Jai Hindley on staring down Ineos Grenadiers: ‘I didn’t feel intimidated’
First Aussie winner of maglia rosa recounts key moments in showdown against Richard Carapaz on Passo Fedaia.
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Jay Hindley never wobbled or weaved during three weeks, and came up the winner Sunday at the Giro d’Italia.
Hindley and his Bora-Hansgrohe “band of brothers” didn’t blink the face of the mighty Ineos Grenadiers or Richard Carapaz.
When it came crunch time on the Passo Fedaia, Bora-Hansgrohe turned the screws, and an ever more confident Hindley rode away with the 2022 Giro title.
“The team morale throughout the whole race was incredible. Everyone was on point from day 1 until the last stage. I also never had the feeling that we were the underdog,” Hindley said Tuesday. “The team rode a really good race, and some days we made the race. I didn’t feel intimidated by any other team.
“I felt really confident in our team and I knew we had a really strong lineup. The guys were just phenomenal throughout the whole race.”
The 26-year-old Australian took down Ineos Grenadiers, which seemed poised to win its fourth pink jersey in five years.
Slowly but surely, Hindley and Bora-Hansgrohe disassembled cycling’s wealthiest team, and delivered the knock-out punch in the closing 5km of climbing on the decisive Passo Fedaia.
Hindley’s victory is an important milestone for the Bora-Hansgrohe organization, which pivoted from the classics and one-week stage races to take on the grand tours.
The German-based team didn’t flinch when Ineos Grenadiers tried to control the race.
Instead, it was Bora-Hansgrohe that raced aggressively, first to blow up the race in stage 14 around Torino, and again Saturday up Passo Fedaia.
Speaking to media this week, Hindley was still relishing and reflecting on the significance of his victory Sunday that in many ways came against the odds.
The key moment came on Saturday’s 20th stage and the uphill finale at Passo Fedaia. The pink jersey and the entire Giro was on the line.
Hindley packed quiet confidence into the key moment, and counted on key help from Bora-Hansgrohe to disassemble Ineos, isolate Carapaz, and then ride away to secure pink.
“I always feel like I come into my best in week three, and that’s my main strength, and it gives me a lot of confidence to know I can still ride consistently into the third week,” he said. “I was feeling quite good in the finals. I was pretty nervous going into that second to last stage, because you ever had it or you didn’t, and we knew whoever had the jersey at the end of that day would probably win the Giro.
“I was nervous and not feeling super great, and everyone is on the limit. When it gets to that point of the race, it’s almost more mentally challenging than physically,” Hindley said. “I was mentally more ready to fight and it paid off.”
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Hindley emerged as a legitimate GC threat in week 1 after winning atop the Blockhaus climb.
Bora-Hansgrohe came to the Giro with a stacked team, including Wilco Kelderman, Emanuel Buchmann, and Lennard Kämna all in key roles.
Hindley said the tight team spirit kept egos in check inside the bus and that helped translate to perfect cohesion in the race.
“It’s not always easiest to manage to have three protected leaders in a grand tour,” he said. “It’s also very dependent on how the guys are also, and the good thing was the other two guys are not big ego guys.
“They’re committed and great teammates, so when Wilco had his mechanical and lost his GC chances, to have a guy like, of course he was devastated, for the rest of the race he was super motivated to help me and everyone saw that on the Torino stage, he was on fire that day.
“Wilco was more than happy to help me and when you have a guy who’s been on a grand tour podium riding as a domestique for you, you don’t get that often.”
Following in the footsteps of Cadel Evans
The 26-year-old made history in more ways than one. On Sunday, he became the first Australian to win the Giro, and the second to win a grand tour, coming more than a decade after Cadel Evans won the Tour de France in 2011.
“Cadel is a household name in Australia. The average person on the street who knows nothing about cycling knows Cadel,” Hindley said. “He’s the most important and most influential cyclists in Australia, so for me to win a grand tour, it’s something special.”
The Australian links to the Giro date back decades.
Hindley’s win comes 70 years after the first Australian participation to the Giro when John Beasley, Peter Antony and Eddie Smith started the race with Team Nilux in 1952, but none of them finished.
It also comes 20 years after Cadel Evans was the first Australian wearer of the maglia rosa.
The first Australian in the top 10 overall was Michael Wilson, who finished 8th in 1985.
Australia becomes the 16th winning nation of the Giro d’Italia, making it six new countries on the top spot in the past 10 years, after Canada (Ryder Hesjedal in 2012), Colombia (Nairo Quintana in 2014), the Netherlands (Tom Dumoulin in 2017), Great Britain (Chris Froome in 2018) and Ecuador (Richard Carapaz in 2019).
Avoiding panic in the key moments
Hindley kept his cool throughout the race, but admitted he felt the stress and pressure building the deeper the race got.
One key moment came in stage 18, when he punctured late in the stage and was gapped by the hard-charging peloton. Thankfully, the mishap came within the 3km rule, and Hindley’s pink jersey hopes were saved.
“The stage where I punctured in the last kilometers and had to do a wheel change. That was very stressful, and the whole race become quite stressful. In the last Ks of that stage, I had the feeling that I could the whole race because of this puncture,” he said.
“Then I realized how close I was to the lead, the stress levels really started to rise. That was the only real crazy day, apart from that, we had everyone under control.
“We rode a pretty calculated race. We used that energy pretty efficiently. We only made big moves when it was going to be a crucial part of the race, and didn’t waste energy,” he said. “It wasn’t a plan to leave it all to the last day, but it worked out like that. In the end, it was pretty awesome teamwork to set it up on the second to last day.”
And his name?
Everyone wondered the backstory of Jai. It’s pronounced like “eye” rather than “bay.”
“It’s an Indian name,” Hindley said. “My dad is quite into Buddhism and it’s a sort of Buddhist related name. It’s not a super common name.”
After becoming the first Australian to win the Giro, now everyone knows how to pronounce his name correctly.