Patience can be a virtue, but Jai Hindley had run out of tomorrows by the time he reached the upper reaches of the Passo Fedaia. For the final week of the Giro d’Italia, the Australian had set up base camp just a time bonus below Richard Carapaz in the overall standings. The final assault on the summit could wait no longer.
3,400km of racing, from Budapest to Sicily and all the way up to the Alps, had failed to separate Hindley and Carapaz in a Giro long on suspense but curiously short on excitement. All that changed utterly in the space of 3.4km of mountain road high up in the Dolomites on stage 20, as Hindley finally shook off Carapaz to take possession of the maglia rosa.
Carapaz, born 2,900 metres above sea level, was fancied to thrive at this elevated altitude, and his Ineos team were still forcing the issue on the Fedaia at the beginning of the infinite straight past Malga Ciapela. With 3.4km remaining, however, Hindley began pushing and felt something give. His teammate Lennard Kämna, dropping back from the early break, added to the momentum. At 2.8km from the top, Carapaz’s resistance was broken.
After Kämna swung off, Hindley pressed on alone. Virtually tethered to Carapaz since the race left Hungary, the 26-year-old now had the freedom of the mountainside. Ten metres quickly became one hundred. An opening soon became a rout. He came home sixth on the stage, but 1:28 up on a floundering Carapaz. The pink jersey was Hindley’s, and probably the Giro too.
“Today was a pretty crucial day, with the final climb being so hard, and I knew if I wanted to do something in the race, it was going to have to be today, regardless of how the legs were feeling,” Hindley said when he took a seat in the press conference truck. “I gave it everything and when I heard Carapaz was struggling a bit, that was all the motivation I needed to go full gas to the line.”
On Friday afternoon, Bora-Hansgrohe had laid the groundwork on Kolovrat, but Hindley opted against a grand offensive on the final ascent of Santuario di Castelmonte, reasoning that the terrain was too mild. He waited instead for stage 20, which brought the race over the Passo Pordoi and then up the Passo Fedaia, the Giro’s answer to mountaineering’s death zone.
“The way cycling is now, it’s very calculated. You have to save your bullets for the right moment,” Hindley said. “Yesterday we tried to shake things up a bit, but it wasn’t a good day for it in my opinion. I knew today was the day because of the final climb. I knew if you had the legs there, you could make the difference. And even if I didn’t have the legs, I was going to try something today.”
Kämna’s help on the upper portion of the Fedaia seemed both to encourage Hindley and demoralise Carapaz, though his presence at that critical juncture was more the result of providence than of planning. The German hadn’t initially been designated to infiltrate the early break, but the team quickly realised the advantages of the situation.
“You can’t make that stuff up, it was running like a Swiss watch,” Hindley smiled. “I didn’t say anything to Lenny because I was completely on the limit. All that information was coming through the car, the DS told Lenny it was a good time to wait because the race was kind of exploding. When he looked around, he could see me coming up the road, so he stopped and then he put the pressure on for a good while. I think it helped to decide the stage today.”
Hindley’s patience has not been limited to this Giro. Two years ago, he took possession of the maglia rosa on the corresponding stage, only to lose it in the final time trial in Milan the following afternoon. Hindley’s magnanimity in the mixed zone in Piazza Duomo that afternoon masked his disappointment at a maddening near miss in that unusual, pandemic-delayed Giro.
“It was nice, but it was also completely devastating to lose the jersey on the last day like I did,” Hindley said. “I’ve thought about that moment quite a lot when I’m training.”
It wasn’t immediately clear if or when the opportunity would pass his way again, particularly as his 2021 season was ruined by litany of ill fortune that would have tested Job. Hindley could smile about it in his press conference on Saturday evening, but at the time it was terrible: illness at Paris-Nice, a crash at the Tour of the Alps, antibiotics at the Giro and then a saddle sore that forced his withdrawal from the race itself.
“Actually, it wasn’t a saddle sore, it was some next-level thing. It was not like a regular saddle sore, it was crazy,” said Hindley, who was later deemed surplus to DSM’s requirements for the Vuelta a España. His affability remained intact, but he left for Bora-Hansgrohe last winter with something to prove.
“It was a very frustrating year, and I also had people asking me if 2020 was just a fluke. It was very frustrating, but with the support of the people in my inner circle, I got back to that level this year, I think. It’s been a bumpy ride, but I’m happy to be here.”
In the mixed zone atop the Marmolada, an Ecuadorian journalist thanked Hindley for his time and then wistfully told him that he had disappointed an entire nation. “I apologise, but that’s how the race is,” Hindley said. A group of Ecuadorian fans, meanwhile, called Hindley over to the barriers for an almost consolatory selfie, and he dutifully obliged.
With a buffer of 1:25 over Carapaz ahead of Sunday’s 17.4km time trial in Verona, Hindley looks all but certain to win this Giro. It’s certainly a healthier buffer than the second he carried over Tao Geoghegan Hart at this point in 2020, but he was wary of viewing the test as a lap of honour.
“It’s nice to have a bit more of a lead than two years ago, but it’s definitely not going to be an easy time trial,” Hindley said. “The race isn’t over.”
He’s been patient this long. What’s one more tomorrow?
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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.