Peter Sagan has been branded an “idiot” by Lotto-Soudal rider Jelle Wallays after the former world champion admitted repeatedly bashing the rear wheel of the Belgian’s bike to try to straighten his handlebars on his way to victory at Paris-Roubaix in April.
Bora-Hansgrohe rider Sagan made the confession in his autobiography My World, which was published today, recounting the episode which happened when he and Wallays were in a three-man break alongside AG2R-La Mondiale rider Silvan Dillier.
In his book, Sagan wrote that as they came off a cobbled sector, “I could immediately feel something was wrong. I looked down. Shit. My stem and handlebars were pointing north-west and my bike was going north. They were out by about 30 degrees.”
Guessing that the stem bolt had come loose, Sagan believed he risked crashing on the next sector should the handlebars swing round more, while the narrowness of the road plus the groups of riders behind meant there was no chance of his team car reaching him for the time being. Nor was taking a neutral service bike an option, since the time taken to swap over and remount would effectively end his challenge.
“Shit shit shit. I can’t let anyone know,” Sagan wrote. “If word gets back to the chasers, it’ll be all the boost they need. If these two realise, 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?”
The only solution, Sagan realised, was to try and straighten it himself but obviously while riding, there was no way of holding the wheel steady while he tried to make the adjustment, which is when the idea came to him of using Wallays’ rear wheel to do the job for him.
“Now, if I were to touch his wheel unexpectedly in this situation, I would almost certainly crash and he would be fortunate not to. But planning it? That would be different, right? A quicck sharp tap, straighten the bars up, and off we go like nothing had ever happened. Right?”
The first attempt didn’t work and drew a “Godverdomme!” [Goddamni!] from Walllays, and Sagan – whose apology drew a shrug from the Belgian – deciding he hadn’t hit his rival’s wheel hard enough. So he did it again. Three times in rapid succession.
“Bang! Bang! Bang!”
“What the fuck Sagan? What are you fucking doing?” demanded Wallays.
“’Oh man, sorry, just tired, sorry, it’s okay,” Sagan replied.
“There’s no friendly shrug this time, just a stream of under-his-breath invective and total confusion,” wrote Sagan. “Poor guy; 200 kilometres 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.
“Worse than that, it didn’t work. Shall I get off? Twist it straight? Ask the other two if they happen to be carrying Allen keys and try not to get a Lottoi-mitted punch in the face?”
Fortunately for Sagan, the cavalry arrived in the shape of his Bora Hansgrohe team car with sports director Jan Valach, who said, “Going good, Peter. Need a drink, some food?”
“Got a four-millimetre Allen key, Jan?” was the reply.
“Everyone loves a four,” Sagan wrote in his book. “It’s the one you get free with Ikea furniture. A minute later and we’re back in the game.”
The unfortunate Wallays would be dropped shortly afterwards, eventually finishing 14th, more tjhan two and a half minutes after Sagan had beaten a spent Dillier in the sprint on the velodrome track in Roubaix.
Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad reports that it was only on the Wednesday following the race that Wallays learnt the real reason why Sagan had repeatly bashed his wheel.
“I received a message from my team-mate Marcel Sieberg,” he said. “He asked me if the story was correct that he had heard from his compatriot Marcus Burghardt [a team-mate of Sagan’s]. I said, ‘Yes, Sagan touched my rear wheel at least five times. It was super-ambitious.”
Wallays continued: “I threw a lot of West Flanders curses at Sagan, but he didn’t give a damn. I told Sieberg, ‘What an idiot he is!’ I’d never dare do that. I’d have ridden to the finish [with the handlebars] askew, because it was particularly dangerous for him.
“In his book he says he will apologise, but he hasn’t done that yet. I’ll talk to him next year about it,” he added.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.