Australian riders have for many decades been making a mark on the men's Grand Tours, ranging from a Vuelta a España stage win by Don Allan in 1975, to 1982's first Tour de France yellow jaunts by Phil Anderson or the green jersey winning sprint stars of the early 2000's, like Robbie McEwen. Still it is only in the last 15 years that the nation has joined the fray of serious overall contenders.
In 2007 it was former mountain biker Cadel Evans that opened up a new world to Australian cycling fans – results that were built over three weeks with time carefully stolen in the mountains and time trials, and then just as carefully protected on the flat. Evans delivered a raft of firsts, from being the first rider from his nation to stand on a final Grand Tour General Classification podium to being the first and, until now, only Australian to win a Grand Tour.
On Sunday, however, Evans gained company as an Australian Grand Tour winner when Jai Hindley rode the pink carpet into Verona’s famous arena to celebrate securing a Giro d'Italia victory that he had laid his claim to with a perfectly played hand in the final kilometres of the Saturday's mountain stage.
As Hindley continues to write a new chapter of cycling history we plot the course of sleepless nights for Australian cycling fans over the years, which are bound to continue with a new generation of Grand Tour contenders now making their presence felt.
Grand Tour GC podium results:
- 2nd, 2007 Tour de France
- 2nd, 2008 Tour de France
- 3rd, 2009 Vuelta a España
- 1st, 2011 Tour de France
- 3rd, 2013 Giro d’Italia
Cadel Evans ushered in a new era for Australian cycling, clearly demonstrating that the nation could provide more than stage winners and sprint stars when he became the first of his compatriots to break through to a GrandTour podium. It was in his very first Grand Tour, the Giro d’Italia in 2002, that his potential to rise to the top of the GC pecking order shone through. There he wore the pink jersey for a day, stood on two stage podiums and finished 14th overall.
After swapping from T-Mobile to Davitamon-Lotto, Evans first got to try his hand at the Tour de France in 2005, finishing in eighth. Then in 2006 he stepped up his results and was just out of reach of the podium with what was initially recorded as a fifth place at the Tour de France that later became a fourth following the disqualification of Floyd Landis. Then by his third attempt at the French tour, the Australian had truly arrived as a serious contender for the win.
In 2007 Evans ended up second to Alberto Contador – who inherited the lead when Michael Rasmussen was pulled from the Tour by his team while in yellow. The gap was a mere 23 seconds so while there was every reason for the team, where he was sharing resources with sprinter Robbie McEwen, to rejoice in making it onto those podium steps it was close enough to victory that it may also have also felt a little like the one that got away.
Next year Evans proved how consistent a Grand Tour threat he was, making it back on the middle step of the podium again. This time he was second to another Spanish rider, Carlos Sastre after taking a time hit and losing the pink jersey on a tough stage 15 in the Alps.
The Tour de France success wasn't to be repeated in 2009, however Evans still made it onto a Grand Tour podium for a third year in a row, but this time it was the Vuelta a España. Evans ended the Spanish race in third place, 1:32 back from winner Alejandro Valverde, which also happens to be just about the amount of time Evans lost in one of the clumsiest wheel changes imaginable. After puncturing on stage 13 to Sierra Nevada, two neutral service mechanics fumbled with three wheels and Evans was stranded as his rivals rode away.
"I came away from the Vuelta a little bit frustrated," said Evans at the time. "How often do you lose a bike race thanks to the incompetence of neutral service? Never. It's never happened before."
After that disappointing episode the Victorian had to wait another couple of years for his next Grand Tour podium, but this time it was the big one. At the Tour de France in 2011 it was a tense final mountain stage to Alpe d’Huez, with the key contenders on the attack almost from the start. At the end of it a dogged Evans was in third and with Andy and Frank Schleck both within a minute, the scene was set for the Australian, who was then racing with BMC, to use his time trial prowess to work his way into yellow right when it mattered. It was a dominant performance in the race against the clock, with Evans ending the day in the overall lead, with a gap of 1:34 and an appointment on the Champs-Élysées the next day to celebrate becoming the first ever Australian Grand Tour winner.
Two years later, in 2013, Evans also added a Giro d’Italia third place to take his Grand Tour overall podium tally to five and also make him the only Australian to have taken a top three in the General Classification across all of the Grand Tours.
Grand Tour GC podium results:
- 3rd, 2020 Tour de France
Richie Porte, like Evans, marked out his potential to be a threat on the overall at his first Giro d’Italia in 2010 where he stepped into the maglia rosa for three days, took seventh overall and the white young riders jersey. That history meant he was the automatic choice as the GC rider to watch for Australian cycling fans once Cadel Evans retired early in 2015.
He looked set to quickly fill the void, entering the Giro d’Italia in 2015 with a serious shot, as rather than being a support rider this time he had Team Sky behind him from the start and was fresh from a trio of overall victories at Paris-Nice, Volta a Catalunya and Giro del Trentino. However that all changed with an ill-timed puncture, a controversial time penalty after compatriot Simon Clarke – who was riding for GreenEdge – handed him a wheel and then a race ending crash.
