Giro d'Italia

Mezgec settling in to new digs at GreenEdge

Luka Mezgec, a Giro stage winner himself, is playing a key role for Orica – GreenEdge this year in Italy, leading out star sprinter Caleb Ewan

Is Luka Mezgec the new “funny guy” on Orica-Greenedge? Judging by the Slovenian’s cameo roles in recent editions of the Backstage Pass that provides behind-the-scene looks into the Australian team, you could believe he has the potential.

Asked if he has more fans in the aftermath of his appearances than when he won the last stage of the 2014 Giro d’Italia, Mezgec said with a laugh: “I don’t know. It’s different. The public and fans from Orica know me now when they probably didn’t know me at Giant. When you are changing teams you always find some new supporters.”

But don’t underestimate the 27-year-old, in his first of two years with GreenEdge after three at Giant-Alpecin. The rider from Kranj in the north-west of Slovenia raced mountain bikes until 2010 when he switched to the road — although, he still goes off road when he can, as he did last year, winning the Slovenian mountain bike title that will be his for another few weeks. At Giant-Alpecin, Mezgec showed his class, leading out German sprinters John Degenkolb and Marcel Kittel (now at Etixx – Quick-Step) and winning when chances arose, as they did in 2014 when he won the last stage of the Giro to Trieste, three stages of the Volta a Catalunya, a stage of the Tour of Beijing, and the Handzame Classic in Belgium.

With Orica-GreenEdge, he has had an increasing impact over the last few days at this year’s Giro in his job as the lead out man for sprinter Caleb Ewan, especially in Friday’s seventh stage to Foligno where the young Australian speedster placed fourth.

The team is unable to provide Ewan with a full sprint train because of its need to use riders to protect their overall hope, Colombian Esteban Chaves. So it is Mezgec’s brief to help Ewan either jump on to another sprint train, or lead him to a position from which he can sprint as he did in Foligno

“It is a little bit different than with Giant where we had five or six guys to do a proper lead out train,” said Mezgec who is sharing rooms with Ewan on the Giro. “Here we are working with myself Caleb and one or two guys max … that’s a little different. We have to rely on other teams, and just try to position ourselves out of the wind and wait for the final.”

However, Mezgec could get his own opportunity to win too.

“The first the goal is Caleb; but if there is a hilly stage where Caleb cannot be in the contention, if I am there I can go for my own result,” said Mezgec who “definitely” wants to reach the finish of his fifth grand tour in Torino on May 29.

Like seemingly everyone on Orica-GreenEdge, Mezgec knows when to enjoy a laugh, whether it’s during the classics or a grand tour like the Giro, as he showed this week. In Monday’s rest day video, he and his New Zealand teammate Sam Bewley co-commentated a fantasy Giro stage sprint using small toys to represent riders — a gorilla portrayed German Andre Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) who “won” and a Wonder Boy figurine depicted Ewan, who placed “second.”

Also memorable this year were Mezgec’s exchanges on Backstage Pass before Paris-Roubaix with Australian teammate Mat Hayman, who would go on to win in his 15th start. They began with Hayman teasing first-timer Mezgec for strapping his wrists, saying: “I don’t know what he is trying to do, but I don’t think that is going to help.” To which Mezgec self-effacingly replied: “They said it helps, so … I don’t know.”

It was a day that climaxed with Hayman remarkably claiming the biggest win of his career, while Mezgec rolled across the line in 119th place as the last finisher on the day, 24 minutes and 45 seconds behind Hayman.

Looking back on his Paris-Roubaix debut at the Giro, Mezgec said: “I didn’t know what to expect, but when I saw all the crowds, the atmosphere and energy, it is something special.

“Then the team wins the race — especially with Hayman.

“Nobody expected it. It was a special day that I wont forget.”

Mezgec admitted that motivation of a different kind drove him to the finish: “I just wanted to finish because I didn’t do the ‘recon’ [of pave]. I wanted to see all the sectors for the future. That was the only thing in my mind for the last 90km. We were with a group of 20-25 … Then I was on my own with two guys and I was suffering by the time I finished.

“But I had eaten 5000 calories the day before, so I was ready to do the ‘recon’ [for next time]. The weather was nice too.”

As for Hayman dismissing his taping of the wrists? Mezgec laughed and giving the thumbs up said: “It works. Where the tape was not I had blisters (in the palm). So Mat was wrong.”