When Jai Hindley's move to Sunweb was announced late last month, a childhood dream became a reality for the West Australian. The 21-year-old signed a three-year contract with the squad on the back of two successful years in the U23 ranks that included third at the Baby Giro and two-top overall results at the Tour de l'Avenir.
"I don't think I've done anything too outrageous. I've backed up from last year and the progression has been good as I've grown as a person and a rider," Hindley told Cyclingnews of his 2017 season.
Hindley's first year in the U23 ranks with the Australian national team included victory at the GP Capodarco, second overall at the An Post Ras and fifth overall in Tour de l'Avenir. For 2017, Hindley and his teammates raced for the Mitchelton-Scott team that also doubled as a national set up for European races. Starting with 25th overall on his WorldTour debut at the Tour Down Under, Hindley then rode to second place overall at the Herald Sun Tour to suggest he was on track for another successful season.
"It feels like last year or something. I was pretty happy with that ride and it set me up really well for the start of the year, coming over here with confidence and knowing what I can do," he said of the Sun Tour result.
"The Giro was really fun. It is a few internationals teams and a few Italian teams as well so it is a really different peloton and you don't get to race that bunch of people a lot of the time," he said of the race. "It was pretty aggressive racing and fast and fun. Racing in Italy is always pretty fun. We did a whole heap of work for the race like going up to altitude and everyone trained pretty hard."
Steadily moving up the standings, Hindley's final day stage win ahead of Hamilton and overall winner Pavel Sivakov sealed his place on the podium and best result for the season.
"That last stage on the last climb. It was pretty epic to get the win there was really nice I hadn't got a win all season so it was a bit of a relief," he reflected.
With the "timing right" for a move up to the WorldTour, Hindley's Baby Giro result helped seal his move to the top tier of the sport. Hindley added that while Sunweb first started taking interest in his capabilities last year, contact was only made in February.
"I first started talking to them after the Sun Tour this year and I think they had been following the results since the An Post Ras last year," he said. "They had been following pretty closely and after Sun Tour they got in touch and I just really liked the team and what the team is trying to accomplish. I ended up going over to Holland to meet some of the people and do some testing and a few months later I received the offer. That was really cool and exciting."
With Mitchelton-Scott a quasi-feeder team for the Orica-Scott WorldTour team, Hindley explained "it was a difficult one" to sign for a rival team, adding "Orica is a pretty awesome team. I don't think there was too much pressure to sign for them. They were super understandings I guess and they have been all year."
Although Hindley is moving on from the Australian team, at Sunweb there is a growing Australian contingent with Luke Roberts in the team car and Michael Matthews, Chris Hamilton and Storer as teammates on the road. The Australian connection played a role in signing for Sunweb but what the team offers in terms of investment into young riders was key as Hindley explained.
"It wasn't going to be the deciding factor. Going to a foreign team can be a good thing for the experience so you don't get comfortable. It is good to have other Aussies around but it is also good to experience other countries and cultures as well," he said. "They put a big emphasis on really trying to develop me for the future and that there wasn't any pressure for the first couple of years or so. That really spoke to me and you can see from the riders that are currently in the team how good they are developing them. It's pretty impressive.
"It's exciting to look back and see where you were a couple of years ago and see how much progress you've made. The next couple of years I am just hoping to mature even more as a rider."
Before Hindley steps up to the WorldTour, he is off to Tour of China I, and a second and final appearance at the Worlds with the U23 team. And as for Hindley's ambition before his childhood dream becomes a reality? It's simply to enjoy racing his bike.
"There is a lot of pressure throughout the year with all the big tours, and you have to do a lot of work for them," he said. "You are so focused you don't really enjoy it as much. It is nice that I have the contract locked away and I can, not put the feet up, but I can really enjoy it."