The next year Porte, now with BMC Racing, focussed on the Tour de France where he came fifth and was less than a minute shy of the podium. His challenge was derailed by crashes the next two years and he finished 11th in 2019.
In 2020 Porte entered the Tour de France, at 35, with one last shot at the overall with Trek-Segafredo as plans were afoot to round out the last two seasons of his career at Ineos-Grenadiers as a super domestique. Throughout the Tour, a late edition in the pandemic interrupted season, he slowly worked his way up the standings in the shadow of a battle between Tadej Pogačar and Primož Roglič. He was fourth before the stage 20 time trial, but it was a blistering pace and a third spot on the stage for Porte and that was enough to reshuffle the podium. The Tasmanian had taken it to the wire, but ultimately became just the second Australian to take to a Grand Tour podium, with third at the Tour de France behind Pogačar and Roglic.
This year’s Giro d’Italia was Porte's 17th and last Grand Tour, as he is retiring at the end of the season. The 37 year old, a key mountain support rider for Ineos Grenadiers teammate Richard Carapaz, however didn't get the dreamed of farewell in Verona. Porte had to cut this last Giro short, leaving on stage 19 due to illness.
It’s been a hell of a journey, from his first #Giro as a neo pro - where he wore the maglia rosa for three days - to the iconic climbing support he gave to Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome across numerous Tour de France wins; a Tour de France podium of his own; and so much more. pic.twitter.com/SeaRa5E6baMay 27, 2022
Grand Tour GC podium results:
- 3rd, 2021 Vuelta a España
On the very first stage of his very first Grand Tour, the Vuelta a España, Jack Haig learnt what it felt like to step onto a podium at a three-week race as his BikeExchange squad took third in the opening team trial in 2016. Even though he then had to wait another five years to take to the podium steps at the race again, it was a result worth waiting for.
The Grand Tour goal of 2021 for Haig, who had just switched to Bahrain Victorious, had actually been the Tour de France but a nasty collarbone break put him out of the race early. After that he ended up being a late inclusion to the Vuelta a España team.
Only recently recovered from his injury – and not having raced since he crashed out in France – the 27-year-old was brought in as a support rider. That all changed, though, when team leader Mikel Landa fell out of the GC running. The Queensland-born Australian had, on the other hand being working his way up the GC ranks with a consistent performance, first making a big shift up 19 places to seventh on stage 7 before steadily working up to third after the last mountain stage.
Still with Adam Yates just a minute behind on the overall and determined to try and make up ground, the podium was not assured until the final time trial was run. In the end Haig stretched the gap even further, securing that third place and becoming the first Australian to step onto the final overall podium at the race since Evans.
Grand Tour GC podium results:
- 2nd, 2020 Giro d’Italia
- 1st, 2022 Giro d’Italia
Jai Hindley wasn’t a name mentioned among the contenders list before the start of the 2020 Giro, in fact not even when the race was well underway, as it was Wilco Kelderman that was leading the charge for his team of the time, Sunweb. Kelderman held a place in the top-three right through from stage 5 but on the final day in the mountains Hindley eclipsed his teammate, keeping the maglia rosa in the squad on the penultimate stage, but only just. Tao Geoghegan Hart (Ineos Grenadiers) had slotted into second place on the same time as Hindley so it was all down to the final time trial.
Unfortunately for Hindley, Geoghegan-Hart was faster in the race against the clock, claiming pink by 39 seconds and leaving Hindley with the runner-up spot. As hard as handing over pink much have been, it was still the result of Hindley's career and he became only the second Australian to stand on the Giro d’Italia podium.
As we skip forward to 2022, even after his second place two years ago, HIndley’s still wasn’t a name you’d see sitting anywhere near the top of the favourites list, instead the Western Australian now perhaps rated a passing mention down the bottom. The 26-year-old had largely fallen off the radar again after not having delivered a victory, or any particularly attention grabbing results, since that 2020 Giro d’Italia, but there was plenty of reason why. The rider had faced a combination of injury, illness and extreme saddle sores to top it off through 2021 but even after a tough season Hindley continued to be driven by the motivation of the maglia rosa. As many of his more favoured rivals fell by the wayside at the 2022 edition of the race, Hindley’s stock just kept rising. Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers), however, looked like an immovable presence in the lead but that all changed on the final few kilometres of the final mountain stage.
First it was a matter of prising open a gap in the closing kilometres of stage 20, but once that was done Hindley hammered in a huge wedge, jumping away from the clearly suffering Ecuadorian to switch from a three second deficit on the overall, to a 1:25 lead. That meant when Hindley lined up for the final time trial in pink, which was just 17.4km long, this year time was on his side. He could play it carefully, as even though Carapaz was bound to go all out it was a difficult margin to bridge over such a short distance. In the end Hindley conceded just seven seconds of that 1:25 lead, leaving him riding into the arena for the post race celebrations with one of the most sought after victories in professional cycling and a place in the history books as the first Australian to ever win the Giro d'Italia.
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Simone joined the team as Production Editor based in Australia at the start of the 2021 season, having previously worked as Australian Editor at Ella CyclingTips and as a correspondent for Reuters and Bloomberg.