Australia’s Jai Hindley on brink of proving he deserves place at cycling’s top table | Giro d’Italia

On Monday, Australian cyclist Jai Hindley made headlines for his peculiarly Australian turn of phrase. During the final rest day of the Giro d’Italia, the gruelling three-week Italian grand tour, Hindley was asked about his prospects with just a handful of seconds separating him from the hallowed pink leader’s jersey.

“Yeah for sure, 100%,” said a confident Hindley. “Like, we’re not here to put socks on centipedes. We’re here to win the race. So yeah, why not?” His remarks clearly baffled the foreign journalists in attendance, one of whom asked him to clarify. “It means we’re not here to play around,” he added.

While Hindley’s centipede remark may have bemused non-Australians, and in an unusual way underscored the seriousness of his assault on the 105th Giro, there was something else he said on Monday that may prove more consequential. A subsequent admission by Hindley highlighted his character and motivation ahead of the final days of the race, which concludes Sunday.

“I wanted to prove to myself I was capable of riding at that level,” said Hindley. “And that it wasn’t a fluke like people on social media think.”

Two years ago, Hindley was just 24. He was well-regarded by astute domestic cycling figures, who had followed his rise, but was not considered a serious general classification contender at the grand tour level. Other Australians has been touted as natural successors to the only Australian to have won a grand tour, Cadel Evans – the likes of Jack Haig, Lucas Hamilton and Ben O’Connor. Hindley was seen to be talented, certainly, but not yet up there with the best.

But at the 2020 edition of the Giro, Hindley finished second overall, the best-ever general classification result for an Australian at the race. He almost won it, too – wearing the pink jersey on the final stage only to come up just short in the concluding time trial. It was a remarkable achievement, but doubts about Hindley’s potential lingered. Was it just a fluke? Had he simply got lucky, given a number of highly-favoured riders had dropped out mid-race?

A disappointing campaign in 2021 provided fuel for this doubt; Hindley withdrew from the Giro after stage 13, sitting in 25th, and did not achieve a top five result all season. Ultimately, the West Australian switched teams for 2022, joining Bora-Hansgrohe.

Hindley’s comments earlier this week revealed his battles with self-doubt. But the rider’s performance so far this month make abundantly clear that his last Giro podium, and the one that beckons on Sunday, have been no flukes. Hindley’s stage nine victory on the Blockhaus climb, considered by many to be the toughest stage of this year’s race, elevated Hindley into general classification contention once more. With just three stages remaining – two mountain stages and a race against the clock – Hindley is now firmly in second place, a mere three seconds from Richard Carapaz in the pink jersey.

Is 2022 the year an Australian finally wins the Giro d’Italia? It would be a momentous achievement for Australian cycling.

Hindley at his team’s presentation prior to the 105th Giro d’Italia.
Hindley at his team’s presentation prior to the 105th Giro d’Italia. Photograph: Michael Steele/Getty Images

The global road cycling calendar is defined each year by these three, three-week grand tours. There are plenty of other high-profile races across the calendar, where heroes are made and records broken, but none come close to the grand tours. Iconic and arduous in equal measure, winning the Giro, Tour de France or Vuelta a España is to reach the pinnacle of the sport.

Australian riders and teams have achieved grand tour success. Evans famously won the yellow jersey in France in 2011; Australian outfit Team BikeExchange-Jayco triumphed at the Vuelta with English rider Simon Yates in 2018. But a Giro general classification victory has agonisingly eluded Australians. For the past decade and a half, it has too often been the one that got away.

In 2010, Australians swept the other jerseys – Cadel Evans taking the points classification, Matthew Lloyd crowned king of the mountain classification and Richie Porte the best young rider. But the hallowed maglia rosa was out of reach. So it proved again three years later, when Evans finished third on the podium, with the winner, Italy’s Vincenzo Nibali, almost six minutes ahead.

Twice in recent years, Australia’s Team BikeExchange-Jayco thought they had the pink jersey wrapped up, only to falter in cruel circumstances. In 2016 Esteban Chaves, the “Colombian kangaroo”, took pink on the third-last stage, only to relinquish it the next day. In 2018, Yates wore the jersey for almost two weeks, before seeing a remarkable attack form compatriot Chris Froome end his hopes on the 19th stage. And then Hindley’s 2020 fate – pipped to the pink jersey in the final-day time trial.

Three stages and three seconds now stand between Hindley and Giro redemption. Unless Hindley can dislodge Carapaz in the mountain stages on Friday and Saturday, the general classification will go down to Sunday’s time trial once again. Déja vu.

The last time the Giro finished in Verona, in 2019, Carapaz won the pink jersey. The race concluded with an individual time trial, on a course just a few hundreds metres shorter than Sunday’s route. Carapaz, Ecuador’s national time trial champion, finished six seconds ahead of Hindley. On stage two of this year’s Giro, a 9km time trial, six seconds again separated the duo.

For himself, and Australia, Hindley will be hoping that history doesn’t repeat in Verona on Sunday. If Hindley can beat Carapaz to general classification triumph, it would dispel the doubters once and for all. Not putting socks on centipedes indeed.

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