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Jai Hindley’s second-place at the Giro d’Italia may have come as a surprise as fans watched from the sofa, but it turns out that stepping on the podium in Milano was just as much of a surprise for him.
The Perth-born climbing star took the start line in Palermo as a plan-1A for Sunweb. After an incident-riddled three weeks that saw the exit of pre-race favorites Geraint Thomas, Steven Kruijswijk, and Simon Yates, Hindley emerged from his teammate Wilco Kelderman‘s shadow to land himself the biggest success of his young career in Milano
“I came to the race as shadow leader,” Hindley told VeloNews and other reporters on a video call Friday. “We [Hindley and Kelderman] were both protected riders, but if it came down to it, then I was going to have to work for Wilco. The team and I just assumed I’d go alright but not get onto the podium. So [the result] was, I think, a surprise to me, and a surprise to them.”
“Definitely a nice surprise for me,” he added with a smile.
Hindley’s path to spitting distance to the race’s pink jersey was forged on the 15th stage to Piancavallo, where he vaulted seven places to third overall. Though the move had come with the intent to set up Kelderman, the 24-year-old was left poised to climb his way to an unlikely one-day spell in the race lead after stage 20 as he sat dead-level on time with eventual winner Tao Geoghegan Hart .
“I flew under the radar big time,” Hindley admitted. “It wasn’t like I just slipped up the road, because that’s not really what happened. But I think, like me, a lot of the other GC guys were also pretty surprised that I was up there and was riding like that.”
Geoghegan Hart and Hindley found success from almost nowhere at the Giro, with both youngsters starting as domestiques that didn’t even feature on the long list of Giro pre-race favorites. And while the race didn’t see heavy-hitting dust-ups between the generation’s greats such as Primož Roglič, Chris Froome and off-form Vincenzo Nibali, Hindley balks at the idea that the race was straightforward.
“They’re fair comments, to be honest,” Hindley responded openly when asked if the weak field left the door open for him.
“I think you can look at it and say, there’s not as much depth there, but it was still incredibly hard racing. I did some of my best power ever at this race. And not just one day; every day I was doing some of the best numbers I’ve ever done.
“So you could look at it and say three of the top favorites all abandoned super-early, and wasn’t much of a race and blah, blah, blah,” he said. “At the same time, if you really know what you’re looking at, then you can see that it’s still really hard racing, even if the big names weren’t there.”
Whether Hindley’s win came from the fortune of being a dark horse in a diminished field or not, he lit up a nation’s hopes as Australian fans stayed up all night to watch the racing in Italy.
At just 24, Hindley has a decade left in his legs and a nation’s fever behind him. Australians are looking for a new grand tour star to step into Richie Porte‘s shoes now the veteran is turning toward doing domestique duty at Ineos Grenadiers in 2021. After his breakout Giro performance, Hindley has been thrust into the spotlight.
“We’ll just have to wait and see, eh?,” he said with a chuckle when asked if he was Down Under’s next big winner. “I’d love to be chasing grand tours, it’s something I’ve always wanted to do … to go into a grand tour as the sole dedicated leader is pretty crazy, but I’d definitely be up for the challenge.
And to clarify “that jacket” incident on the Stelvio?.
“I thought it was just going to be able to fly through without being asked about that,” he said good-humoredly. “Argh, it just looked shit.”