Young Slovak Peter Sagan Raises Questions About College Cycling
by Josh Walfish | Northwestern University
If you weren’t glued to NBC Sports Network Tuesday morning, you probably missed the guy trying to run while riding a bicycle.
The 22-year old Slovak attempting the feat was a couple of feet away from winning his second Tour de France stage in three days and decided to emulate Tom Hanks’ iconic scene as Forrest Gump. The young brash Eastern European rider is Peter Sagan, who burst onto the road racing scene at the end of last year when he won three stages at the Vuelta a España. He has followed that performance up this year by winning 15 races, including five of the eight stages in the Tour of California in May.
Sagan’s two stages this year makes him the only rider with multiple stage wins in the early stages of the three-week race and has earned him the green jersey as the leader of the points competition. He has come out in the media and said the maillot vert is his ultimate goal in this inaugural trek through France.
If the young Slovak looks like a seasoned veteran out on the roads, it is because he has had success at every level of his career. Sagan won the Junior World Championship in mountain biking for cross country in 2008 and a silver medal in the Junior World Championship in cyclo-cross that same year, leading to him being named the cyclist of the year. That same year he signed an amateur contract with Liquigas before riding in 2009 for Trencin’s Dukla. After finishing in 10th in the 2009 U-23 Road Cycling World Championships, he was signed as a professional by Liquigas-Cannondale. In his debut at the Tour de Romandie, he won the first stage, making him the first Slovakian rider to wear the yellow leader’s jersey in the International Cycling Union (UCI) ProTour.
In the United States, cycling has lost popularity since the end of Lance Armstrong’s streak of seven consecutive Tour de France wins in 2005. However, much like Sagan, Armstrong joined the professional cycling tour without going to college.
Cycling is one of the few sports where college is not necessary to hone your craft and succeed. It is because of this fact that most schools do not have varsity cycling teams. USA Cycling has 57 schools listed at the Division I level of cycling, only six of which are recognized as varsity sports. To be recognized as a varsity team, three of these four conditions must be met: they must be recognized by their school as varsity program, award at least $10,000 in athlete scholarships per year, pay the entry for most collegiate races and attend at least two USA Cycling Collegiate National Championships each year. Across the two divisions, there are only 12 varsity teams, with two more expected to be recognized in the next two-three years. The rest of the 110 Division I and II teams ranked by USA Cycling are club teams who pay their own way to compete at competitions around the country.
Many of these cyclists, even those that qualify at the varsity level, are normal college students who have a passion for cycling. Most never make it to a pro cycling event and are just in it to have fun.
That is the same mentality Sagan seems to take to every race he rides. His youthful energy has drawn critics from other cyclists for being too unprofessional, but David Millar, the British cyclist who is racing in the Tour de France for Garmin-Sharp, may have tweeted it best when it comes to Sagan:
Josh Walfish is a NGJ Staff Writer and a sophomore at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. Originally from Rockville, Md, he is also the Sports Editor at the Daily Northwestern.
“Totally for Sagan and his crazy salutes, he’s 22, he’s got plenty of time to grow old and dignified.”