unique personality and attitude that marks him as something far different. He’s got a freak flag of fun.
He’s not a hardman so much as a happyman. “I want to enjoy my time in the jersey with the ‘little stripes’ as I call it, win as much as I can and have some fun.”
Have fun? Would that be at the top of the list for Museeuw and Kelly and the Cannibal? Was their idea to enjoy themselves and have a good time? That’s crazy talk. What self-respecting, cobble-killing, Belgian hardman talks about having fun?
That’s the difference between the old school and Sagan. Having fun is a big reason he rides fast and wins big races. Making sure he enjoys his time on the bike is what puts three World Champion rainbow jerseys in his bedroom closet.
There’s a time to out-suffer the next man; a time to kill a rival on a cold, wet and windy stretch of road, but Sagan doesn’t need to make that personality trait number one. He’s a free spirit, a one of a kind, a badass with a smile on his face.
One of the most revealing metrics of his prodigious talent is that he doesn’t have to play anybody else’s role. He doesn’t have to conform to the old rules of the hardmen. The superstar of the Bora-Hansgrohe squad reveals the traditional hardmen as one dimensional.
“I haven’t changed and won’t change. I’m driven by my feelings and I’m always open and transparent. It’s fundamental for me to be myself even if that means I go against the flow. Being myself is what makes me feel good.”
The hardman is dead. Long live the happyman in the rainbow shirt.