Book Review: My World by Peter Sagan
When celebrities and pro athletes start writing books, fans start to get nervous. Although you occasionally get authors like Phil Gaimon and Kathryn Bertine (who are both are professional writers and pro athletes) writing books, it is much more common for athletes to have a ghostwriter, which is where the trouble usually begins. Ghostwriters aren't necessarily bad (for example, William Novak comes to mind), but more often than not, ghostwriter’s unfamiliarity with the athlete’s sport and a deference for political correctness make for a sterile, impassive read.
So, when VeloPress sent me a copy of Peter Sagan’s memoir My World, written with veteran cycling writer John Deering, earlier this year, I was understandably nervous. Peter Sagan has a special place in my heart. Sagan made me a pro cycling fan when he, as an unknown, won stage 6 of the 2012 Tour de France in dominate fashion and pumped his arms like the Incredible Hulk. I remember being dumbstruck by his flamboyant performance. I shared the race highlights with everyone I knew and telling them that it didn’t matter if they were fans of bike racing or not, watching Sagan’s enthusiastic victory salute was must-see TV; it defined the pure joy of sport. I was hooked on Sagan-mania. It also helped that Sagan was a Slovak like me. Before my great-grandfather emigrated to Chicago suburb of Gary, Indiana, he lived a couple hours west of Sagan’s hometown of Žilina, Slovakia. Sagan and I have the same Slavic blood flowing through our veins, how can I not root for the guy?
Hoping for the best, but fearing for the worst, I was relieved and delighted by what My World revealed about Peter Sagan. I knew Sagan’s goofball persona that we all see during press conferences, post-race interviews, and while he’s doing wheelies up Alpe d'Huez, but I had always wanted to know the man behind the comedian’s mask. The book delivers on those hopes tenfold. Sagan explores growing up in Slovakia and falling in love with cycling alongside his brother Juraj – the book goes far beyond retelling the famous story of Sagan winning a race on a “big box” bike borrowed from his sister. My World describes Sagan’s early struggles striving for cycling glory in an Eastern Bloc country with little connection to the cycling world. The book also reveals the hidden charitable work that Sagan has been doing in Slovakia. I won’t give away any spoilers, but Peter Sagan is having a dramatic effect on Slovakia’s cycling scene.
My World doesn’t shy away from controversy. The pages on the complicated and ever-changing relationship that Sagan has with former team owner Oleg Tinkov are enlightening and give a new perspective on the controversial Russian businessman. Sagan also doesn’t hold back punches when discussing his discontent with Slovakia’s cycling governing body. Additionally, “Team Peter” - Sagan’s affectionate name for his entourage of riders, coaches, and media people - is also discussed without shying away from the controversy it has brought to some of Sagan’s business dealings and the political maneuvering “Team Peter” has had to tackle.
My only complaint from reading My World involves the overly detailed description of key races in Sagan’s career. Having watched all of these important races live, some of the descriptions sounded more like a detailed race report rather than a presentation of Sagan’s unique insights from the races. On the other hand, it’s possible someone unfamiliar with the sport of cycling or a fan who hasn’t paid as close attention to Sagan’s major victories would appreciate this detailed race analysis. Perhaps my dislike for these sections is that I’m suspicious that the details come from co-author John Deering rather than Sagan.
My World is marketed as covering the three years that Sagan wore the world champion’s rainbow jersey, but I would argue that book is much more than that. I found it to be a complete character analysis of Peter Sagan presented by the person who knows Sagan the best - himself. The big names in pro cycling are frequently obscured behind aero helmets and large sunglasses, My World pulls back that veil and introduces us to the person behind the World Championship jersey. My takeaway from this autobiography was a deeper understanding of the man and a broader appreciation of the strengths and frailties of the racing hero that the cycling world has been cheering on for the last eight years.