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Team Sunweb started Saturday’s stage into Sestriere one-two at the top of the classification of the Giro d’Italia. Just under five hours later, its riders are one-three, though only one remains in contention for the title.
Wilco Kelderman was usurped from his pink jersey by his young teammate Jai Hindley on the race’s final mountain stage. Hindley rode clear from the GC group with his friend and nemesis Tao Geoghegan Hart as the cracks shown by Kelderman on the Stelvio on Thursday re-emerged on the more benevolent slopes of Sestiere. Though the Aussie couldn’t shake the Ineos Grenadiers leader in the fight for the stage, he did take enough to secure the pink jersey, ensuring the race lead stayed within the team.
Kelderman remains on the podium, but at over 90 seconds back, he’s likely out of the GC picture.
“To wear the leader’s jersey in a grand tour is an incredible privilege,” Hindley said after the stage. “It’s not ideal to take it off Wilco, but it’s nice to keep it in the team.”
Hindley started the Giro as an out-and-out domestique for Kelderman, though always kept at the pointy end of the classification. Having moved into the top-1o on stage 9, Hindley has since emerged as arguably the best climber in the race, ripping the GC group to bits on the climb to Piancavallo last weekend, and winning the queen stage over the Stelvio on Thursday.
There’s been one rider Hindley has been unable to shake; his friend-turned-rival Tao Geoghegan Hart. Hindley and Geoghegan Hart have been locked together through the race’s recent summit finishes, with the Sunweb rider marking the Brit through the final of Thursday’s mountain marathon to Laghi di Cancano before pipping him in the sprint for the line in what was a reversal of Saturday’s action.
Some have suggested Hindley should have attacked Geoghegan Hart in Thursday’s stage, a move that would have placed him into the pink jersey. Instead, he played anchor as he sat on the Brit’s wheel as he looked to limit Geoghegan Hart’s gains over struggling teammate Kelderman.
Looking back, Hinley didn’t regret playing by the team’s playbook when he spoke during the press conference Saturday.
“If I wanted to attack I would have attacked, that was part of the plan,” he said when questioned on Thursday’s stage. “I followed the team’s plan. For me it was a good day for the team. The way it’s unfolded is the way it is and I regret nothing.”
The glimmers of weakness Kelderman showed on the Stelvio re-emerged Saturday as the Dutchman cracked on the second ascent to Sestriere.
“It was like we expected,” Kelderman said. “We had the plan upfront to react, and Jai was good enough to follow but I wasn’t. It was the same as the Stelvio stage with the best two climbers in front. I’m a bit disappointed that I couldn’t finish it off, but in the end I can be proud of everybody and hopefully Jai can finish it off tomorrow.”
Hindley will have his work cut out Sunday. While as he sits level on time with Geoghegan Hart, the Londoner holds the upper hand going into Sunday’s short time trial. The Australian acknowledged his disadvantage, but if this Giro’s proven anything, it’s to expect the unexpected.
“He’s shown that he can time trial well but it’s the end of a three-week race,” Hindley said. “You never know how the legs are going to feel tomorrow morning. That’s the beauty of the Giro d’Italia, it’s such a hard race. But for me personally I know I’ll go into that time trial to try to keep this jersey.”
Hindley revealed during his press conference atop Sestriere that he and Geoghegan Hart are friends. That relationship will be on pause for 15.7km of time trialing through the streets of Milano on Sunday.