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Vuelta a Espana

Jai Hindley on Vuelta a España form: Peaking for two grand tours is ‘pretty bloody hard’

Australian’s morale stays strong, is seeking opportunities as race heads into final stages.

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Winner of this year’s Giro d’Italia, Jai Hindley came into the Vuelta a España gunning for another big grand tour performance.

He said as much in his pre-race press conference, describing winning the Giro in his first grand tour campaign with Bora-Hansgrohe as “really cool.”

“The expectation is to be able to back up that performance. I’m up for the challenge,” he said.

Things haven’t quite gone to plan since then. Hindley starts Thursday’s 18th stage in 10th place overall at 11:40 behind race leader Remco Evenepoel (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl). He freely admits that hitting two peaks in one season has been more difficult than anticipated.

“I would say it is pretty bloody hard. I think really to get that top, top form and to hold that for three weeks is quite hard,” he told journalists at the start of stage 18.

“This year has been like a big learning experience in all aspects. I think it was still good to come here and try to do GC in two Grand Tours. I was unsure how it would go, and it has panned out like the way it has. That is also fine.

“Hopefully next year I can reap the benefits of doing two grand tours. Maybe it sets up good foundations for the races to come next year.”

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Hindley is 26 years of age and so is still learning and building. He could have been left very disappointed not to keep to the same level he had in the Giro, but he seems able to see the big picture.

Doing two grand tours in one year is often said to bring a rider to a new level, and so he will look to 2023 with interest.

Importantly, his morale seems good. “I am still really enjoying it. It could be worse,” he said. “I am really enjoying the racing and the atmosphere. The morale in the team is still really high. It has just been good fun, more than anything.

“There are some hard days to come, so we will look to see what we can do in those remaining stages.”

Stage hunting, GC climbing

He names Danny van Poppel as a possibility for the final stage in Madrid, noting that he is one of the best sprinters in the race. But there may be some personal opportunity for him before then, including on Thursday’s mountainous stage to the top of the Alto del Piornal.

“I think the next couple of stages could be a good chance for the break. So I will definitely try to be in that and see what I can do,” he said. “At the same time, the GC battle will probably heat up as well. So it could go either way, depending on what GC team really wants to control it.

“Today is quite a long stage so it could be pretty hard for one team to control it. We’ll see how it goes, I’ll definitely try to sniff out breakaway if I can.”

Of course, that’s easier said than done. He’s sufficiently far back not to be an immediate threat to Evenepoel, giving him some room to maneuver, but getting into the right move has proved to be anything but easy.

“For sure the breakaway will be just a big fight, like it has been in the past few days. There may be a GC battle behind, you never know. Maybe it comes back, maybe a team lights it up early on one of the final climbs before the finishing climb. We will see how it goes.”

Should Hindley make it into the day’s break, his climbing abilities should see him one of the best riders when it comes to the two ascents of the Alto del Piornal. Just as Rigoberto Urán did Wednesday, Hindley has the grand tour credentials and uphill oomph to make the difference in the finale.

He knows that he’d also jump up the GC if a break did stay clear. Indeed Urán benefited that way on Wednesday, going from 12th to ninth overall and leapfrogging Hindley in the process.

Did he and Bora-Hansgrohe consider chasing the break to stop that happening?

“No, not really,” he said. “To get the whole team on the front to ride for 10th on GC is a bit of a stretch. Anyway, they have been doing a lot for me. If I was in my best form ever then maybe it would be a different story.

“I am riding day to day, seeing how it is going. Yesterday was a bit better and I could be there with the GC guys in the final. So that was nice. But today is another day. I don’t know how it will go, but hopefully, a bit better again than yesterday.”