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Vuelta a Espana

Jai Hindley: We’ll let the road decide at the Vuelta a España, like the Giro

Hindley 'going into the unknown' at Vuelta and expects no problems finding GC balance with Bora-Hansgrohe teammates Kelderman and Higuita.

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It’s all change for Jai Hindley. The 2022 Vuelta a España is the first grand tour that the Australian enters as a favorite after his Giro d’Italia victory.

Is the pressure off after that success, or does it add more? “A bit of both. It was really cool to win the Giro, my first year and grand tour with the team,” he said in his pre-race press conference Wednesday. “But at the same time, the expectation is to be able to back up that performance. I’m up for the challenge.”

Bora-Hansgrohe comes to the 2022 Vuelta a España with one of the strongest lineups. There are three potential GC candidates in Giro winner Jai Hindley, Wilco Kelderman, and Sergio Higuita, plus sprinter Sam Bennett.

Hindley calls it a “really rounded” team and finding a balance between ambitions will be interesting. “I think it’ll probably play out similar to the Giro,” he said. “More or less, let the road decide, like we did there.

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“It worked out; that’s not to say it’ll work here, but the guys we’ve brought are really good. And no one in the team has a crazy ego or something like that.

“If I lose time in the first week, for sure I’m going to do the best I can to help whoever we do have on GC, and vice versa, I know the guys will support me if that’s the case.

“To be honest, I think the team will have no problems finding the balance between GC and sprint focus. It’ll work hand in hand, so it’s all good,” he added later.

Hitting the start line in Utrecht for the Vuelta, it’ll also be the 26-year-old’s first time doing two grand tours in a season. “It’s just like going into the unknown, I guess,” he said. “I’m a bit nervous because I don’t know how it’ll go, especially that last week, but I’m really excited for it.”

Great personal expectations

His Giro victory, decided by his attack of Richard Carapaz on the Passo Fedaia, switched things up a gear for Hindley. “I knew I could do that, but to [actually] do it is another thing. To come away with the win at the Giro was pretty incredible.

“I don’t think it’s changed me too much, but maybe just my own personal expectation or standard has been risen. I always want to do the best I can and it’s the same here.”

Since then Hindley has tried to “do everything right”, having time off, then slowly building up with an altitude camp in Andorra in July before a block of Spanish racing.

“San Sebastián wasn’t super great, I think it came down to not racing for such a long time and also doing a long altitude camp and not going super hard directly after the camp. Then Getxo and Burgos following were a bit better,” he said of his preparation.

Friday’s race-opening 23.3-kilometer TTT in Utrecht, his first since the 2019 Hammer Series, promises to be be technical. “Maybe on paper, we don’t have the strongest time-triallists per se but I think we have a pretty solid team.

“I don’t think it’ll be too bad. The main thing is to finish as fast as we can and finish safely. I’m looking forward to it, it’s always brutal and painful.”

A cool Grand Tour

Whatever happens at the Vuelta, it promises to be a different prospect to the last time he was here. In 2018, the Perth man was an unknown making his grand tour debut.

“The weather, the fans, the terrain: I really enjoyed it and I’m really excited to be back,” he said, recalling his memories. “A lot of hard days on the bike. In general, the Vuelta is a really cool grand tour.

“I’d say it’s a lot more unpredictable than the Giro or the Tour – a lot of days where you have 20 guys going up the road and the GC can flip on its head whenever. There’s a real mixed motivation in the peloton. A lot of the stages don’t look super hard on paper, but turn out to be really hard.”

The dream scenario would be a second grand tour win in a year, emulating Chris Froome, who did a Tour-Vuelta double in 2017. “You never know, it would be pretty nice. I’m not really thinking of winning two, I’m just focused on trying to do the best result possible,” Hindley said.

Wishing for worlds selection

Looking beyond the pain in Spain, there’s the enticing possibility of the elite world championship road race in Wollongong (September 25). The Australian team has not been revealed, but Hindley is clear about his desire to race it.

“It’s not every day you get to do a home worlds in Oz. It’s going to be a really hard race, but at the same time a really good event. I definitely want to be there. Everything is still to be announced, so that’s all I can say.”