Cycling is most definitely a big part of the Hindley household. Yes, Jai is the first Aussie runner-up in the Giro d’Italia but his father, Gordon, is also an enthusiast who has supported the talented climber through to the pro ranks…
(Feature image, left to right: team pursuit national champions in the junior ranks – Jai Hindley, Reece Tucknott, Sam Welsford and Matthew Jackson. Photos courtesy of Gordon Hindley)
This time last week, Australian cycling fans were in raptures about the efforts of Jai Hindley. In stage 18 of the 103rd Giro d’Italia, he won the Stelvio stage and moved second on GC. In stage 20, he finished second behind Tao Geoghegan Hart and took the pink leader’s jersey. And then, on Sunday, he lost the GC lead and finished runner-up in the second Grand Tour of 2020.
It was a thrilling few days for the Hindley family. In his hometown of Perth, his father and mother – Gordon and Robyn – watched the TV, filled with pride. Their son was doing what they always believed was possible, demonstrate that a life of cycling could yield big rewards.
There’s quite a story behind the rise and rise of this climbing superstar from Western Australia and much of it has to do with Gordon’s love of cycling.
The Giro is over, and we all know how it ended but the buzz of Australia’s best result in the Giro remains.
Jai Hindley started the final stage with a fraction of a second (0.86) advantage over Tao Geoghegan Hart but finished it with a deficit of 39 seconds. The time trial in Milan was always going to be a tough challenge for the 60kg rider who seems born to climb mountains on his bike.
Gordon Hindley agrees with that appraisal but, of course, he held out hope that the Giro may have ended differently.
Like many around the world, Jai’s father watched the TT with his heart in his mouth and the hope that the expected script would be torn up, that his son would indeed become the first Aussie Giro champion. It wasn’t to be in 2020, but we now all know a lot more about the 24-year-old rider from Team Sunweb.
He can climb. He is cool. He is calm. And, as he wrote in a message to me a couple of days ago, “we’ll talk soon”.
On the final rest day of the Giro, he was candid in an interview with RIDE Media, explaining his weigh-in that morning (60.3kg), his 20-minute power PB from the day before (390w), and his expectation of the final week. “I think, realistically it’s going to be pretty hard,” he said, adding: “but I also don’t really like thinking realistically.”
He’s now adjusting to post-Giro-podium life, realising that he’s made a name for himself in the cycling realm, and not really giving too much of a damn that his efforts have been largely ignored by the mainstream media in Australia.
There’s nothing he can do about that, but to those in the know – those who appreciate how damn hard it is to finish second in a Grand Tour – realise that Jai Hindley has achieved a lot this October.
We’ll get to know him more in the coming years, but to help us understand how he got to where he is in the sport, RIDE Media spoke with Gordon a few days ago to get some background. Robyn listened in and, towards the interview, she also proudly chimes in with a few comments.
Below is a transcript of our interview with Gordon and Robyn Hindley, Jai’s dad and mum.
Q&A with Gordon Hindley
RIDE Media: I’m talking with Gordon Hindley who is the father of a superstar of Australian sport, Jai Hindley. We all got to know him a bit better this October when he started popping himself into the headlines at the Giro d’Italia. Gordon you had a lot to do with this young man becoming a champion cyclist. So, is that where we should begin this discussion? What do you want to talk about?
Gordon Hindley: “We can start at the beginning if you want.
“Jai was one of those boys that was a natural on the bike. He did have a year out of cycling, playing rugby but besides that it’s basically just been cycling.
“We took him to the velodrome in Midland when he was seven. They had built a program for developing kids on the track and it was run at the time by a coach called Rick Lee. He left to go and work in America so in the meantime, I actually became an accredited coach, going through the Australian coaching system.
“So, I actually took over as head coach.”
RIDE Media: Just going by your accent, I would say that you’re not a native West Australian. Can you fill me in on your background?
Gordon Hindley: “I’m actually from Manchester in the UK and I arrived in Australia in 1989 and I came straight to Perth because I knew some people here. And that’s when I met my wife, Robyn, who is from the Hunter Valley in New South Wales.
