Jai Hindley exhaled and shook his head when he slowed to a halt on Corso Moncalieri. “It was a crazy, crazy day,” he said as a knot of reporters tightened around him. In Turin, the doors – and a whole lot else besides – had just been blown off the Giro d’Italia thanks to the forcing of his Bora-Hansgrohe team.
Most of the peloton was still scattered across the hills west of Turin by the time Hindley outsprinted Richard Carapaz (Ineos) and Vincenzo Nibali (Astana-Qazaqstan) to second place on the stage, 15 seconds down on winner Simon Yates (BikeExchange-Jayco). Although Carapaz moved into the maglia rosa, Hindley’s performance and accumulation of bonuses lifted him to second overall, just 7 seconds behind the Ecuadorian, by the time he descended to the banks of the Po.
It was a day that ebbed and flowed for Hindley. At one point, he had three Bora-Hansgrohe teammates for company in a front group of thirteen, but on the final lap of the 36km finishing circuit, he found himself almost half a minute down on Carapaz, who had accelerated with purpose on the ascent of Superga. Hindley, however, bridged across with Yates and Nibali on the final haul up the steep Colle della Maddalena, and his smile at the finish told its own story.
“We came in with a pretty bold plan to light it up pretty early and try to isolate the other GC guys,” Hindley said. “Like you guys saw, the team were phenomenal today, really ridiculously good. I’m disappointed not to take the win, but the guys showed we’re not here to play around. They put it on the line for me.”
Where did it all begin? Bora-Hansgrohe tore the Giro apart when they began their forcing with than 80km still to race, but the seed was planted months previously. In modern cycling, even acts of invention like this have to be meticulously planned.
Although Milano-Torino shifted to a March date and a flat route this year, directeur sportif Enrico Gasparotto took advantage of his presence in the area to drive over the climbs of Superga and the Colle della Maddalena that evening. As he drove, he realised that the finishing circuit of Saturday’s stage in Turin needed to be raced on the front foot.
“I think on this kind of day it’s much better to be aggressive than to sit in the bunch,” Gasparotto said afterwards. “Today was the kind of day where we had to use the collective. Later on, the stages have more of a Big Tour rhythm. Ineos will probably take control of that and it’s much more difficult to invent something. We had to take this day to do it.”
For almost two weeks, Ineos Grenadiers have occupied the prime real estate at the head of the peloton, but they were unceremoniously evicted when Bora-Hansgrohe took up the reins on the climb towards the Parco della Rimembranza and the beginning of the finishing circuit.
By the time they had dropped down again towards the first ascent of Superga, the front group was already reduced to barely a dozen riders, with Lennard Kämna and Wilco Kelderman dictating the terms on behalf of Hindley and Emanuel Buchmann. With almost 50 miles still to race, Carapaz found himself bereft of Ineos teammates.
After Kämna swung off, Kelderman delivered an MVP performance at the head of the race, essentially setting the tempo all the way through the first lap of the finishing circuit, with only eleven riders able to match his pace on an afternoon of soaring temperatures. Those left behind would lose more than eight minutes by the finish.
“We had the plan to make it hard and also to crack some teams. I think it went well,” Kelderman said with understatement. Gasparotto was more effusive. “Wilco keeps saying he’s not going well enough, but chapeau to him,” he said, adding that his charges had split the peloton sooner than anticipated. “It was not the plan to split the bunch on the descent, we were thinking about the first climb of Superga, so actually it arrived a little earlier than expected.”
From there, the plan ran smoothly until the second time up Superga. Hindley showed himself to be among the strongmen when he exchanged accelerations with Carapaz on the lower slopes, but he was reluctant to follow when the Ecuadorian kicked more venomously closer to the summit with a shade under 30km still to race.
“I didn’t know if he was making faces on the Superga or not, but he didn’t look super strong, so actually I was pretty surprised when he put that attack in,” Hindley said. “I thought it was still quite a long way to go with this last steep climb, so I just waited and stayed patient. I could just ride with the group a bit and could save a lot of energy compared to being out solo.”
On the 14% slopes of the Colle della Maddalena, Hindley bridged up to Carapaz in the company of Nibali, with Yates forging across shortly afterwards. Yates would slip away for the stage win, but Hindley had the measure of Carapaz in the finale, and the pair made gains on the rest of their overall rivals. João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates) is now third overall at 30 seconds, while Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious) lies fourth at 59 seconds.
“I knew Nibali was looking pretty god and I knew he was going to try something on the last climb, so I was just waiting and when he went, I followed,” Hindley said. “We bridged the gap quite quickly and then it was down this crazy descent into the finish. It was really crazy, it was like a one-day race or something.”
Therein lies the rub. The stage was run off in soaring temperatures and at an infernal rhythm, but now the gruppo must do it all over again as the race heads into Val d’Aosta on Sunday, where the ascents of Pila-Les Fleurs, Verrogne and Cogne are on the agenda. The Alps provide a dramatic backdrop to Turin, and the peaks shimmering through the hazy sunshine on Saturday afternoon were a firm reminder of what is to follow.
“I think it’s a fight for the pink with three or four guys, but it’s not over yet,” Kelderman said. “This was a crazy stage, but the real mountains are still to come.”
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Barry Ryan is Head of Features 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, published by Gill Books.