Australia’s first Giro d’Italia winner Jai Hindley always wanted to be a pro cyclist even when coaches who trained him as a junior weren’t sure if the kid who was born to climb, talented as he was, had superstar qualities.
, having the day before put everything on the line in the closing kilometres of the penultimate stage in the Dolomites where he annihilated his main competition and .
The 26-year-old is from Perth and has raced since he was a boy. He grew up watching the Tour de France, with the exploits of Robbie McEwen, Baden Cooke, Stuart O’Grady and Brad McGee even then inspiring his vision and strengthening his conviction to become a bike racer.
I can remember riding since I was six years old, Hindley said.
My dad used to be a rider back in the day, and he got me and my brother into it. My brother stopped riding at quite an early age, but I kept up with it.
I watched the Tour like most people do and was pretty hooked on it. From that point on I just wanted to be a professional cyclist.
He recalls specifically the 2003 Tour, when McGee won the opening prologue and Cooke claimed a stage win and the green jersey.
For a young Aussie guy to watch that race it was pretty inspirational, when you see these guys from the same continent as you racing over in Europe at the highest level.
Esteemed Australian figure David Sanders coached Hindley during his formative years as a junior and helped him reach Europe, cycling’s traditional homeland, through recognised development pathways.
I had a program then where I’d take the best juniors away to Europe for about six weeks. We’d race tours and one-day races and then [go] to the world championships, Sanders recalled to The Age on Monday.
He was in that group in 2016, and we went to the worlds in Spain.
I didn’t see him at that point as a superstar, just talented.
It’s Hindley’s conviction more than anything else that Sanders believes has got him to where he is now: making cycling and Australian sporting history.
Obviously, his greatest talent is climbing, which you’re either born to do or you’re not, Sanders said . It’s pretty hard to develop that if you weren’t born to do it; it’s all about power to weight, big VO2 and strength.
But his other greatest talent is his commitment to the task. All he ever wanted to be was a pro bike rider. That’s it. That’s what he’s going to do, and he’s just climbed the [ladder] step by step, and it’s a great justice that he’s got to this level now.
[It’s] your mental capacity and your drive and your conviction, doing everything right day after day, month after month, and years after to get to that level.
Hindley was the strongest rider at the Giro. He beat the title favourites and matched Carapaz virtually at every turn, before the summit finish at Marmolada where his unparalleled turn of speed and a tactical master play reshaped the overall standings. Hindley through capturing the leader’s jersey when he did also avoided the extra stress that comes with it – daily media and sponsorship engagements which eat into recovery time.
Before that Hindley wasn’t strongly considered in predictions.
Maybe it was because after coming agonisingly close to winning the 2020 Giro, in which he similarly took the pink leader’s jersey on the penultimate stage butthen lost it on the last day, he disappeared in 2021 because of illness and injury.
I had a lot of things going on, which made it a super hard year and difficult period, Hindley recalled.
It was really frustrating because I finish 2020 with second place at the Giro then had a really high expectation of myself coming into 2021, and really wanted to prove to people, and more so to myself, that I was capable of riding at that top level, and that 2020 wasn’t a fluke, like a lot of people on social media think.
The 2020 Giro ran under exceptional circumstances. It was delayed to October and unfolded despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
I didn’t lose focus, even with all the setbacks. I trained really hard to get back to a high level but after each setback I kept losing the form, and it was really hard to compete at a decent level, he continued.
Hindley transferred to team Bora-hansgrohe this season and the move added motivation to get back to the level and win bike races again.
People forgot about him. But he didn’t forget, said Sanders. He’s come back better, more complete and more professional.
The way he rode this tour, he personally and his team, it was all about that one big climb the second last stage. Everything right from day one was about that; that’s when it was going to happen.
You’ve got to be somehow, sometimes conservative because three-week tours . . . you’ve got to conserve what you’ve got and deliver it at the strategic time, which is what they did. He did it in stages and over the entire event, and it takes maturity to do that.
He nailed it. And the team nailed it.
Having joined Cadel Evans as the only other Australian to have won one of cycling’s three grand tours, Hindley now will never be forgotten. He’s hot property, real hot property, Sanders said.