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by Shane Stokes
June 2, 2014
Shoulder surfing on at least three occasions during the final kilometre yet staying upright in face of the jostling, Giant Shimano’s sprinter Luka Mezgec showed he had the most speed at the end of the Giro d’Italia, jetting to victory in Trieste.
The Slovenian won close to the border between his country and Italy, delighting the supporters who had crossed over to see the finish, as well as those watching on television from home. He showed both skill and nerve in keeping his focus despite some dangerous switching by his rivals, then tore up alongside the right hand barrier to reach the line first.
His gallop overhauled Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek Factory Racing) and Tyler Farrar (Garmin Sharp), while triple stage winner and points jersey victor Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ.fr) had to make do with fourth.
Mezgec’s success was the first Grand Tour stage victory of his career and followed on from his Handzame Classic triumph earlier this year plus three stages in the Volta a Catalunya. He said that conserving energy on the tougher days were key to his success today.
“It is a long period, three weeks, and it makes your legs a little bit different,” he said. “But I was saving myself on the mountain stages, on the stages where I cannot do a result, and I can say I put everything on today.
“I have to say I was a little bit under pressure. There were a lot of Slovenians coming here and I was really hoping for this stage that I could do a good result. It cannot be better than this.”
The 172 kilometre stage finished with eight laps of a tough circuit in Trieste, with a climb complicating things for the sprinters. Mezgec said that he and his team knew what to expect and did things correctly. “It was tough but the roads were better and it was not as technical as last year,” the 25 year old said. “The tough thing was only the climb, which was pretty close to the finish. On the climb we all knew that we had to do our best to stay in the front. I did it and also in the end I was really fresh in the sprint.”
Maglia Rosa wearer Nairo Quintana finished safely in the main bunch and rolled across the finish line, a broad grin on his face and arm aloft, celebrating the moment. It marked his first Grand Tour win and came after he dominated the final week of the race.
He was warmly embraced by his team afterwards and was also congratulated by his wife and child. It was, he said, a huge moment for him.
“It is very difficult to explain how much happiness is inside me. It is one of the happiest days of my life,” he smiled. “Thanks to my family, thanks to my team and thanks to all the Colombians. It is great that this dream is possible.”
The final stage started slowly but then a number of attacks were fired off. Belkin’s Maarten Tjallingii and Svein Tuft (Orica-GreenEDGE) got clear and went across the day’s early climb in that order, then were hauled back by the peloton.
Quintana’s Movistar team set the pace and brought the riders onto the finishing circuit, where they would complete eight laps of seven kilometres. Tuft had another go before the end of the second lap, leaping away with Lotto Belisol’s Lars Bak and opening a 45 second gap. This was reduced somewhat by Sky’s Philip Deignan but the duo remained away for the intermediate sprint, where Bak took first ahead of Tuft and Bouhanni jumped out of the podium for third.
Cannondale took up the pace and together with Colombia, they reduced the gap to fifteen seconds with 21 kilometres to go. Astana’s Valerio Agnoli and Stefano Pirazzi of Bardiani jumped away, were joined by Carlos Quintero (Colombia) and bridged to the two leaders by the top.
The five riders were ten seconds ahead crossing the line but the bunch ramped up the pace and reeled them in.
After the next ascent of the climb, Michael Hepburn (Orica-GreenEdge) slipped away in a short-lived move. After they were hauled back, the peloton raced onto the final lap where Lotto Belisol’s Adam Hansen jumped hard on the climb.
He was closed down and then BMC Racing Team’s Daniel Oss tried his luck on the descent. He opened up a lead of several seconds. The sprinters were not to be denied, though, and brought him back just before the kite, thus paving the way for a bunch gallop and Mezgec’s success.
The result completed a fine showing by the team, which also took two early stages wins in Ireland with Marcel Kittel prior to his withdrawal due to illness.
As for Quintana, his victory was only the second ever Grand Tour win by a Colombian. It came 27 years after Lucho Herrera won the 1987 Vuelta a España and many believe it will be followed by more from the country’s new climbing star.