Slovakian cyclist Peter Sagan won three stages at the Tour de France this year. He wore the yellow jersey and won the points classification for a fifth-straight year. So, he’d be considered one of the favorites for the road race at the Olympic Games in Rio, right?
Sagan decided not to compete in the road race. He opted to compete in mountain biking instead, despite the fact that he hasn’t raced on a mountain bike in, let’s say, a while.
"I have not raced mountain bike in seven years. A lot of things have changed,” according to Sagan.
Why after such a long layoff did Sagan choose to restart his mountain biking career in Rio?
In January, Sagan came to Rio to do reconnaissance on the grueling, hilly road course and decided that it didn’t really suit his style of racing. So, he decided to take on mountain biking, something that he had had in his mind for years.
"I raced the road race in London and I already wanted to race mountain bike there but it was not possible," he said. "For sure, it's a big dream for me."
For cycling insiders, this discipline switch is right up Sagan’s alley. John Bradley, editor-in-chief of the cycling publication Velonews, explains, “this is completely on-brand for Sagan. You get the sense that during every road race he’s fighting the urge to just turn down some trail on the side of the road.”
The road less traveled is fairly common for the Slovakian. Instead of training for the Olympics in Europe with the other Olympic-bound racers, he went to Park City, Utah, where he raced against the local riders.
According to Jason Gay of the Wall Street Journal, “Sagan is the antithesis of a tightly-wound, hyper-regimented, goal-fixated cyclist.” Gay refers to Sagan like a California surfer just trying to find the perfect wave.
“Tightly-wound” is not a word many would use to describe Sagan after they saw him and his wife reenact the penultimate number in "Grease" on YouTube.
Can Sagan he actually win?
Odds makers have Sagan with 15/2 odds to win behind only mountain biking legends Nino Schurter and Julien Absalon. His chances for a medal seem pretty good. And according to Gay, "it would be a sport-rattling upset if he wound up on the medal podium.”
Sagan himself is unsure where he'll finish, but for certain, people will be keeping an eye on him.
"I did my best in training. I will do my best Sunday. No one knows what the hell to expect. Maybe it's more fun that way."