Luka Mezgec fought his way through three hard weeks of racing before finally winning a stage at the Giro d'Italia and becoming the first Slovenian to win a stage just a few kilometres from the border of his home country.
Mezgec switched from mountain biking to road racing in 2010 and began to work on his sprinting speed in 2012. He is better known as a lead-out rider for Giant-Shimano, and helped Marcel Kittel win stage 2 in Belfast and stage 3 in Dublin. But he finally had his day of glory in Trieste.
"It was a long way from Belfast to Trieste and it has been really hard Giro, but I'm really happy. To start like we did and to end with a win is really amazing," he said in the stage winner's press conference overlooking the finish line.
"I put a lot pressure on myself to win here and I knew there were a lot of my fans here because we're pretty close to Slovenia. I'm really pleased to win. It's great to win so close to home."
Mezgec won with a late surge to the line along the barriers as his rivals went down the centre of the road.
"It was really hectic sprint in last 500 metres," he explained. "I went into the last corner at 750 metres to go and thought I had a good chance but then I became blocked in and thought my sprint was over. Luckily I found a line on the right and took it. I just hoped it wouldn't close. I can say I was lucky to find that spot and have good legs."
"I had a bad luck on the stage to Bari. My chain broke with 300 metres to go. The win was there on a plate but I was hit by bad luck. Fortunately the stars were on my side today."
In Kittel's and Degenkolb's shadow
Mezgec's stage victory at the Giro d'Italia elevated him to the status of Giant-Shimano's third sprinter, alongside Marcel Kittel and John Degenkolb. However he played down any suggestions of rivalry with the two German sprinters.
"Marcel and John great sprinters and great guys," he said.
"I'm happy to have good people to learn from and I'm learning. I'm in the shadow for now, it's true, but I like to be in the shadow sometimes to take the pressure off myself."
Mezgec ended his press conference and his Giro d'Italia with a final word about the stage over the Stelvio. He summed up the feeling in the peloton but was able to speak his mind as the final stage winner.
"I don’t think the Stelvio stage should have been raced," he said bluntly. "It was very wet and very cold. I think there should be a rule about extreme weather conditions."
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