Jai Hindley wins the Sun Tour as Kaden Groves claims the final stage

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MELBOURNE, Australia (CT) – Jai Hindley (Sunweb) is struggling for the right words. He answers several questions with a shrug and a “yeah”, before fumbling for something a little more detailed. You get the sense he wants to say more but that he’s just not sure what.

“Yeah, pretty ecstatic to get the win today, yeah,” he says haltingly. “Super … it’s just thrilling man, yeah.”

Hindley might be lost for words but he certainly understands the significance of what he’s just done. That he’s just joined the likes of Chris Froome, Bradley Wiggins and Esteban Chaves in winning the Jayco Herald Sun Tour — Australia’s oldest stage race.

“I mean it’s pretty nice to get my name in that honour roll and also to get it in Australian history,” he says. “This race goes back a long time and there’s been some big names and a lot of great riders have ridden this race and, yeah, to etch my name onto that trophy: it’s pretty unreal.”

Today’s final stage circuit race around Melbourne’s Botanic Gardens unfolded much as expected: with an early break and then with a bunch sprint.

A break of eight got up the road and led for much of the 22-lap, 89 km race. Ben Hill (BridgeLane) was up the road for the fifth day running — every stage of the race — and secured a well-earned points jersey. Jesse Ewart (Sapura) and Jay Vine (Nero) were there too, having started the day tied on time, in fifth and sixth overall respectively. Vine took time at both intermediate sprints to move up to fifth overall.

The race was all back together in the final lap though as the teams of the sprinters readied for the finish.

Kaden Groves (Mitchelton-Scott) was first across the line to take his second stage win of the week. Just behind him in second place, his teammate Dion Smith. Moreno Hofland (EF) rounded out the podium in third.

While Groves made the win look easy, it took a number of hard efforts in the final lap to set up the victory.

“It was pretty messy,” Groves said of the run-in. “In the crosswinds we lined up and we all put it in the gutter on the head of the peloton. Then coming into the [Anderson Street] climb, EF took over and set a really hard pace up the top. Then Hofland let Tom Scully go off the front, forcing me to chase.

“I had to close the gap from the [one] kilometre banner to probably 300 metres to go where I had a run at him and took the barrier on the right and led out the sprint. I wasn’t sure if I’d have the legs to get over but everyone was hurting and the finish was more or less a cross-headwind so me taking the barrier [meant] everyone had to come over in the wind. So it would’ve been really hard to come across.”

Mitchelton-Scott came into the race with the unbackable favourite for overall victory, Simon Yates. But while Yates faltered, and backup GC man Damien Howson wasn’t able to repeat his 2017 victory, Groves believes it’s been a successful five days for Australia’s only WorldTour team.

“Yeah, I think it’s a successful week,” Groves said. “I mean, everyone’s happy. In the mountains it’s super hard to race against the domestic guys in January. It’s still early in the season. Yeah, it would have been nice [to win overall] but I think we did the best week we could and the results are still really good.”

Groves winning stage 5 of the Sun Tour — his second of the race.

Behind Groves, Hindley finished the final stage in 13th place, enough to secure the overall victory. Twenty-year-old climber Seb Berwick (St George), the revelation of the race, finished second overall, 17 seconds behind. Howson was next at 36 seconds — the third time in five years he’s finished third overall.

It looked like Hindley did it easy on today’s final stage, but it was anything but a procession for the young West Australian. Thankfully he was well supported.

“[I was] very nervous,” he says. “I mean, I had every faith in my guys and they rode awesome all day and controlled the race, as with the rest of the week. They’ve just been phenomenal so I can’t thank the team enough.”

Hindley has won a UCI 2.1-rated tour before — the 2017 Tour of Fuzhou in China — but the 2020 Sun Tour will be regarded as the biggest victory of the 23-year-old’s career so far. With his summer of cycling now done, he’ll pack up and head over to Europe for the season ahead. His next race: the UAE Tour where he’ll make the switch from team leader to valuable helper.

“We should be riding for Wilco Kelderman there,” Hindley explains. “I look forward to helping him out as best as I can. Hopefully the form’s still good and I can do a good job.”

All going well, he’ll switch back into a leadership role at some point later in the season.

“I think so, probably with a few of the smaller WorldTour races and HC [.Pro] races,” Hindley says. “But yeah, I’m really looking forward to it. The team has a lot of faith in me and coming here and coming for [Tour] Down Under they also had [an] expectation of wanting me to perform and it didn’t quite work out. And then coming here, I’m just glad I could pull it off the team.”

As the interview goes on, Hindley starts to find his words. His answers are longer, more eloquent, more insightful. And when it’s all over, he makes a point of thanking the gathered media for their time. He did the same yesterday atop Mt. Buller — today he goes to the trouble of shaking everyone’s hand as well. You don’t see that very often.

He might not be a big talker but this week has been a reminder that there’s a lot to like about Jai Hindley, both on the bike and off.

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