Giro d’Italia demons purged, can Jai Hindley now threaten cycling superstars Tadej Pogacar and Primoz Roglic?
There was no repeat of his 2020 heartbreak as Jai Hindley held onto the pink jersey on the final day of the Giro d’Italia in Verona on Sunday. It was a breakthrough win for the Australian and his Bora-Hansgrohe team – but has the 26-year-old found his level in winning a cagey Giro deprived of big names, or can he go on to be a serious rival to the likes of Tadej Pogacar and Primoz Roglic?
Stage 21 highlights: Hindley survives time trial in pink to banish 2020 memories
Jai Hindley successfully broke up a Giro d’Italia duopoly on Sunday in becoming the first rider in five years to secure the maglia rosa who wasn’t either from Ineos Grenadiers or called Richard Carapaz. The Bora-Hansgrohe rider also became the first rider outside cycling’s big three teams – Ineos, Jumbo-Visma and UAE Team Emirates – to win a Grand Tour in the previous nine editions since Carapaz’s Giro win for Movistar in 2019.
Hindley’s commanding 1:18 victory over the Ecuadorian was also proof that, when taken out of Movistar’s fumbling hands, a leadership trident can pay dividends: the Australian started the 105th edition of La Corsa Rosa on level footing with team-mates Wilco Kelderman and Emanuel Buchmann yet emerged from a crowded roster (that also included stage-hunter-cum-Carapaz-tormentor Lennard Kamna) as the standalone central protagonist in a script development you would never see in an episode of The Least Expected Day.
While Hindley made history as the first Australian to win the Giro, the triumph also came courtesy of a magnificent team effort on the penultimate day of the race when that man Kamna dropped back from the breakaway on the Passo Fedaia to help deliver the killer blow to Carapaz as Hindley danced his way into pink.
Bora-Hansgrohe may well have had high hopes when Hindley joined former team-mate Kelderman and made the jump from Team DSM last winter, they could not have envisioned instant success of the kind the Australian delivered over the roads of Italy.
Hindley admits he had 2020 heartbreak in ‘back of my mind’
Since conceding the 2020 Giro to Tao Geoghegan Hart on the final day, Hindley struggled both physically and mentally to draw a line under the setback. He didn’t ride another race in 2020 and then failed to finish over half of the stage races he tackled in 2021, most notably the Giro when he not once even broke into the top 20 of a stage before pulling out – could you blame him? – on the morning of Stage 14 to Monte Zoncolan.
Was his near-miss in the rescheduled 2020 Giro just a fluke brought about by the vagaries of the pandemic and absence of top stars? After all, it’s not as if Geoghegan Hart has been pulling up trees since he wrested the pink jersey from the shoulders of Hindley on the streets of Milan.
Some 19 months on we have our answer as Hindley put to bed any lingering doubts. You don’t fluke your way to riding the Giro’s final day time trial in the pink jersey twice in three years – especially if you complete your road to redemption by finishing the job and beating the same team responsible for your heartbreaking humiliation.
Where does Hindley go from here? The obvious answer – bar a few scheduling twists and turns – is probably the Vuelta, the only other Grand Tour he has ridden outside La Corsa Rosa. Bora could be bold and put him up for the Tour de France but that could be something of a baptism of fire. Why risk Hindley being brought down to earth by Tadej Pogacar so soon after the crowning moment – so far – of his career? The team will surely stick to the plan of backing Aleksandr Vlasov for GC and Sam Bennett in the sprints.
In fact, Hindley has yet to ride two Grand Tours in the same season so perhaps even the Vuelta would be pushing it at this stage of his development. Let’s be honest: as brilliant as he was on Blockhaus and as magnificent as he was on the Marmolada, Hindley probably won’t be the rider to come between Primoz Roglic and a fourth successive Vuelta crown.
‘Australian of the Year’ – McEwen lauds compatriot Hindley after Giro triumph
Here lies the dilemma for Bora and their new star rider. There will be a suspicion that the 26-year-old has hit his ceiling winning a Giro at which none of cycling’s major GC riders bothered to turn up – a race when many of the favourites were, like Carapaz, off the boil or, like Simon Yates, Tom Dumoulin, Joao Almeida and Miguel Angel Lopez, simply didn’t hang around long enough to put up a fight.
When you look at it critically, Hindley won a Giro against a rider who has not really delivered the goods for Ineos since his move from Movistar, and against a Mikel Landa who seemed content simply to match his third place from seven years ago – his only previous podium finish in a Grand Tour. This, two years after losing the Giro to a rider who has done very little since.
This is not an attempt to belittle Hindley or denigrate his huge achievement in making history for Australia and putting to bed his demons in such emphatic style. But it’s not as if Pogacar or Roglic would have been quaking in their boots while watching on their sofas at home. After all – Carapaz is a rider they have both kept in their pockets for quite some time before.
Going forward, Hindley has a good chance to establish some kind of hegemony in a race that he clearly knows and understands inside out. He could be to the Giro what Pogacar is to the Tour or Roglic to the Vuelta. But it’s unlikely at this point in his development that he will trouble either Slovenian on his favoured terrain.
The man from Perth has found a great new home at Bora who, in turn, have been rewarded with their first ever victory in a Grand Tour. With the likes of Vlasov, Kelderman, Kamna and Buchmann also on the books, the German team have a cracking assortment of GC riders with stage-winning potential and proven pedigree. They are, in short, not going to miss Peter Sagan and those years where his pursuit of green each July provided the primary focal point.
It is now the task of Hindley and his employers to do what they can to show that there's more to come - a challenge they will no doubt relish.
As for Ineos, Egan Bernal’s terrible injury and Carapaz’s failure to deliver the team their fourth Giro win in five years will lead to some tough decisions for an organisation that already appears to have had a successful refocus and rebranding around the classics in 2022.
‘He didn’t put a foot wrong’ – Wiggins reacts to ‘incredible’ Hindley win
Even once back to fitness there’s no guarantee that Bernal will return to the form that saw him win both the Tour and Giro. There must be understandable fears that they will have another Chris Froome situation on their hands - albeit one with more time on their side.
With a return to the Tour’s top table unlikely while the two Slovenian superstars are around, Ineos may have no choice but continue prioritising the Giro over the other Grand Tours. Whether Carapaz is the man to lead them to spearhead their future pushes for pink remains to be seen. The 29-year-old is out of contract at the end of the season and there talk of a return to Movistar, a team that experienced a worse Giro than most this May. With Alejandro Valverde retiring and the likes of Quintana, Landa and Lopez long gone, bringing Carapaz ‘home’ might be the most sensible course of action for all parties.
Ineos would be included in those parties were it not for the British team suddenly looking rather threadbare when it comes to leaders. Perhaps the upshot of losing out to Hindley is renewed faith in the man who beat him 19 months ago. Geoghegan Hart may have seen in the Austtalia's fine victory a door through which his can plot his own return to his maglia rosa-winning level of 2020.
An equal rematch between Tao and Jai over the roads of Italy next year would be something to savour for all cycling fans.
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