Jai Hindley has won U23 races in Italy and finished top-five at the Tour de l'Avenir, but it was his second place finish at the Herald Sun Tour on the fabled Falls Creek climb that truly announced the West Australian to the cycling world.
With Damien Howson (Orica-Scott) and Kenny Elissonde (Team Sky) off the front and fighting for stage honours, Hindley made up part of a select front group that contained defending champion Chris Froome (Team Sky), Esteban Chaves (Orica-Scott) and four of Hindley's Australian national teammates.
Showing no signs of intimidation, Hindley attacked off the front of the group and didn't look back
"It was pretty scary coming into that last [kilometre]. I didn't know if I was going to catch up to Kenny or if Froome was going to fly past me, so it was head down and give it everything really," said Hindley, still coming to terms with what he'd done to move into second place on GC.
"It is pretty epic hey? Just racing those guys - just an unreal day."
Along with fellow climbers Lucas Hamilton and Michael Storer, Hindley found out before Christmas that he would be part of the Australian team that would compete in the Tour Down Under, the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race and the Herald Sun Tour. While he and team are setting their sights on performing in Europe, the block of racing on Australian soil provides Hindley and his teammates an opportunity to test themselves against some of the best WorldTour riders, albeit in their early season condition. This fact was not lost on Hindley.
"Yeah, for me it was a pretty big result and [I'm] pretty over the moon over it," Hindley said of where the result rates. "Just facing guys like Chris Froome and Chaves - I mean Froome's won three Tours de France and Chaves has podiumed at a few [Grand Tours]. It's just unreal. Riding with those guys is awesome, and to race them in Oz - it's just wicked to be in."
Having tested the water at the first two elite races of the summer, Hindley explained that the Herald Sun Tour was always going to be the race that suited his characteristics best, and he was ecstatic to have made a dream reality.
"Going into Tour Down Under, it probably wasn't going to suit me down me to the ground. It is a lot more punchy and a lot more to do with positioning, whereas this suits me a lot. Long climbs and pretty steady run-ins, it's perfect for me and perfect for the other guys as well."
With three stages to come, Hindley is 15 seconds ahead of Elissonde in the general classification and 32 seconds ahead of Storer in the young rider classification, two positions he hopes to hold to ensure there is no early end to his party.
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