Safe to say Peter Sagan was already the most interesting man in the peloton before the 2018 Paris-Roubaix. While his first victory in this iconic spring classic was hard to celebrate after learning Belgian rider Michael Goolaerts died of a heart attack during the race, looking back it’s remarkable how many little things Sagan did right to pull off the win. This moment when he adjusted his stem at 45 kph in a three-man breakaway he was about to attack kind of sums up the pragmatic confidence he uses to win races all the time. He’s kind of like Eddy Merckx if Eddy did wheelies.
Postscript: Sagan recently published a biography, My World, and in it he describes in detail the process leading up to this on-bike wrenching session:
“We come off the next section of cobbles and I can immediately feel something is wrong. I look down. Shit. My stem and handlebars are pointing north-west and my bike is going north. They are out by about 30 degrees. If they’re stuck there and won’t budge, then I can factor that in and deal with it. But that’s unlikely. What’s likely is my stem bolt has shaken loose and the whole assembly has swung left. Come the next sector, they could do a complete 180 and I’ll be somersaulting over them into a Napoleonic road and my own ignominious defeat. Shit, shit, shit.
I can’t let anyone know. If word gets back to the chasers, it’ll be just the boost they need. If these two realize, they’ll either drop me or give up. Neither looks good. But I won’t be able to chase, to corner, to stand up, to sprint … What to do?
I wonder how loose it is. Maybe I can nudge it straight? Impossible with no way of holding the wheel straight though: I give the handlebar a smack and everything just jogs. Pointless. Wait — what if I could wedge my wheel up against something? As we rotate through our paceline, Dillier comes through to lead. I drift back to Wallays’ wheel. I let my front tire ride close so it actually overlaps his back wheel on his left.
“Godverdomme!” yells the Lotto guy in the most useful, time-honored swear word in the Flemish cycling bible.
“Oh, sorry, sorry, lost it for a moment, sorry,” I apologize.
He shrugs. It happens. I’m the world champion, I must have at least a vague notion of what I’m doing, worse things happen every minute of every race.
It didn’t work. I pull through again to the front. We really are going to be on cobbles again soon. This can’t be how I lose Paris-Roubaix. I know what I did wrong. I didn’t tap him hard enough, obviously. Two or three quick hard blows. That’ll do it.
I sidle up behind his Ridley again. Deep breath, Peter. This is it. One … two …
Bang! Bang! Bang!
“What the f—k, Sagan? What are you f—king doing?”
“Oh man, sorry, just tired, sorry, it’s okay.”
There’s no friendly shrug this time, just a stream of under-his-breath invective and total confusion. Poor guy; 200 kilometers at the front of the world’s biggest one-day bike race and now some idiot is pranking him. This is a man at the end of his tether.
At that very moment my guardian angels appear alongside me in the Bora-Hansgrohe team car. I could have leaned in and kissed them. The lengthy tarmac stretch had enabled Ján Valach and Enrico Poitschke to rally-drive past the chasers and get up to the front.
“Got a four-millimeter Allen key, Ján?”
Everyone loves a four. It’s the one you get free with Ikea furniture. A minute later and we are back in the game.”