“We got married and we had the two boys, Jai and Kaly.”
RIDE Media: Can you tell me a little bit about how you watched the Giro? And also a little bit about his progression into the pro ranks. I saw Jai race for the first time on TV when he went up the road in the Tour de l’Avenir and did what did a few years ago. He appeared to pedal so effortlessly on the climbs, and I realised that I should start paying attention to him. He and I have spoken on and off over the years but really, what he did in Italy – particularly in the Dolomites and Alps in the last week – was stunning.
How did you follow the race? Did you have your heart in your mouth? What were your emotions when that was all playing out?
Gordon Hindley: “Oh, the emotions were running miles, you know?
“We are actually very fortunate in the fact that we’ve got a Minix Box, if you’ve ever heard of that. What it does is, it gives us the option to watch all European television live. So, we actually used to watch the first couple of hours live on RAI Sport, in Italian. And then, when it became available on Eurosport, that’s when we’d switch to that channel so we had English commentary.”
RIDE Media: So, in other words, you did get to see Jai racing which is great. And once it hit the mountains, whenever the cameras were focussed on the key group your son was pretty much in the picture, wasn’t he?
Gordon Hindley: “Absolutely, and he was always working.
“I know he’s got to follow team orders, but he was always working on the premise that races are won at the front, not at the back. So, he’s always tried to be at the front.”
RIDE Media: Do you come from a cycling background yourself? Is that why you have the enthusiasm for the sport?
Gordon Hindley: “I love cycling! I rode my first race in 1966 and my last race in 1983.”
RIDE Media: And now? You riding still?
Gordon Hindley: “I ride with wife actually, on mountain bikes. We just do coffee runs, but I still love it.”
RIDE Media: I’m going as a little bit of a personal question, but Jai is weighing in at 60kg… in other words, there’s not a great deal of him. Are you of a similar stature?
Gordon Hindley: “I’m very rotund in stature now, Rob.”
RIDE Media: We call you a ‘sprinter’, not a ‘climber’… is that right?
Gordon Hindley: “No. I’d call me a lump of lard, actually.”
RIDE Media: Did you say he played rugby before he took to cycling?
Gordon Hindley: “What he did is: he actually decided he was going to have a year off of cycling. So, I was devastated, you know what I mean?
“But my wife said it’d be really good if he did some other sport.
“I never saw the point of that myself but he really enjoyed his rugby…”
Robyn Hindley (in the background): “He needed to try a team sport. And he really enjoyed the camaraderie of rugby.”
Gordon Hindley: “So, once he finished his year of rugby, he got back on the bike as soon as possible.”
RIDE Media: Well, for a 60kg whippet, I’m glad that he stopped playing rugby. He’d probably be broken and finished by now. But cycling does bring all shapes and size to the fore, doesn’t it? I mean we see 82kg Filippo Ganna winning four stages and doing an outstanding job for the Ineos Grenadiers, and effectively helping Tao Geoghegan Hart beat your son… It’s quite remarkable how someone the size of Filippo can be competitive in a race like the Giro where Jai, obviously also showcased his talents.
Talk to me about the time trial. I wrote, on the eve of that race, that it was more than likely that Tao would get in front of Jai. But did you hold out hope that he might have had a good time trial and hold onto the maglia rosa?
Gordon Hindley: “In my heart of hearts, yes. But I had a good idea that Jai was going to get beaten by Tao and for Jai to actually perform at the level he did – and lose only 39 seconds – I thought was a fantastic achievement for him.
“At the end of the day, he doesn’t carry that basic power that Tao carries, because he’s a bigger boy he has more power.
“But I’m sure, with time, Jai will improve his TT.
“Since he’s been with Sunweb, they have improved his time trial immensely.”
RIDE Media: Watching the way that he was pedalling – I mean he had the chain the middle of the cassette, and his cadence was super-high – it was obvious that he was lacking the power to achieve the kind of speed Tao was.
As an accredited coach, were you wishing that he dropped it down the cassette a little?
