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Luka Mezgec
Luka Mezgec had decided to take a bigger risk than other sprinters in the second stage of Tour of Slovenia, and the gamble paid off. Foto: MMC RTV SLO/T. O.

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Moscow-Trieste-Ljubljana: Wins in larger cities are the sweetest

Interview with hero of 2nd stage Luka Mezgec
17. June 2017 ob 10:36
Ljubljana - MMC RTV SLO

I saw that chaos and thought to myself: well, it’s time to move forward.” And Luka Mezgec has driven toward a grand victory, akin to the one he won three years ago in Trieste.

Luka Mezgec had decided to take a bigger risk than other sprinters in the second stage of Tour of Slovenia, and the gamble paid off. The spectators, including his friends and family, have watched one of the best Slovenian professional cyclists win his first stage at the most important Slovenian cycling event. Not only is his goal is now reached, the win also proves that Mezgec is still able to win major sprinting competitions and does not need to settle for assisting roles.
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Congratulations for winning! What was it like in the final moments of the second stage?
I turned the chaos to my advantage and came to the front 800 metres before the finish line. Fantastic. When we reached the circular part of the race (i.e. the centre of Ljubljana), we knew it would be chaotic. We made our way to the front and controlled the race. Everything is much easier if you’re fifth rather than 30th. I got a bit overtaken at the start of the last kilometre. The Dimension Data team passed by us but three of them overestimated their abilities and fell.

And you’ve made it through the last kilometre practically on your own, without the team?
I actually decided completely intuitively to attack about 800 metres before the finish line. I saw the chaos and thought to myself: well, it’s time to move forward. I managed to remain alone -- I didn’t want to risk being closed in like yesterday, so I pushed the pedals as hard as possible. I knew the chasers would not organise that quickly, but I have to admit that the last stretch, almost 400 metres, seemed pretty long.

Did you hear crowds of spectators cheering from there already and did that help you relax?
No, I wasn’t able to relax, since I thought I had some rivals breathing down my neck all the time. It wasn’t until right before the finish line that I noticed I was alone and that no one could take the win away from me. It feels really great to be the first to cross the finish line again.

… and to have that happen in the capital of Slovenia!
Winning in a capital is always special. I won in Moscow before I became a professional cyclist, and that was the sweetest victory. I haven’t conquered any other capital yet, so I consider my greatest accomplishment so far to be when I won a Giro d’Italia stage in Trieste in 2014.

Had you studied the last kilometre of Friday’s stage in detail?
No! I haven’t even driven through this part on my bicycle. We went by car on Thursday to study it. The four of us who are in charge of the last two kilometres. I explained what I wanted to do but it all changed a little due to the rain.

Are you surprised that you still have such acceleration, so much strength in your legs?
That came into better use on Thursday, but on Friday I had to show that I’m part of a team now – to endure a sprint that is nearly a kilometre long.

Did experience from the first stage help your team? This time you were really able to have the race under control …
Definitely. After Thursday’s stage we made an analysis and concluded we could be closer to the front. We kept that in mind on Friday. The participants at Tour of Slovenia are top-notch in a sprinting train, everyone knows their role. They drive very fast on straight roads and are able to control the race during the last kilometres, which was also the case today.


Did you panic when cyclists, also from your team, started falling on the streets of Ljubljana?
I was certainly nervous. I’m afraid of the rain and wet roads, as I’ve fallen a few times already. Perhaps I still risked a bit more than others on Friday since there were some many friends and family in the finish. I told myself I didn’t want to be second and that I would rather fall.

The stage went past Kranj, where you spent your childhood years, and very close to Kamnik, where your wife comes from. Was that a special feeling?
Of course. Familiar faces, familiar places. I’ve been abroad for a long time now, I rarely come home. It’s great to drive on local roads, even at 50 kilometres per hour. Before I went abroad, I often wondered why it felt so nice to drive on familiar roads. Now I know. On this tour I’m showing my entire team where I practised, where I was born, where good pizzerias are. They’re laughing with me … I think quite a few people from my team might spend their holidays here.

You’ve now donned two jerseys but you’ll probably have to say goodbye to one of them after Saturday’s royal stage?
Of course, the green one will go to someone else. I’ll try to keep as much strength as possible and let others race. Jack Haig from our team is in very good shape, which he already proved at the Critérium du Dauphiné. I think he could win on Saturday. But if I make a good sprint at the last stage, there is a real opportunity to keep the jersey for the cyclist with the highest number of points.

Tomaž Okorn, MMC; translated by K. Z.