Jai Hindley is a genuine chance to become the first Australian cyclist to win the Giro d’Italia if he can successfully navigate the third and final week that will cover some of the most notoriously difficult and treacherous terrain in cycling.
Hindley entered the final term of the Giro, which is Italy’s version of the Tour de France, on Tuesday, sitting second on the general classification – a mere seven seconds behind race leader Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers), who has an ominous arsenal at his disposal, including celebrated Australian all-rounder Richie Porte.
But Hindley managed to cut Carapaz’s lead to just three seconds with a sprint against the leader to finish third on stage 16, arguably the most difficult of the race. Hindley took bonus seconds to inch closer toward the pink jersey. There are five stages remaining.
Speaking at a virtual press conference on Monday before his impressive stage 16 performance, Hindley served as both a title contender and translator for international media when The Age asked if it was his aim to become the first Australian to win the Giro when the three-week race finishes in Verona on Sunday.
For sure – 100 per cent, Hindley said. [I’m] not here to put socks on centipedes, you know what I mean? We’re here to win the race, and why not? I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think the team could win. We’re all in to try and win the race.
A British journalist waited until the end of the media conference to seek clarification and ask Hindley what the line meant.
Socks on centipedes, mate, Hindley replied. It means we’re not here to play around.
The 26-year-old hasn’t shown any apparent signs of weakness in his hunt for the pink leader’s jersey – the maglia rosa – which he narrowly lost to another Ineos Grenadiers rider, Tao Geoghegan Hart, on the final stage of the pandemic-affected 2020 edition.
Hindley, who has made a resounding return to form after illness and injury marred his 2021 season, pipped all the primary title contenders , and on stage 14 on Saturday appeared to easily outsprint Carapaz for second behind solo winner Simon Yates (BikeExchange-Jayco).
The climber from Perth emphasised the importance of that includes three category one mountain passes, to his title ambitions, which, he anticipates will come down to seconds.
[Tuesday], straight out the gates, it’s going to be a really hard stage and also after the rest day it’s always an interesting one, guys always have mixed feelings. Honestly, we could see some big things happening in terms of guys losing time or guys gaining time. [Tuesday] will be a pretty important day, and I’m really keen to be up at the pointy end, Hindley said. He was.
The final week of the Giro is so foreboding that most riders, outside of climbers and title contenders, tend to bail. Hindley entered with his new team Bora-hansgrohe as one of three leaders and sees it as an advantage that teammate Emanuel Emu Buchmann is also in the top 10 of overall standings – one minute and 58 seconds behind Carapaz. The squad has been competing aggressively, effectively whittling down the list of rivals they have to contend with.
The press love to question teams about multiple leaders, this, that and the other, but actually in modern-day cycling it’s really common to have multiple leaders in a grand tour, Hindley said.
I was pretty happy actually that Wilco [Kelderman, who slipped out of contention] was here, and Emu Buchmann was here because not only does it take the pressure off one guy, but if everyone is high on the GC, then you can really use that to your advantage when it comes to tactics in the finals.
If you’ve got three guys in the front group in the final, as opposed to one guy on his own, yeah, it’s a huge advantage and I think it’s also important that the other leaders don’t have big egos. The thing in this team is no one has a big ego.
Hindley, if successful in his title pursuit, will join 2011 Tour de France champion Cadel Evans as the only Australian to have won one of cycling’s three grand tours (the Giro, Tour and Vuelta a Espana).
If I could take one strength of Cadel’s it’d probably be his engine. The guy was a beast on the bike, Hindley said. He’s a household name in Australia and there’s a reason why.
If I could also win a grand tour and put my name in the history books that would be something else.
One Australian great who won’t be in Hindley’s corner, at least on the road, is Porte, who in the final season of his career has proved a very effective battering ram for Olympic road-race champion Carapaz.
Porte, who finished third at the 2020 Tour, Australia’s second-best result there, has opted to ride for teammates in grand tours this year, with his family supporting him in Italy.
Now that my son is almost four he can take it in a little bit and appreciate, so it’s nice he’s going to have memories of what his dad used to do before he was a fat, beer-swilling couch potato, Porte told The Age.
Ineos Grenadiers has redefined grand tour racing over the past decade and won the past two editions of the Giro, with Geoghegan and Egan Bernal. Typically, the team’s best offence is defence and controlling the race once they have the leader’s jersey, but they may deliver a surprise or two under Carapaz.
We’ve had a really nice vibe within the team, everybody is doing their job. We’ve got the pink jersey with one week to go, and it’s quite simple now, we just want to defend that until Verona, Porte said.
But Richard is like that X-factor. He doesn’t mind throwing a long-bomb attack out. It’s hard to pick where he’s going to do that, and sometimes we don’t know when he’s going to attack either, so it’s nice to keep people guessing.
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