Gordon Hindley: “Well, without seeing the power data, I can’t be sure what he was putting out but, looking at his cadence, I definitely knew that he needed to have a bit more power.
“And I think, at the end of the day, he probably knew that himself.”
RIDE Media: It’s not a surprise and I’d hate you to think that I was trying to look at way where he could have held the jersey after the time trial. I think it was outstanding, what he did do. And I think that Australia did start paying attention to his efforts on the bike, especially once he took the lead in the Giro.
I’ve heard a lot of criticism about the coverage in WA. Do you feel disappointed by that or have you had some media attention beyond the cycling realm since Sunday?
Gordon Hindley: “The only coverage we had that offered any indication that anybody in the mainstream media was interested in the Giro was when we got a phone call just before the last stage from the ABC.
“They asked if they could do a segment and have a chat about Jai, about what his achievements are, and where he’s come from.
“I’m not sure why nobody picked up on it before, but we just said, ‘Yeah, you can do whatever you want…’
“That was the first indication that people were actually interested in WA.
“And the paper here, the West Australian, they didn’t even contact us to ask anything about Jai. For them, the AFL Grand Final was finished and that’s all they seemed to report on. Then, when they actually spoke to me, the guy who asked all the questions about Jai said to me, ‘Oh could you help me out, because I don’t really know anything about cycling…’
“I said, ‘Yeah mate, where do you want to start?’”RIDE Media: It was certainly an epic week for your family and I hope you could see in my reporting that it gave me a real buzz.
Gordon Hindley: “You come from the same school as me.
“When I was younger, I used to live for Eddy Merckx, you know what I mean?
“Eddy Merckx and Patrick Sercu… and those guys. I love it. There’s nothing like cycling.”
RIDE Media: I think, based on the interest that Jai garnered during his phenomenal week, that there are going to be a few seven-year-olds who are going to be looking to the bike and maybe straying from the rugby pitch, and maybe even stop kicking the AFL ball around and going for a pedal instead. Let’s hope anyway…
Gordon Hindley: “Yeah. And that’s one good thing about Perth, they have built the infrastructure to make it a great place to ride. This city has got some great cycleways.
“And, with the velodrome facility, hopefully the kids will start to look to cycling as a sport as much as possible.”
RIDE Media: I spoke to him on the rest day and he was very generous with his time, given all that was going on. And he’s as humble as can be and he’s actually quite difficult at times to interview because he’s quite a straightforward, no-fuss kind of guy. When you spoke with him during the Giro, was he emotional? Did his character change a little bit because of what was happening and the attention that he was suddenly receiving?
Gordon Hindley: “I honestly don’t think he changed.
“He’s been so focussed, and so determined to get where he’s got to now, that he was just taking it in his stride.
“When I spoke to him, he was effervescent about doing the time trial. And that is very unusual for Jai.”RIDE Media: I enjoy speaking with him. He does give some really good information. He’s very candid and it’s a pleasure to have made his acquaintance a few years ago. I look forward to seeing what’s yet to come. Have you spoken to him much since the time trial and was there a feeling of heartache? What was his mood like?
Gordon Hindley: “We actually had a quite long conversation last night.
“He’s still coming to terms with a lot of the things that have gone on in such a short space of time. But he said that, during the time trial, he gave it everything he had.
“He said that, the mistakes that he did make – like he said he knew he was spinning a lot, rather than pushing a gear – but you never know how the other guy is feeling at the time.”
RIDE Media: If you’re chatting with him again, please let him know that he’s acquired quite a cheer squad in recent weeks. There are a lot of people paying attention to his efforts on the bike.
Robyn Hindley: “He did express that he is very appreciative of all the support he’s had from people all around Australia. It’s something that he’s been overwhelmed by.
“I think he actually forgot how many people have been involved. I don’t think he’s forgetful, but he’s had hundreds of people sending messages and it’ll grow from here, for sure.
“Next time, he’ll be more aware for sure.
“He didn’t expect to be there, at the top of the classification in 2020 but we’re proud that he was.”
– Interview by Rob Arnold