Take a bow, Jai Hindley
In the end, Jai Hindley (Sunweb) wore pink for less than 19 minutes of racing. He took the maglia rosa on stage 20, locked on the same time as Tao Geoghegan Hart (Ineos), but Geoghegan Hart had Hindley’s measure in the Giro’s final-stage time trial.
It was always going to be a tough ask for Hindley to hang on through the final stage. Geoghegan Hart is the better time-trialist, and in the end it was a race against the clock that separated the two and earned the Londoner overall victory at a most remarkable Giro.
Hindley had come so close to glory — just 39 seconds from the top step — and losing pink on the final day will sting for some time. But he can rest easy knowing he gave his all.
“I did everything I could,” the West Australian said afterwards. “I laid it all out there on the road. There was nothing I could do. I was going as hard as I could.
“Of course it’s super disappointing to lose the jersey on the last day like that and at the moment it’s pretty hard to take.”
Already Hindley can see the positives, and so he should. “I think when I look back, I’ll be super proud with how the team and I rode the past three weeks,” he said. “It’s a massive step forward in my career and it’s three weeks I’ll never forget.”
Hindley’s second overall is the highest finish ever for an Australian at the Giro d’Italia (trumping Cadel Evans’ third place in 2013). He’s only the third Australian in history to finish on a Grand Tour podium, after Evans (three Tour de France podiums and one each at the Giro and Vuelta a España) and Richie Porte (third at the Tour just last month). It’s an incredible result for a rising star of Australian cycling.
It was a strange old Giro. A slightly-shallower-than-usual GC pool was drained further when Geraint Thomas (Ineos) crashed in the stage 3 neutral zone and was forced from the race. Pre-race contenders Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) and Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma), while not at their best, both tested positive to COVID-19 and left the race too. And then two more contenders, Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo) and Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), proved to be off the pace, paving the way for the most open and unlikely GC battle in recent memory.
It became a race of the up-and-comers. Twenty-four-year-old monster Filippo Ganna (Ineos) won no fewer than four stages, including all three individual time trials to add to his recent ITT world title. At just 22, Portuguese Grand Tour debutant Joao Almeida (Deceuninck-QuickStep) became a surprise leader of the race and went on to wear pink for more than a fortnight in a plucky and entertaining breakout ride. Geoghegan Hart stepped into the shoes left by Thomas and was simply brilliant. And then there was Hindley.
Like Geoghegan Hart, Hindley had come into the race as a climbing domestique for a more-fancied leader, in his case the Dutchman Wilco Kelderman. But when Kelderman faltered on the legendary Passo dello Stelvio on stage 18 it was clear Hindley was the strongest Sunweb rider uphill. He was given the freedom to ride for himself, and told not to wait for Kelderman. The 24-year-old Australian matched Geoghegan Hart to the top of the day’s final climb then pounced to take the stage win — his first WorldTour victory. Kelderman rallied and took the pink jersey.
The three ascents of Sestriere on stage 20 showed once and for all which Sunweb rider had the best shot at overall victory. Again Kelderman faltered as Hindley rode to second place on the stage behind Geoghegan Hart. At that point, with more than 3,300 kilometres raced in over 85 hours on the bike, the pair were locked on the same time. A countback was required to separate the two, leaving Hindley in the maglia rosa coming into a tense final stage.
For non-Australian audiences, Hindley is still an unknown quantity; a rider who’s come from relative obscurity to almost winning a Grand Tour. Those that have followed his progress more closely will be aware of his impressive trajectory.
Like many top Australian riders, Hindley was part of the now-defunct WorldTour Academy program; the program that helped the likes of Rohan Dennis, Michael Matthews, Caleb Ewan, Jack Haig and Lucas Hamilton find their way into the WorldTour. In 2016, while racing with the WorldTour Academy, Hindley took second overall at the An Post Ras in Ireland then won the GP Capodarco, a hard and hilly Italian one-dayer for U23 riders. The same year he was fifth overall at the Tour de l’Avenir, one place ahead of Geoghegan Hart.
In 2017 Hindley rose to new heights, finishing second on the summit finish at the Jayco Herald Sun Tour (behind overall winner Damien Howson) while racing for the Australian national team. The same year he won the Toscana Terra di Ciclismo, a three-stage U23 race in Italy. Racing for the Mitchelton-Scott Continental team he won the final stage of the Baby Giro and finished third overall, behind Pavel Sivakov and Lucas Hamilton. He finished off his 2017 season with a mountain-top stage win and overall victory at the UCI 2.1 Tour of Fuzhou in China.
In 2018, the West Australian stepped up to the WorldTour with Team Sunweb. Like most who make the jump to the big leagues, he took some time to get adjusted to the higher standard of racing and spent most of his time riding in the service of others. At the 2019 Tour of Poland he finished third on a stage from a breakaway on his way to second overall — his best WorldTour performance to that point. And then in 2020, he took another step forward.
At the Sun Tour in February, he won both of the race’s mountain-top finishes to take overall victory. Back in Europe he finished 13th at Tirreno-Adriatico riding in support of Kelderman (who finished fourth) before making his way to the Giro.
While Hindley ultimately stumbled at the Giro’s final hurdle on Sunday, he and his team have much to be proud of. Sunweb finished second and third overall with Hindley and Kelderman, they won a stage with Hindley, and they spent three days in the maglia rosa thanks to their two podium finishers.
For Hindley, his second overall is clearly a huge step forward in his young career. He’ll continue racing with Sunweb in 2021 as Kelderman sets sail for Bora-Hansgrohe. The incoming Romain Bardet is likely to fill Kelderman’s shoes as Sunweb’s go-to GC leader, but after Hindley’s performance at the Giro, surely more opportunities must be coming the Australian’s way. That’s an enticing prospect for fans from his homeland, already on a high after Richie Porte’s Tour de France podium this year.
“Hopefully this is just the beginning,” Hindley said in Milan. “This is for sure my best performance ever and hopefully it’s a step in the right direction for things to come.”