October 18th, 2018
Following a surprise call from his agent in February: “John, would you like to work with Peter Sagan on his new book? We knew that Richmond Cycles couldn’t stand in the way of the opportunity and waved JD off with a promise he’d spill if not all, then some of the good bits.
Here’s what happened next
I had to be at Granada Airport at 5am on a Monday morning. Peter, his manager Gabriele and I were flying to Bratislava on a private jet. They had put a ring around the flight, the two days in Slovakia and the return flight as ideal dead time for us to talk.
You’ve seen Sagan. He’s a bit of a lad. Which could mean he’s great company, but could alternatively mean he’s a bit of a dick. I have great news: he’s a lovely, lovely man. The sort of chap who, when you meet him for the first time at a Spanish airport at 5am, asks you if you want some breakfast, and when you say yes, goes off to try and find you some himself.
I’ve heard some cautionary tales about ghostwriting. A guy charged with turning out 74,000 words on an England cricketer’s bio never actually met the man, but wrote the whole shebang via email questions and online research. With Peter right in the middle of a punishing pre-season altitude training block in Sierra Nevada, I was half expecting him to sleep for most of our trip, but as soon as we squeezed into our eight seater – they call it eight, but you would definitely want to be one of the first four to get a seat, the others are like bike kid seats – he said: “Where do you want to start?”
We started at the beginning, and we didn’t stop til we got back. And then it carried on over dinners, training rides and multiple phone calls. You’ll be pleased to hear that many of our conversations started with, “Hey, John, funny story for you…”
Oh, and the lad thing isn’t entirely a myth. Next time a Slovakian cyclist and his brother offer you a beer after they’ve made a pitstop at a service station, pick a can yourself….
Not the one they shook up for five minutes before they got back in the car.
Peter Sagan on Cycling
So, over the course of our spring together, I picked up a few things from the triple World Champion and six-time Tour de France Green Jersey winner about bike riding.
Firstly, Peter is renowned for his bike handling, which many put down to his childhood racing BMX and mountain bikes. “Yes,” says Peter, “it’s down to my childhood, but not so much bike riding. It’s to do with being an outdoor kid, you know? Ok, I was riding my bike, yes, but I was climbing trees, making camps in the woods, running up mountains, sledging down them, swimming in lakes… all of these things made me who I am. Yes, you’re training and getting stronger, but more than that, you’re understanding your body, what it can do, learning about co-ordination and developing all sorts of skills. When my boy Marlon is old enough, I want him out there all the time. Sure, I’ll be biting my fingernails about him being safe like any parent, but being out there is what makes us ready to good things. And it’s fun, right?”
The man who won his first world title in Richmond, Virginia by leaving the best riders in the world behind on a downhill has some tips there too. “People don’t train downhill? Why not? They bury themselves to put a minute into me on a climb, then after we go over the top, they don’t know how to go around a corner and I can just freewheel back to them.”
So… did he really invent that sitting on the top tube and pedalling thing? “Invent? No. I just tried all the different ways of going down the hill and saw what was best. It’s normal. Anybody would realise it if they practiced and experimented.” Yeah. I’m going to stick in the saddle Peto, but I appreciate the sentiment.
Our very own pocket rocket Matt Wallis is putting the Champ’s teaching into practice with some serious testing in Richmond. Peter says that the accepted method of braking before a corner, cutting across the apex and accelerating out of it isn’t necessarily the fastest. In fact, in the course of writing My World together, we studied several instances of what Peter calls his “slingshot” technique. Crucially, you need to know the corner well, so this technique is particularly well suited to a circuit race like the World Championship or a well-known parcours like the Tour of Flanders. The slingshot has helped Peter win these races in the past.
Basically, you don’t need to brake. Don’t cut the corner. Sail around the outside, holding your speed, but still accelerate out. Watch videos of Peter in Virginia or in Norway and you’ll see him make up ten or even twenty places, then shoot away as the others try to recoup the speed they scrubbed off.
Does it work on Kingston Gate, Matt? Watch this space.
Of course this doesn’t cover why JD is now sporting a new Sagan brand tattoo….he’s going to be back in TW1 for a book talk at the shop on Dec 6th (7-9pm) so make sure you get him to explain that one away!