Peter Sagan’s first victory at the Roubaix will forever be affected by Micheal Goolaert’s heart, which stopped beating about 120 km before the arrival.
Goolaert’s body lay near the bicycle on the left side of the street. The cyclists passed by thinking he fell, like many others. His composure probably depended on the pain he felt from some cracked bone, they surely thought. In this sport, you get so used to pain and to falling, that you don’t think about your or someone else’s body.
Instead, Micheal had been hit by a heartache, a rare event even in a sport so demanding for the body. Footballers and basketballers died of heartache, comparably, much more than cyclists did. Doctors tried their best to reanimate him, but all was useless, and Micheal was declared dead at 10.40 pm.
The race in the meanwhile continued. At the top, a group of riders, among them Sagan and Stepstra, reasonable the favorites, with last year’s winner, Van Aert, and Van Avermaet. Ahead of them, two courageous explorers, the ones that remained from the morning escape, among which the Swiss champion Silvan Diller.
In the pursuing group, Van Aert and Van Avermaet tried to escape one at a time. Sagan watched the artists of the pave, Dutch and Belgians, show their feathers to decide who was the best. Peter, the World Champion, is the best sprinter around, so he could wait for the arrival and beat all of them.
They all thought that Peter would want to win at the sprint, in the Roubaix velodrome, so they looked at each other, the ones that could attack from afar. In that moment, Peter decided he was more than a sprinter. We already knew it. Peter is an artist of the bicycle, the joyous face of a sport made of suffering. Three times world champion, his videos of acrobatics on the bicycle, a rigid, punishing tool for that activity, have spread his name to a wider audience than the simple cycling circuit.
However, the others seemed not aware of that. After the pave of Orchies Peter jerked forward. He didn’t seem to be very convinced, he just went faster. The group waited, not believing what he was going to do. After all, a sprinter who’d almost certainly win in the velodrome, should not use that weapon.
Peter, instead, believed his action. He reached the two ahead of him, of which only Sivan Diller remained with him, and kept pushing those pedals like dynamite to put about a minute between himself and the purveyors.
Dillier pushed ahead in the plan traits, leaving to Sagan the task to lead in the pave. On the little stones Sagan’s acrobatics paid off. Several times his and Diller’s bicycle seemed to fall apart, but they kept pedaling at 50 km/h. Silvan knew his sprint against Sagan was doomed, but the opportunity to be second at such a race is already a big prize, and the sponsor’s always happy to see his name for a lot of time ahead of all.
The odd couple followed an unwritten script. Behind, the purveyors realized they had miscalculated Sagan’s strength. They tried to go faster, cut the advantage to 45 seconds at about 10 kilometers to the end. In that moment, as though Peter had another engine he’d not yet used, he went in front of Silvain and started pushing ferociously on the pedals.
Poor Silvan tried to stay behind him using all his strength, knowing it was the only way to do a great result at the Roubaix. Some kilometers before that, when he was still in the group, Peter had asked for a wrench to regulate his handlebar, a piece of science fiction applied to cycling, developed with the Mc Laren F1 team.
After that, the bicycle would resist better all the jumps and hits of the ruined roads, that a group of passionate people “maintains” every year to make them the most punishing race in the world.
4 kilometers before the end, Peter and Silvan owned an advantage of about a minute, and could entirely enjoy the entrance to the velodrome. They completed a lap and then prepared for the final one with Diller ahead.
Peter waited for the last parabolic curve and then gave just a spark of his powerful sprinter engine. Diller had to be content with the second place. Not bad, at all, for him, and for the team.
With this victory, after the World Championship, the Tour of Flanders, the Gand Wewelgem, the stage wins in the grand tours, Peter Sagan achieves the status of greatest single day racer of our time. He’s won on all the grounds, in all the environments. He’ll never win a Tour or a Giro, but he’s not that kind of rider. He’s more of a Tom Boonen, a Roger De Vlaeminck, a Moser. At 28 he still has to explore a cyclist’s best age.
Tom Boonen, Johann Mussew, others who began as sprinters then morphed into cyclists for the great northern classics, leaving something to other sprinter in order to gain in resistance and speed on the plan.
The level of completion a cyclist reaches at this age, the experience linked to a strong and young body make him a perfect machine. We have a lot to see from Peter in the next years, there are plenty of classics for him to win. The Sanremo eluded him this year thanks to Nibali’s action. The Lombardia is maybe too difficult for him. Nevertheless, in a long season now he can program properly, having reached the main targets of his career.
Michael Goolaerts stands far away. The young boy’s destiny goes along with that of other cyclists dead during a race. From Tom Simpson to Fabio Casartelli to Wouter Weyland, the cycling Spoon River learns another name. Falling, suffocating, hurt by cars and motorcycles, the frail bodies of these young boys thrown at 50 km/h risk every day to meet their fate.
Death and life, joy and sorrow, glory and bust intertwine irrevocably. The tragedy happens the same day as a success. The lesson of life’s essential weakness, but at the same time of her permanent beauty, in the same day, in the same moment, in the eyes of two young men: one man’s eyes closed forever, the other man’s eyes wide open in the wake of victory.