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Giro d'Italia

From Egan Bernal to Remco Evenepoel: Jai Hindley on how young guns took over cycling

From Egan Bernal to Tadej Pogačar to Remco Evenepoel to Jai Hindley, young riders are dominating the sport - espcially in the grand tours.

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With youth comes the arrogance that you can do anything.

Once the domain of the older, more experienced riders, grand tours have become the playground of young upstarts not afraid to throw caution to the wind.

“Young guys bring something different to the sport,” last year’s Giro d’Italia runner-up Jai Hindley told VeloNews. “The way that they’re racing, it’s a non-traditional age of pro-racing.

Also read: Remco Evenepoel lights up intermediate sprint at Giro d’Italia

“Young guys aren’t afraid to roll their sleeves up at 70km to go and just go for it, which I think for the sport is pretty good. It makes the racing pretty hard, but from a fan point of view it’s awesome to watch.”

Two years ago, the average age of a Tour de France winner was 28.5. That has since been nudged down a rung or two with the recent victories of Egan Bernal and Tadej Pogačar in 2019 and 2020. Last year, the average age of the Giro d’Italia podium was 26, brought up a bit by the 29-year-old Wilco Kelderman.

The now 25-year-old Hindley was the youngest among the top-three — with winner Tao Geoghegan Hart just a year older than the Australian — but now jokingly calls himself “long in the tooth” in comparison to some of those setting the racing world alight.

Bernal won his first grand tour, the 2019 Tour de France, in only his second appearance at a three-week race. If he can hold onto his current form, he could be on course to win his second grand tour at the Giro d’Italia later this month at the tender age of 24.

Also read: Don’t call it a comeback: Egan Bernal takes control of Giro d’Italia

Meanwhile, he is doing battle with a rider that is making his three-week debut, in the 21-year-old Remco Evenepoel.

As the Giro d’Italia pauses for its first rest day, the average age of the top-five is just 23.6, and Giulio Ciccone is the oldest at the grand old age of 26.

“It’s really crazy to watch. When you see these guys riding like they are, and you see what year they’re born in, it’s nuts,” Hindley said.

“To go into your first Grand Tour and do stuff and make a big impact when you’re younger, maybe back in the day it was not really seen as a possibility but now it is very much normal. If you look at what João Almeida did at the Giro last year it was pretty phenomenal. He had the jersey for almost two weeks, it’s pretty nuts, and that was his first Grand Tour. It’s the new normal.”

Hindley was one of those young guys expected to feature near the top of the GC after his performance last year, but he has dropped outside the top 20 after a difficult first week. Though there is plenty of room for change and he could still feature when the major mountains arrive later this week.

Growing confidence

Youth prevailing has become the “new normal” and Bernal’s surprise victory at the 2019 Tour de France has been shown not to be a flash in the pan. So, what has changed so dramatically that 21 and 22-year-olds are able to regularly compete and dominate in an environment that was once seen as the domain of the more age and experience?

“It’s really interesting but I don’t know if you can nail it down to one reason. If I had to say it’s because the young guys are so professional now,” Hindley told VeloNews. “You have under 19s training like WorldTour pros and training as if they are professional already.

Also read: Jai Hindley hoping for ‘Hail Mary’ after bumpy road to Giro d’Italia

“When they’re coming into the pros it’s like it’s nothing new. Guys just have so much confidence now at such a young age, which shows on the bike. Young pros aren’t afraid to get out there and do it.

“I think a lot of guys coming into the pro ranks are expecting so much of themselves from the start. It’s a new normal. It is pretty crazy to watch when you see 21-year-olds winning the Tour and multiple stages. It’s pretty crazy, but it’s the evolution of the sport.”

As more and more young riders convert their early promise as juniors into dominant success at the top level, it can be easy for aspiring talents to be disheartened by not doing the same. Just as there are riders such as Evenepoel who can mix it with the top riders almost as soon as they turn professional, there are still plenty of others who are building their talent over time.

“I’d say it’s pretty hard for the young guys also,” Hindley said. “If you’re a fourth-year under 23 and you’ve been battling away in those ranks for a few years, and you see some guys getting signed straight out of juniors it can be a bit crazy.

“Everyone is different, and you can’t compare yourself to everyone. I thought it was pretty crazy when Remco was signed right out of under 19s, and the truth is he’s one of the best riders in the world at the moment. If I compared myself to him at that age, I was in no way even remotely near that level. You can’t compare it.”