Jai Hindley enjoyed a breakout 2016 season for the Australian U23 national team in Europe with the 20-year-old performing consistently from February through to August. While Hindley spent the majority of the season with the national team, he was also on the books of the Attaque Gusto Continental team with whom he rode the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race and the Herald Sun Tour, finishing 18th overall.
In 2015, Hindley rode two National Road Series (NRS) events in the early season before he jetted over to Europe for a six-month stint of racing with the Italian U23 team Aran Cucine. The Abruzzi-based team had a steady diet of one-day races within Italy and proved to be a good first stepping stone for Hindley. However, Hindley was keen to "step it up" in 2016.
At the end 2015, Australian U23 national team manager James Victor got in touch in Hindley and let him know about Attaque Gusto as a possible team for 2016. Hindley then made contact with team owner Peter Shandon, who "was keen to have me on board", and a contract was finalised with a clause inserted that would allow him to ride with the national team should he be selected.
Hindley's Sun Tour result ensured he had a place on the Australian U23 national team for the season. Once in Europe, Hindley had top-ten results in three of his first six races but it was at the UCI 2.2 An Post Ras where he finished second overall that his season really kicked into gear. Victory at the GP Capodarco, ahead of Lampre-Merida bound Edward Ravasi, followed in June with fifth place at the Tour de l'Avenir capping off his first full year of European U23 racing.
"Winning Capodarco for sure," Hindley told Cyclingnews of what his favourite result was in 2016. "I was pretty happy with the GC result at l'Avenir as well but because I did Capodarco as a first year with the Aran Cucine Italian team, it was like the biggest race of the year for them, so to go back with the Australian team this year was huge for me. I was really, really over the moon.
"It has to be one of my favourite races and having done it last year, I knew the course pretty well so it was awesome," added Hindley who was 26th at the race in 2015. "With the national team, it is full of good riders so the support was really good as well."
With the team focusing on racing in Northern Europe for the first half of its campaign, the national squad shifted its focus to stage racing in France and Italy mid-year. A training camp at altitude in Livigno preceded a trio of Italian races with Michael Storer taking the win at the GP Poggiana, and Hindley the GP Capodarco two days later.
"At Poggiana, Storer just took the mickey and rode away from the chasing group and put about three minutes into them so he was in awesome form. The guys were awesome at Capodarco after that and I think by the time that l'Avenir came around, everyone was peaking form wise and we had reconned the course as well, which really helped," he said. "Knowing what was coming up later in the tour meant we could take it easy the first couple of days and limit the time losses and when the big mountains started to come was when the guys started to shine."
At Tour de l'Avenir, Hindley and the team started slowly before moving up the overall, eventually finishing in fifth place and Storer in seventh. A stage win for Nick Schultz, the king of the mountains classification for Lucas Hamilton, and victory in the team classification to go with the two top-ten results ensured a successful week of racing.
"I didn't really know what to expect as I had heard a lot about the tour and there was a lot of hype. There wasn't much expectation on the team to get a good GC result but I think everyone, all the climbers anyway, were pretty keen to get a good stage result at least," he said. "I think the tour was pretty successful for the whole team as everyone got a decent result out of it."
In 2014 Rob Power finished second overall at the Tour de l'Avenir with Jack Haig repeating the result in 2015. While Victor wasn't placing expectations on a team that was largely all first-year U23 riders to match the result of the now Orica-BikeExchange duo, Hindley explained he felt the pressure to perform.
"You can definitely tell the standard in the team is pretty high and if you go into that team you are expected to put out the results," he said.
Turning his attention to the 2017 season, Hindley will be aiming for a strong start to the year at the Australian national championships in Ballarat.
"I am pretty keen to get a podium place in the national road race. It has been a big target of mine ever since I have been able to do it. It is an awesome little course but it will depend on how it is raced. In a way, it sort of suits everyone so I am hoping to be in good form when it comes around," said Hindley who is likely to also ride the time trial.
A strong performance in the U23 road race in the past few years has led to a call-up for the UniSA-Australia wildcard team at the Tour Down Under. However, Hindley is keeping his expectations in check for now.
"It would be a dream come true to get a ride at the Tour Down Under, I want to do well in the road race and see where that can take me. My main focus is the road race and if that opens up other doors, that's awesome."
Expressing his "gratitude" for Attaque Gusto, Hindley explained that he won't be returning to the team in 2017 as "it wouldn't be fair" to take a spot on the roster with his place on the national team all but guaranteed for 2017 and his aim to improve upon his 2016 results and performances.
"I am still fairly young so I guess I have time to decide where I want to go with it and what kind of rider I want to be. I definitely enjoy the one-day hilly style of racing. It has been a really good year learning wise, I have learned a lot and hopefully next year I'll ride with the national team again and learn some more and try and aim for bigger results," said Hindley who added that he will be looking to turn professional from the 2018 season.
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