A name which started to appear in the sprint finishes last season was that of Slovenian, Luka Mezgec – his team last year was Argos-Shimano and the podiums came in stages of the Tours of Alberta, Colorado and Italy plus the Belgian semi-classic, Halle-Imgooigem.
But before the season was out he finally made the top step of a World Tour podium in a Tour of Beijing stage.
This year, with Giant the name on the 25 year-old’s chest he’s seen the top step of the podium become his natural habitat with a fine win in Belgium’s Handzame Classic then three stages in the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya.
Mezgec was originally a mountain biker but in 2009 he turned to the road with MBK Orbea, winning the Vzpon na Mohor in his homeland of Slovenia.
In 2010 the team was Zheroquadro-Radenska and the biggest win was in the UCi Coupe des Nations (the UCi U23 season-long competition) with the overall GC in the Ville de Saguenay stage race in Canada.
The following season he was with Sava and won the Istrian Trophy in Croatia and Memorial Henrya Lasaka in Poland.
Still with Sava for 2012 he took a stage in the Five Rings of Moscow and five stages in the Tour of the Qinghai Lakes.
That last performance meant it was only a matter of time before a Pro Continental or World Tour team snapped him up – and sure enough, it was Argos-Shimano who got his signature on a contract.
He spoke to VeloVeritas just after his Catalonian adventures.
Congratulations on the great performances, Luka; you were originally an MTB rider – why change?
“I changed to the road because it offered better opportunities for me in cycle sport in Slovenia.”
You rode with MBK-Orbea in ’09/Zheroquadro Radenska in ’10/Sav in ’11 + ’12 – what were those teams like?
“All of my road team were good, small but well organised; the budget of these teams was small, but the riders never wanted for anything.
“MBK Orbea was more of an amateur team, but still the best option at that time in my country.”
Saguenay was a nice win – one of the biggest U23 races in the world.
“Yes, and it was only my fifth month of racing on the road.
“It was really important for the morale – I showed myself, that I can win also on the road, not just the MTB.”
How did you get the ride with Argos?
“I had some valuable European Tour UCI points, which the team needed – as you know the World Tour is based on a points system.”
Have things changed much with the main sponsor change to Giant?
“Not much – more or less all the stuff is the same.
“The riders experienced only a change in different equipment for racing on.”
You had many placings last year – Giro/Alberta/Beijing/US Pro – did those make you work on your sprint over the winter?
“Yes, all those placing gave me motivation to train better over the winter; the goal was to get better than those 2013 placings…”
Your win in Beijing at the end of the season must have been a big relief?
“It was; after chasing victory all season long, it was perfect to win in the last race of the season and it was also a World Tour race, so that made it even more perfect.”
You handled the jump to World Tour very well – you must have prepared well?
“It was a big change, but I like it.
“The races are more predictable so I have more chances for good results.
“In lower level racing, you need more luck to win, because the teams are not strong enough at controlling the races.
“I prepared for 2013 in similar fashion to previous years.”
What’s your favourite type of race?
“I like stage races with a few easier climbs near the end which reduce the chances for some of the sprinters.”
You were seventh in Handzame in 2013 – was it a big goal for this year?
“Not really, it was a good race to prepare for Catalunya; but my shape was good and the team did an awesome job to protect me for the whole race, so I was fresh for the final sprint.”
Tell us about how you won.
“My team controlled the race during the laps, so that it would come down to the sprint.
“In the end I had the best sprint-train in the race; they delivered me in the perfect position with 200 metres to go – from there on I just went all out for the line.”
Did the win generate much interest back in Slovenia?
“I got some interest, but much less than after I won the stages in Catalunya.”
You have John Degenkolb and Marcel Kittel on the team, is it hard sometimes to get your freedom?
“Not really, I always get my chances in some races and when I am on the race with John and/or Marcel, it’s great to help set things up and to learn from them.”
Where do you live during the season?
“I live in Slovenia; I have perfect training conditions at home.”
You had 83 race days in 2013 but have raced less this year so far – is this part of a plan to have a different kind of season?
“I don’t think so; it was a slight programme change at the beginning, because we were not invited to Qatar and Oman – so that’s 12 racing days missing for me.
“But I think it’s good for the second part of season – maybe I’ll be fresher than last year?”
Do you have a coach – what is his philosophy?
“I have one of the team coaches and our philosophy is; ‘keep challenging!'”
What are your goals for the rest of 2014?
“To have a good Giro and to enjoy life as pro cyclist.”
Degenkolb, Kittel and Mezgec – and now with Swede Jonas Ahlstrand taking stage two of the Circuit Cycliste Sarthe, Giant are spoiled for choice when it comes to big finishers.