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Giro d'Italia

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

Jai Hindley hoping lightning strikes twice at the 'corsa rosa' after a breakout second place in 2020.

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As any musician knows, living up to the hype of your first big hit can be tough.

That’s what Jai Hindley (Team DSM) is trying to do this May as he returns to the Giro d’Italia after a breakthrough second place overall at the 2020 corsa rosa.

In stereotypical Australian fashion, the 24-year-old is taking the added expectation in his stride.

“I think it’s good to put pressure on yourself but I’m also not pulling my hair out. I’m pretty laid back,” Hindley told VeloNews in a video call.

Also read: How the Giro d’Italia proved Australia’s next grand tour winner could be ‘just around the corner’

“I have higher expectation of my own ability. More than anything, I think it’s my own self-pressure rather than the pressure of the team or the media or anything like that.”

Hindley was a rising stage racing star from the time he turned professional with Team Sunweb – now Team DSM – in 2018. However, he was thrown into the mainstream spotlight in a dramatic edition of the Giro d’Italia last year when his teammate Wilco Kelderman buckled under the pressure of the maglia rosa.

The Perth-born rider took up the mantle of team leader and did battle with fellow youngster Tao Geoghegan Hart. Hindley won a stage and went into the final day with the maglia rosa on his shoulders – he and Geoghegan Hart were equal on time.

The time trial would dash Hindley’s hopes of winning the overall title, but his performance over the three weeks was proof to the Australian that he had what it took in the biggest of races.

“It was a life-changing experience in some ways but in other ways, a lot has been the same,” said Hindley. “It was really nice for me to be able to get results in the Giro like that. It’s basically something that I have been working towards my whole life but never really knew it was achievable for me.”

A bumpy road to the Giro d’Italia

In cycling, one has to be prepared for a few bumps along the way and Hindley’s path to this year’s Giro d’Italia has been far from smooth.

He fell sick at Paris-Nice, which rumbled on until the Volta a Catalunya and ultimately forced him out of the Spanish race, and he crashed and cut open old wounds on his knee at the Tour of the Alps. The knee injury required stitches, which Hindley had out Friday, and meant another early departure.

Despite the hiccups, Hindley still has more race days in his legs than he did prior to the 2020 Giro as well as two high-altitude training camps.

Also read: Jai Hindley steps up to lead new wave of Australia’s home-grown talents

“It was old scars that had been ripped open and had gone pretty deep, so they just had to do a bit a patchwork,” Hindley said of his injury. “It’s not been super-ideal.

“I’ve definitely put in the hard work, but I think it’s all about timing the form to really come good in the last half of the race, which I’m pretty confident I’ve been able to do. Hopefully, it’ll be similar to last year and I’ll be on a similar level, but we’ll see.”

Hindley won’t be riding alongside Kelderman this year after the Dutchman switched allegiances to Bora-Hansgrohe over the winter. Instead, he will have a new partner in crime in Romain Bardet, who is making his corsa rosa debut this month.

“It was the first time racing with him at the Tour of the Alps but we’ve spent time together at the altitude camps. I got to know him better. He’s a really cool guy and a classy bike rider,” said Hindley.

“He’s super switched on and he knows a lot about bike racing. He’ll know a lot about the course he’s racing that day and tactics wise he’s also super sharp. It’s basically racing with a real switched-on Frenchie.”

Hindley and Bardet will share the Giro d’Italia leadership as equals with the aim of getting one or both of them as high up the overall classification as possible.

“With regards to the goal, it’s basically just working as a unit to get someone in a DSM jersey onto that podium in Milan,” Hindley said. “I think we’ll have a good crack. It’s my third Giro and Romain’s first. I think he’s pretty excited to ride in Italy.”

Expect the unexpected

Last year’s Giro d’Italia threw up a thrilling final week with João Almeida clinging onto the maglia rosa longer than expected, while some of the major pre-race favorites cracked and faded away.

Meanwhile, Hindley’s duel with Geoghegan Hart lit up the final days with the drama holding right until the last stage.

The Giro d’Italia has a habit of chucking out the script when you least expect it, and Hindley expects this year’s edition will be no different.

“For sure. There’s always something going on at the Giro. It’s such a historic and epic race, there’s bound to be something happening,” Hindley told VeloNews.

“I think it’s a hard race to predict. The last week is traditionally pretty epic. It’s hard to explain but you can see guys crumble in the last week when they have looked so strong in the first two weeks. You never know what can happen.

“Maybe even some guy from Perth can roll up on the podium.”