A Vuelta too far for Jai Hindley, as fish and chips and sunsets beckon

The Giro winner takes a personally disappointing Vuelta (so far) in his stride.

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There is an understandably muted fashion to how riders speak on rest days. Each thought requires a laboured exhalation of breath as they try and muster the energy for not just the next sentence but the energy to do anything at all.

Jai Hindley doesn’t turn his Zoom camera on, and so presumably he is lying completely horizontal in bed, his phone maybe balancing against the side of his head, the most rudimental of hands-free systems.

He is nearing the end of this Vuelta a España, his second Grand Tour of the year after a victorious Giro d’Italia nearly 100 days ago that still hasn’t really sunk in. In between racing, he’s flown down from the Gran Partidas in the Netherlands and then criss-crossed Spain while plugged into music and reading Irvine Welsh. Maybe he relates to the oppressive boredom he’s reading about, maybe the exploration of society’s underbelly gives respite from the environment of the sanitised team bus, maybe he sees a bit of cycling in the pain and despair.

“It’s not going exactly how I wanted it to,” Hindley says of this Vuelta, where he currently sits 10th overall, never quite emerging as a contender for the red jersey. “But it’s all good, that’s life.

“I don’t know why it hasn’t gone great. But, I mean, I don’t think it’s been too terrible either. Certainly not like the level that I had at the Giro this year.”

He did everything he could to prepare for a second GC tilt in 2022 but converting that into performance is another thing entirely.

“It was a big uncertainty and a big unknown to do two Grand Tours in one year, and then to also try GC at two Grand Tours. I think it’s quite a lot, I didn’t really know how it was gonna go.”

His current top 10 placing is in part thanks to his involvement in a breakaway move on the Sierra Nevada queen stage, but the 26-year-old wasn’t looking to improve his overall position he was aiming for a stage win, to try and take some glory away from this race. “To be honest, man, I just didn’t have the legs,” he admits.

At the start of the Vuelta, all teams were presented to the people of Utrecht boat trips on the canal, delivering them aquatically to the team presentation. As you can see below, the Bora-Hansgrohe vessel looks like the one you probably want to be on. Hindley and the other riders share a joke while Sam Bennett and Ryan Mullen re-enact the famous Titanic scene at the bow.

While Hindley hasn’t taken any personal glory from this race, the resurgence of Sam Bennett makes the Vuelta a success for the German team, which Hindley seems to take genuine pleasure and delight in. He relates to the Irishman’s struggles, having had a 2021 to forget before bouncing back himself. Before this race, the sense was that the Vuelta was a bonus for the Australian, like Bennett his account is very much in the black for 2022. But even if it wasn’t Hindley would take it in stride.

“Ah mate, I don’t know,” Hindley chuckles when asked how and why he’s always so relaxed when so many of his GC contemporaries are so tightly wound all the time.

“You just can’t take life too seriously, you know what I mean?” I guess when you’re sat in a boat alongside seven other men in lycra on a canal, you can’t.

“Just take it as it comes, enjoy it all. All the clichés. But yeah, I’d say I’m a pretty relaxed guy. That always helps.” If he wasn’t so tired maybe we’d get a rendition of Hakuna Matata.

After the Vuelta comes a home Worlds, which while for a lot of riders is a step too far this season is something Hindley is obviously very motivated for. After that his season will likely be done. He will spend some time in his hometown Perth for the first time since early 2020 and, “park up at the beach for a couple of sunsets” in between training camps.

Maybe then, he says, he’ll be able to comprehend what he’s done this season. He understands that winning the Giro isn’t a career highlight but a life highlight, one that still hasn’t sunk in.

“It’s going to be hard to beat,” he says. “I still laugh every time I think about it, it’s pretty funny.”

Maybe with a beer in hand on the beach as the day draws to a close he’ll understand what he’s achieved.

“Yeah, exactly,” he agrees, “and some fish and chips.”

Whether it does or not, there will always be more rest days to spend horizontal, a hectic world of pro cycling to simply brush off, and always some Irvine Welsh.

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