If there was ever an example of the difference between most everyone in the peloton, even the most talented, and the man in the rainbow jersey, Peter Sagan, it was the following exchange.
Sagan: “If I win like Kwiatkowski, I’m not happy.”
Kwiatkowski: “Sometimes you win by being the smartest, not the strongest.”
The message is that Sagan is such a unique and gifted rider that he has the luxury of deciding how he wins. He doesn’t need to grind it out, hang on other people’s wheels or roll the dice on tactics.
Sagan is so good he can make decisions about winning with panache and style, win in a way that entertains millions of fans, take a victory with his personality and style as much as his legs.
That is the gulf that separates a top rider from a superstar like Sagan. Kwiatkowski must plan and execute to perfection and winning ugly is still winning. He has to play it smart while Sagan can play with the race like it’s a theater stage, bringing his personal spotlight to a one-man show. There’s always a crowd at the Bora–Hansgrohe bus.
There is the man in the rainbow jersey and then there is everyone else. In our view, that’s not ego or self-centered, it simply reflects a singular truth about Sagan. He operates at a different psychological and emotional level than anyone else.
Sagan can actually win brutal WorldTour races while having fun.
The Sagan-Kwiatkowski polemic heated up what looks to be a cold and rainy Milan-San Remo. In last year’s edition, Sagan attacked on the Poggio and then took the lead on the hairpins down into town. Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step) worked with Sagan to keep the peloton at bay but Kwiatkowski sat in the wheels, contributing nothing, calculating everything.
That’s bike racing. Sagan won best entertainer but it was Kwiatkowski who scored victory in the first classic of the season. Thus, the war on words about how to win bike races.
The Polish rider for Team Sky can certainly understand the gamesmanship but also the dilemma of a marked man in rainbow stripes. “I know how it is to race with the rainbow jersey. It’s part of the game that he says such a thing,” said Kwiatkowski.
Peter Sagan is by far the biggest star in pro cycling and by even farther, the only star that brings in millions of fans who aren’t obsessed with the sport. While Chris Froome’s ongoing case over his failed adverse analytical finding for salbutamol drags the sport down, Sagan continues to provide joy and happiness.
“I prefer to make some show for people and how it’s going, it’s going,” said Sagan. “It doesn’t matter if you win or lose.” Oh, victory matters, for sure, but when you’re this insanely talented, you make your own destiny and you decide not just what to win, but how.