August 13, 2012, Bratislava, Slovakia
Did you ever think you would be able to win three stages at the Tour de France?
Peter: Honestly, I didn't expect it at all. It's far beyond my expectations because the plan was that I was going to race in the Tour just for experience. It’s the most famous race in the world - and I was a part of it! Wow… So many riders dream of winning a stage in the Tour, many far more experienced than me. I was tremendously happy when I won the first stage because I had dreamt of it long before. I was a bit shocked that it happened to me. Many thanks go to my teammates for their work though.
Peter, your winning celebrations put you under the media spotlight. However, some of your competitors say you show disrespect to them…
Peter: I noticed this negative reaction too. [long pause] But I don’t do it for them. To be honest, cycling is a boring sport to me. Boring to watch. I can’t stand watching it on TV for 4 or 5 hours. I only watch the last five kilometers or the final sprint. Nothing more. That’s why I do these victory celebrations at the finish. I do it all for people, to encourage their interest in the sport, to liven it up, to make it at least a bit exciting to watch. And yes, maybe then they’ll say ‘I hope Sagan wins today so we can see what he’s got for us this time’. I don’t mean to show disrespect to my competitors, oh my gosh!! [laughs] I only want to bring some thrill into the sport because that’s what cycling lacks and needs. I love to entertain. I like doing something that makes people smile. I’ve always liked it when someone adds a touch of fun to their victories, like Valentino Rossi. There will always be someone to criticize me for what I do, but I don’t care what they think. I don’t it for the criticizers.
You were very frustrated after Stage 5, and you even dared to say that some riders don’t have what it takes to win, and still they will push their way towards the front. Don’t you think this kind of criticism may cause you enemies in the peloton?
Peter: That’s the Tour de France! There’s no way to react to my words. What can they say or do about it? We all come to race, and we all race to come. We all want to win. Either you’re in the front or you’re not. And when you are you ride hard. I just said what was on my mind at that moment. That’s just me.
Is there any rivalry in the peloton or are you friends with other riders?
Peter: There’s rivalry only in the last kilometers when everyone wants to win. Anyway we are friends before the race and after. After my first stage win, I turned up with a bell on my handlebars when we were at the start line and they all loved it. We talked and joked. They’re good guys.
What helps you win so easily? Are you lucky, brash, or just gifted?
Peter: All of these. You have to be brash if you wanna win a stage of the Tour. Luck comes in handy, too. But above all, you have to be in good form. And you must be given a chance. I’m the type of rider who takes every single chance. When there is a chance to sprint all the way to the finish, I’ll take it, and I’ll be brash there because that’s just what you have to be to win a race like this.
On one stage, I saw you pull your leg out of the pedal, avoid a flying bike, and keep riding. Like nothing happened. How do you survive these scary near-crash situations? You show excellent bike handling ability.
Peter: I’m a former mountain biker, that’s all. I learned all my bike skills riding a mountain bike. I used to do downhill mountain biking and cross-country. I was a little boy when I first sat on the MTB. It was the best age to learn the bike skills. You can’t teach a 25 year old these things. Now I’m able to avoid crashes that other road cyclists probably won’t. I’m quite good at this. [long pause] But I gotta knock on wood because it’s a thing of luck too.
Did you have a crisis, a critical day during the three weeks?
Peter: Three weeks cycling…that’s a long time. Every rider had their critical day. I had mine too. It was on one of the big mountain stages and we were working for Nibali. I felt totally exhausted after the stage. I felt really bad. [long pause] It was the day when I felt like I was gonna quit and go home.
You won the green jersey on Stage 2 and you took it all the way to Paris. Did you think you would be able to keep it all the way?
Peter: No, I didn’t expect it. It was very hard to keep it for almost 21 days, but it turned out well in the end. The feeling when you are given the green jersey in Paris is just worth all the hard work and pain. I’d like to thank my teammates again for working for me.
You always thank your teammates for working for you, but do they really? We barely see them around you..
Peter: Of course they do. Cycling is a team sport…
Your statements about the Olympic games were not very positive. Did the Olympics really disappoint you so much?
Peter: It’s true that I wasn’t very impressed. It was my first Olympics and… [long pause] I don’t know, I just expected something…much different. I was a little disappointed then, but now I don’t care. There’s no point. I don’t dwell on things I cannot change. I would go crazy if I did. Tomorrow’s a new day, a new race to be won.
So you spent three days in London. What memories did you leave it with? What have you got stuck in your mind?
Peter: I don’t know how I’m supposed to answer this question. [long pause] Been there, done that. That’s it.
I see pro-cyclists are used to certain conditions. Were the conditions in the Olympic Village poor?
