Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe) is just seven seconds away from the Giro d’Italia race lead, just seven seconds from pulling on the maglia rosa he wore in the final time trial stage in 2020 before Tao Geogheghan Hart (Ineos Grenadiers) snatched overall victory from him.
Defeat in a Grand Tour like 2020 world traumatise many but not Hindley. The 26-year-old from Perth endured a terrible 2021 season of injury and multiple setbacks but is still ambitious and confident.
He is perfectly poised for the final week of the Giro d’Italia and still hungry, the idea of being the first Australian to ever win the Corsa Rosa inspiring him rather than weighing on his shoulders.
“I’m 100% here to win. I’m not here to put socks on centipedes, I’m not here to play around,” he said, rolling out some Australian slang to put his point across. “We’re here to win the race, we wouldn’t be here if we didn’t think we could win it.
“It would be super nice to be back in pink. I only wore it for one day in 2020, so it was bittersweet. I had a really tough season in 2021 so it’s super nice to be back at the pointy end and high level of racing. For sure pink is a huge motivation, it’d be very nice to wear it again.”
Hindley explained how he was inspired by fellow Australian riders Bradley McGee, Baden Cooke, Robbie McEwen and others after they impressed at the 2003 Tour de France. Later Cadel Evans became the first Australian to win the Tour de France as Hindley rose through the sport, with former teammate Rob Power inspiring him during his early years with Team Sunweb and Team DSM.
He drew inspiration from within to fight back against a series of injuries in 2021. He was ill in the spring, forced out of the Giro due to a painful saddle sore and then fractured his collarbone at the Tour of Slovakia in September.
“In 2021 I had a lot of things going on that were super hard and difficult,” Hindley explained.
“It was really frustrating after I finished 2020 in second place at the Giro. I had high expectations for 2021 and really wanted to prove to people and myself that I was capable of riding at a top level and that 2020, as people on social media think.
“The setbacks really ruined my year. I didn’t lose focus and trained really hard to get back to a high level but after each setback I kept losing form and so it was hard to compete at a decent level. Ultimately, changing teams was a breath of fresh air and I pressed a reset button. I had added motivation to get back to a good level and win bike races.”
Hindley joined Bora-Hansgrohe for 2022 as they began their pivot away from Peter Sagan and towards more of a Grand Tour and overall classification focus. The German team signed Aleksandr Vlasov, Sergio Higuita, kept Wilco Kelderman, Emanuel Buchmann and recovered Lennard Kämna, who had taken time out of the sport.
The Giro d’Italia is the team’s first assault at overall victory in a Grand Tour, with Hindley, Kelderman and Buchmann put together to form a united and powerful Grand Tour team. Even the possible tensions between Kelderman and Hindley at the 2020 Giro d’Italia were resolved during winter get-togethers and several beers.
Bora-Hansgrohe attacked as a team on Saturday’s hilly stage around Turin, following a pre-planned strategy parched by new Directeur Sportif Enrico Gasparotto. Kelderman lost time last week on the stage to Blockhaus but Buchmann is seventh overall, at 1:58, giving Bora-Hansgrohe different options and so less pressure on best-placed Hindley.
“We came here with full focus on GC and all the guys are 100% committed to that,” Hindley explained. “It’s nice to be part of it, everyone in the team, including the back room staff are working for the same goal. The media love to question teams about multiple leaders, but in modern day cycling it’s common and I’m happy Wilco and Manu Buchmann are here. It’s a huge advantage to have three guys up front in the finale.
“Of course it’s important that the others don’t have big egos but nobody does. Wilco had a shit day on Blockhaus due to a mechanical but he wasn’t sulking on the bus after; his goal was still to help the team. He was phennonial on the Turin stage and I really appreciated that.
“Emu is still top 10 and so there’s no need to change our strategy. It’s better to have as many options as possible, for me it changes nothing, we’re here to get the best result for the team, it doesn’t matter with who, as long as it’s a Bora jersey on the podium.”
Optimism for final week, not fear
Hindley and Bora-Hansgrohe can look to the final week in the mountains with optimism, not fear or concern.
The racing returns with a bang on Tuesday with over 5,000 metres of climbing, including the Mortirolo and the Valico di Santa Cristina before a short descent to the finish in Aprica. Hindley is respectful of the diffiicutlies to come but ambitious and ready to race.
There is a sense that Bora-Hansgrohe are perhaps planning another team attack to try to repeat Hindley’s success on stage 9 to Blockhaus and their combined strategy in Turin.
“I think the last week will be super hard based on the course, everyone will have to race hard and it’ll be as natural selection. Pretty much every day is super hard. I’m looking forward to it,” Hindley said.
Hindley is full of natural optimism, even about Tuesday's stage and a possible repeat of the magia rosa being decided in the final time trial, just like in 2020, when he lost. He senses a different outcome in 2022.
“Tomorrow [stage 16] is going to be epic,” he predicted. “It’s straight out the gate, a really hard stage, and coming after the rest day is always interesting. I think we could see some big things happening, people gaining time or losing time. It's a pretty important day and I’m keen to be at the pointy end of it all.
“This year’s Giro ends with a TT again and in Verona like in 2019. I remember the cool climb, the descent and the finish in the Arena is sweet.
“I didn’t do too bad there in 2019, so hopefully I can do better this year. I think the Giro will go down to the finish line and every second will count.”
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Stephen is the most experienced member of the Cyclingnews team, having reported on professional cycling since 1994. He has been Head of News at Cyclingnews since 2022, before which he held the position of European editor since 2012 and previously worked for Reuters, Shift Active Media, and CyclingWeekly, among other publications.