"I think today could be quite stressful with the wind, so no rest for the wicked," Jai Hindley joked before the start of stage 11 of the Giro d'Italia in Santarcangelo di Romagna. Wednesday's flat trek northwards to Reggio Emilia was only ever going to finish in a bunch sprint, but that didn't mean the general classification men could simply switch off. The margins are far too tight for that.
It turned out to be the end of the tenth fastest stage in Giro d'Italia history, run off at some 47.015kph, and pre-race favourite Richard Carapaz (Ineos) added to the tension by nabbing three bonus seconds at the second intermediate sprint. No matter, Hindley came through the day safely in the main peloton and he stays perched in 5th overall, 20 seconds behind maglia rosa Juan Pedro López (Trek-Segafredo).
Hindley, second overall in 2020, began his ascent up the standings here with victory atop the Blockhaus on stage 9 thanks to a crisp sprint from the six-man group that reached the summit together. The Australian was on familiar terrain thanks to his spell as an amateur rider in the hinterland of Pescara in the summer of 2015, but local knowledge can only carry a man so far at the Giro.
The victory, his first since he outkicked Tao Geoghegan Hart atop Laghi di Cancano in the dying days of the 2020 Giro, was also a confirmation of the form Hindley has quietly shown since swapping DSM for Bora-Hansgrohe during the off-season. 5th overall at Tirreno-Adriatico was the stand-out result of a solid spring, but nothing offers reassurance quite like a visit to the podium.
"It's massive for my confidence," Hindley said. "It's nice to be there or thereabouts but to actually cross the line first is a different story. For me it was huge. And to get my first win with the new team was also really important for me, so I'm stoked.
"It was pretty nice to have the rest day immediately after the Blockhaus stage, just to let it sink in a bit. But then yesterday [stage 10 to Jesi], it was back to reality, and it was actually a pretty hard stage."
While lofty names like Tom Dumoulin (Jumbo-Visma) and Simon Yates (BikeExchange-Jayco) were eliminated from contention for the maglia rosa in the opening week, the upper reaches of the general classification remain rather congested. Just 29 seconds separate the top seven riders overall, with a further five men still within 90 seconds of López's maglia rosa.
Domenico Pozzovivo, currently 8th at 54 seconds, told Cyclingnews that he had never seen so many evenly matched riders emerge from a stage as demanding as Sunday's haul over the Passo Lanciano and Blockhaus.
"I think the level is very even with the top ten guys… I wouldn't say one guy is head and shoulders above everybody else," said Hindley. "It makes for good viewing on TV."
As the Giro reaches its halfway point, the outcome seems about as open as it did when it set out from Budapest. In some ways, this resembles the pandemic-delayed edition of 2020, where it took two full weeks before the true hierarchy of the general classification contenders started to take shape. On that occasion, Hindley, his teammate Wilco Kelderman and the eventual winner Tao Geoghegan Hart emerged as the strongmen on the summit finish to Piancavallo on stage 15.
"I think the level in 2020 was also high but maybe it was just lacking in depth a bit," Hindley said when asked to compare the two races. "My numbers from 2020 were some of my best numbers, so for sure, the level was high. But like everyone knows, there maybe wasn't as much depth there as there is now."
There are some similarities, mind. As in 2020, Hindley has a teammate who is also poised in the overall standings. Emanuel Buchmann was the best of the rest behind the six-man leading group on the Blockhaus and the German currently lies 9th at 1:09. His qualities of endurance in the third week make him a contender, and the hierarchy at Bora-Hansgrohe is not yet set in stone.
"Exactly. It's the old cliché, but we just take it as it comes day by day," Hindley said. "I think it's the best approach. It's good to have two guys up there, and more cards to play."
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Barry Ryan is European Editor at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation (opens in new tab), published by Gill Books.