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

Young Aussies stepped up to shine at last year's Giro to give fans Down Under the hope that their next GC star isn't far away.

In a nod to the cancelation of the Australian international cycling calendar, we are turning our gaze Down Under for a week of feature stories, interviews, historical analysis, and other content to celebrate Australian cycling as part of Aussie Week.

If the 2020 Giro d’Italia was a celebration of youth, the party had a very Australian accent.

Perth-born Jai Hindley was one of a wave of young faces to feature in the podium photographs at last year’s Giro, a race that also marked the rise of the likes of Tao Geoghegan Hart, João Almeida, Brandon McNulty, and Filippo Ganna.

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Though the Giro’s young stars hailed from around the globe, Hindley, 24, led the charge for an 18-strong Australian contingent at the race that could be seeing success for years to come. Alongside the Team DSM talent, Ben O’Connor reconfirmed himself as a world-beater with a dramatic stage win while both Chris and Lucas Hamilton enjoyed quietly confident grand tours.

Hindley believes that the current crop of Australian talent has the potential to end home fans’ patient wait for their next grand tour champion.

“The next Aussie grand tour winner could be around the corner,” Hindley said late last year.

“There’s such a massive group of Aussie talent rising in the WorldTour at the moment and there are some really good guys out there – like Ben O’Connor and Lucas Hamilton,” he continued. “For me, everything just clicked together at this Giro and it was incredible, but I think there’s there’s a lot of guys out there that are in a similar boat.

“Australia has always had a whole heap of guys coming through, but especially now more than ever,” Hindley said on a group call. “When you look at how many Aussies are in the WorldTour, it’s the most I’ve ever seen I think, and a lot of those guys are super-young.”

The cohort of young Australians that raced through Italy last fall has known each other far longer than their short careers in the WorldTour. Hindley, O’Connor and Team DSM’s Michael Storer all grew up in the Perth area and are separated by just a few years in age. Hamilton, from Australia’s east coast, joined the Perth-party during his spell riding in the Australian development system.

Now, some four years later, the quartet is coming of age together.

“I joined the Australian U23 team in 2016,” O’Connor told VeloNews. “There was me, Lucas Hamilton, Jai [Hindley], [Michael] Storer. Us four were all there racing and now we’ve all made it professional. And pretty much every one of us has won professional races now we’ve stepped up to the WorldTour.”

O’Connor joins Ag2r-Citroën from NTT Pro Cycling in 2021. Although he was on the road to a breakout ride at the 2018 Giro only to crash out on stage 19 while within touching distance of the top-10, he said he won’t immediately be on GC duty at his new French team.

Rather than O’Connor, it’s Team BikeExchange rider Lucas Hamilton that is most likely to join Hindley in bringing GC trophies from Europe back Down Under.

Hamilton will have a leadership role at Team BikeExchange in 2021.

The 24-year-old was riding high through his second-ever Giro last fall, scoring two top-1os in the first half of the race while supporting GC leader Simon Yates. COVID called time early on the team’s Giro ambitions, but with Adam Yates leaving the squad for Ineos Grenadiers this year, Hamilton is poised to take a step up the leadership ladder in his Aussie team.

“From the limited grand tour experiences [Hamilton] has – the 2020 Giro start was just his second grand tour – he is definitely a guy that has the potential and is going to lead us in three-week races,” team boss Matt White said late last year. “And with Adam [Yates] and Jack [Haig] leaving the team, there are going to be even more opportunities for him. We’ll be giving him a lot of freedom and he’ll lead at one of the grand tours in 2021.”

There are more young Aussies in the WorldTour than ever, and many of them have time, potential, and multi-year deals on their side. Jack Haig, Robert Stannard, Sebastian Berwick and Chris Harper are also among the young riders giving fans Down Under hope that an elusive grand tour victory – the first since Cadel Evans‘ landmark Tour de France win in 2011 – is on the way.

With Hindley’s path to team leadership at DSM cleared by the departure of Wilco Kelderman during the off-season and Hamilton likewise set to enjoy more freedom, Hindley believes the Aussie public could have their next grand tour champ very soon.

“You never know who it’s going to be,” Hindley said. “But I think, whoever it is, they’re going to be well supported by Australia, like I felt at the Giro. That was pretty special. I really had like a full nation behind me, and that was an incredible feeling.”

Porte closes out his grand tour career just as Australia’s new generation starts to blossom. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

With Tasmanian veteran Richie Porte calling time on his role as a grand tour leader in favor of playing superdomestique at Ineos Grenadiers in 2021, the rise of Australia’s new breed of talent comes well-timed.

The 35-year-old took an ironic career-best third overall at last year’s Tour in what was his very last race as a protected rider. Just a month after he took the podium in Paris, Porte reached out to congratulate Hindley on his second-place at the Giro. It made for a symbolic passing of the Australian GC baton – a token that was handed to Porte when Evans retired in 2015.

“I had messages [of congratulations] from Cadel, Richie and also Simon Gerrans as well,” Hindley recalled.

“I haven’t had much to do with Cadel, but he’s been a massive influence and it’s pretty nice,” he said. “When you got these guys like him and that you aspired to be like, and guys that have helped pave the way for Australian cycling messaging you and giving you encouragement and saying they’ve been watching you race, it’s really cool.”

Evans was the first Aussie to score big at a grand tour when he won the 2011 Tour de France. Porte came close but couldn’t convert.

Next up are Hindley, Hamilton, O’Connor and Co., and as far as they’re concerned, Evans won’t be Australia’s only grand tour winner much longer.