For the four Slovenians in the peloton, today’s stage from Palmanova to Cividale del Friuli is special. It passes close to Gorizia, then runs parallel to the Slovenian border for the two Category 1 climbs of Montemaggiore (Matajur) and Cima Porzus.
Gorizia is one of those frontier towns where history’s many sediments have settled and mixed. In Daša Drndić’s astonishing novel ‘Trieste,’ Haya Tedeschi, 83, waits in her Gorizia flat for the arrival of the son stolen from her during the war, 62 years before. The backdrop to the novel is the complex, tragic, sprawling history of Mitteleuropa.
From neighbouring Slovenia, Luka Mezgec, affable and fluent in a number of languages, became a household name in his homeland by winning the final stage of the 2014 Giro in Trieste, before huge crowds of compatriots. Whoever wins gets to take part in a precariously balanced form of gift exchange. For the riders, victory means money, fame, future prospects and – in the obligatory post-race press conference – the right to be heard. But in the press conference, in exchange for decent questions from the journalists, the rider is obliged to say something worth listening to. For the tongue-tied, the experience can be an ordeal.
Mezgec and his compatriot Primož Roglič and are at opposite ends of the spectrum of articulacy. Roglič, new both to cycling and to post-stage press conferences, is friendly but deficient both in foreign languages and confidence.
Now with Orica-GreenEdge, thanks in part to his excellent English and in part to the lead-out prowess he acquired working with Kittel and Degekolb at Giant – Alpecin, his main job is to pilot Caleb Ewen into position in the sprints. Luka first encountered Primož at the 2013 Slovenian national championships. “He had spent two years of riding in amateur marathons, but he was new to racing at that level. In the hardest part of the race he was still in the bunch, and I thought, ‘This kid has something.” Roglič and Luka finished tenth and eleventh that day.
During this year’s Tirreno-Adriatico, Esteban Chaves commented to Luka that Roglič was often poorly positioned, wasting energy by riding in the wind, but still had the strength to climb with the best. Last Saturday, the day before the Chianti Classico time trial, Luka and Primož exchanged a few words on the road. Primož told Luka he was feeling tired. “I told him he’d smash it in the time trial – and he did. Some people, the more they complain, the stronger they get!”
Drndić, Roglič, Mohorič… Those Slovenian names are a nightmare for the non-Slovenian commentators! No diacritics on Mezgec: the ‘c’ at the end of his name makes it ‘Mezgets.’ Of the other Slovenians taking part in the Giro, Grega Bole’s name is straighforward enough. Mateij Mohorič, the first rider to win world junior and under-23 road race titles in consecutive years, has in common with Primož Roglič the diacritical caron or wedge over the final ‘c’ of his name, which makes for an ‘itch’ (in the phonetic alphabet, /ɪtʃ/). The ‘ž’ in Primož is an ‘ʒ’, the sound in ‘fusion’ or ‘erosion.’