Peter: They were. The Olympic Village was a weird place, there was chaos all around… We actually lacked the basic conditions to concentrate on our performance. I’d never experienced anything like this before. I mean, these were not the conditions cyclists are used to. Cyclists prefer quiet places, privacy, so they can really get some rest. Here it was a different story. I couldn’t even sleep at night. It was so hot in my room I spent the night just opening and closing the window, and tossing and turning, trying to fall asleep just to wake up to the sounds of the firework rehearsal for the opening ceremony.
The day after the end of the Tour you raced in Belgium. How do you think Belgian spectators feel about you now? Are they your fans?
Peter: I get the feeling that they start to love me more than Tom Boonen who’s their compatriot. Weird, isn’t it. But I like it! [laughs]
Vincenzo Nibali confirmed that he would leave Liquigas after 2012. Other Liquigas riders are to leave as well. What do you think of the situation?
Peter: It seems to me that our team are now going to focus on individual stage victories instead of the general classification. But it’s still just my opinion. We’ll see.
Now that Nibali is gone, will your position in the team change?
Peter: [long pause] I don’t see how it could be changed. [smiles]
Peter, you have won 19 stages this year, and the season’s not done yet. Do you realize what it means? It makes you the world’s most successful pro cyclist of 2012. There is the World Championships yet to come…
Peter: I’m shocked that I’ve already won so many. It’s an incredible season for me. I’m glad it just happened to me. [laughs] Who knows what the future holds? Maybe I won’t be in good form for the Worlds. Or maybe I’ll win it. Who knows. I don’t. We’ll see.
Will the terrain suit you?
Peter: I hope so. I know some of the roads, I raced at the Amstel Gold Race there and finished third. It could had been better. [laughs] The course may suit me… It’s going to be an interesting race anyway.
Is it possible at all to regenerate enough for a race like this?
Peter: [smiles] All you do is chill. You can’t waste your energy. Usually I have a 3 hours’ massage. You can’t stay up late at night, you go to bed early - sleep plays an essential role in the regeneration process. You have to give up all pleasures. Actually we lived like monks for the three weeks. But that’s what you’ve got to do. It’s all about discipline. If you have reasons and motivation, if you see that it’s really worth it, then you’ll make it. You go by certain rules and principles, and if you don’t you know you’re done here. That’s what sport is all about. That’s what life is all about anyway.
What does your training consist of? How many hours a day do you spend riding your bike?
Peter: It depends. My preparation builds up to rides of four to five hours a day, then we start racing in mid-February so I change my training session based on the races. Our conditioning coach gives us the specific training programs to follow and monitors our results. As the races get closer, we have some longer rides to get used to this time on the bike, usually of 6-7 hours a day. But I would much rather race than train!
What does your diet consist of?
Peter: Try eating pasta, spaghetti, pizza all the time and I bet you’ll be fed up with it pretty soon. I am. [smiles] But I have to eat what I’m told to, there’s nothing I can do about it. I eat their pizza, their fruit salads, vegetable salads, sandwiches with marmalade, ham, cheese… Then little baguettes, protein bars, chocolate bars, gels, joint drinks, pure water… That’s what we live on until the season ends. Cyclists don’t eat much anyway.
What are you going to do with all the green jerseys that you’ve got?
Peter: I’ve already given them away. [laughs] To my teammates, because they deserve them for the work they’ve done.
Have you been given the porsche yet?
Peter: No, not yet. It’s not that they don’t want to give me the car but there’s no time. I’m very busy now. Every day I’m in a different country… But I’ve done my job. Now it’s their turn. I’ve won the green jersey and now I’m gonna have my boss’s car! [laughs]
Life must be pretty wonderful for you right now. Your performance at the Tour made you literally famous. Are you ready for what it takes?
Peter: It’s going to change my life. [long pause] Everything has its pros and cons though. I try to look at the bright side of it. I’ll have to learn to live with it. But I don’t want to get used to it. It’s been just too much for me these days. It’s gotten to the point I can’t even be all alone for a minute. [long pause] I can’t cut myself to pieces, I can’t be everywhere they want me to be. I really can’t. I’m not a celebrity. I’d like to continue living my ordinary life. I hope people understand this. And if they don’t, then I’ll move to a different country. [laughs]
Winning the green jersey in the Tour de France is going to change your life, but how will it change your ambitions? Do you see the possibility of winning the Tour? Do you think you could win it one day?
Peter: Everyone asks me this now. Honestly, I don’t think so. It’s not a race that suits me well. I’m young, I’m still at the beginning of my career. It’s too early to say what’s possible. I still don’t know what my limits are. I would have to change so many things if I wanted to focus on the overall victory. I’d have to lose weight and have a completely different training… I’m a sprinter for now, and I don’t know if I can be a good climber and time trialist, too. In the next years, my ambition is to win in the Classics. I don’t think about winning a grand tour. It’s not my ambition now.
Translated from Slovak.
This interview was a part of the press conference on August 4, 2012 in Bratislava, Slovakia.