Talent will get you so far, but determination and belief is what turns a natural gift into a victory. Jai Hindley has taught us all a lesson with his performance in the Giro d’Italia of 2022. The 26-year-old is the first Australian to win the Italian Grand Tour.
“This race opened my mind on what I can do as a pro cyclist,” said Jai Hindley in Verona on 29 May 2022, the day he became the champion of the Giro d’Italia. “I’ll save the moment for a long time.”
We can all learn a little from what Hindley has done over the last three weeks. He overcame the setback suffered in 2021 and arrived at the first Grand Tour of the season knowing that the last time he finished the race, back in the delayed edition of 2020, he was the second-best in the peloton.
He had a point to prove. When he finished second a couple of years ago it wasn’t a fluke. It wasn’t coincidence. It was because he’s a born racer who is made to climb mountains like few other riders in the world.
When you have talent, you can achieve amazing things. But the close call of the 2021 Giro paved the way for what happened in Verona overnight when he was crowned champion, the first Australian winner of the Italian Grand Tour.
“I was in the same situation as two years ago after the second last day,” he said about the 2020 race when he started the final stage in the maglia rosa, the pink jersey that denotes the leader of the race. Back then, he was only a fraction of a second ahead of his nearest rival, Tao Geoghegan Hart.
In 2020, both the champion of the Giro and the runner-up began the race as workers, but they finished it on the podium after a thrilling finale that served the winner well. It gave the Brit a sense of accomplishment that he would never have considered only a few weeks earlier when he started the Giro willing to forsake personal glory in favour of a team plan.
Similarly, Hindley’s second place was also a triumph, but it was difficult for the West Australian to realise at the time. He too had started that year’s Giro knowing there was another rider in the team who was meant to be the leader. Wilco Kelderman would also finish on the podium in 2020, third place behind the two younger riders. But the Dutchman was originally the leader of Hindley’s team… it just so happened that the Australian was stronger on the climbs and his status was elevated, because the mountains insisted on it.
It was upsetting to be so close and lose on the final day but the lessons of 2020 have ultimately served Hindley well.
He missed his chance to prove himself again in 2021. When he started the Giro in Turin last May, he was with a new team; together with Kelderman, he switched from Sunweb to Bora-Hansgrohe and from the outset they mapped out a plan to improve on their podium places of 2020 and win the title. It wouldn’t happen. Saddle sores and myriad other complaints forced the Australian out of the race before it reached the crucial days in the mountains where he’d built his reputation. With the Monte Zoncolan on the horizon at the end of stage 14 in 2021, Hindley could only watch on and wonder what might have been if he wasn’t hindered by pain.
The setback was frustrating but there was nothing that could be done about what became a lost season. Unable to perform at his peak, he focused on his recovery knowing that he would get another chance to prove himself.
He wouldn’t race much more in 2021 after abandoning the Giro. But that didn’t mean he was beaten; rather, it fuelled his motivation and offered a lesson in resilience. Patience, they say, is a virtue. There’s a wealth of other clichés that can be called upon in times of frustration and Hindley would have heard them all.
Family, friends and colleagues alike would have reminded Hindley that he would race again and, without the troubles he endured in 2021, he’d get a chance to show what he can do so well.
In May 2022 that chance arrived. But it wasn’t an ideal preparation again this year. He was on the start list for Liège-Bastogne-Liège at the end of April but illness stifled his preparation and Bora-Hansgrohe removed him as a precaution. The one-day Classic was only a fortnight before the main rendezvous of the season and it was meant to be a chance for Hindley to hone his form and switch into stage race mode. Instead, it cast doubt on his place on the roster for the Giro.
“He was always planned to do the Giro this year,” said the team’s PR rep, Ralph Scherzer at the end of April. “Normally he should be there but as he fell sick before Liège … so, I cannot confirm 100 percent at the moment.”
Selection was in doubt. Illness arrived at exactly the wrong time. And for a few days Hindley wondered if he would have to wait another year to get back to the Giro, to be leader, to climb mountains… to prove that his second place in 2021 wasn’t a coincidental result.
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The Grande Partnenza of the 105th Giro d’Italia in Budapest, Hungary now seems like eons ago. On the first Friday of May 2022, the race began. Hindley was there. He recovered from sickness and joined seven team mates from Bora-Hansgrohe in a peloton that included many others who were considered possible contenders for victory.
Hindley was well down the list in the pre-race hype. A runner-up before, sure… but what had he done since that result to make it seem as though he could challenge for the maglia rosa? He had suffered injury and frustration and could easily have been demoralised by the events in April when it looked like his fourth start in the Giro was in doubt.
Instead, he quietly went about his business, patiently waiting for the final week when he knew the mountains would serve him well.
In Hungary he was subdued: 28th on day one and 32nd in the 9.2km time trial on the first Saturday, 34 seconds behind the winner, Simon Yates, another former podium finisher who also had a point to prove. Stage wins are a consolation of sorts for GC riders like Yates; he’d win a couple more in 2022 but even he conceded that it wasn’t a big deal to win a stage when your sights are set on the becoming the champion.
Yates and a host of others would falter over the next three weeks. Meanwhile, Hindley continued quietly improving his position in the general classification.
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It was at Mount Etna in stage nine that Bora-Hansgrohe first showed signs that this year’s Giro d’Italia would be different for the team. Lennard Kämna climbed the volcano with intent. He reached the finish of stage four and celebrated a win… but another rider, Juan Pedro Lopez – the runner-up at Etna – would take the maglia rosa.
Kämna was a winner but not the leader… not of the race, and not of his team. He claimed a prestigious victory, but he knew that the team had other plans. Hindley was down the GC rankings in that opening week but he was the leader and later in the Giro he would become the focus of the German-registered team. Some may have questioned the choice but in stage nine, the Australian demonstrated why his team-mates would later sacrifice personal glory in favour of helping another.
Atop the Blockhaus, a brutal climb that hosted the finish of stage nine, Jai Hindley burst into prominence once more with a victory ahead of Romain Bardet, Richard Carapaz and Mikel Landa.
The GC men were now showing their form, and the best of them was the rider who turned 26 on the eve of the Giro. Hindley was a stage winner again and his confidence grew.
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Another 10 stages would follow before Hindley became the headline act. He moved into fifth place in the overall rankings with his stage win, but others would wear the pink jersey and hold the focus. Lopez, then Carapaz led the Giro… and Hindley bided his time while shadowing the Ecuadorian who had the support of the all-conquering Ineos Grenadiers, a team renowned for its ability to win Grand Tours.
Wherever Richard went, Jai was nearby. That’s how it was for much of the final stanza of the Giro. The Olympic champion as race leader, the 2020 runner-up on his wheel waiting for the chance to pounce and prove to himself that he could do it… and do it properly this time.
Stage 14 offered some hope. Yates would win that day after a stunning display to show that although hope for the overall win would fade, he could still claim a consolation prize.
The 14th stage, featuring the climbs around Turin, would set the scene for what was yet to come. Yates’ win was a talking point but the real discussion about GC was based around what Bora-Hansgrohe did that day.
Hindley was supported by a roster of stars who laid the foundations for what would become a team triumph. Kelderman, along with Kämna, Emanuel Buchman, Cesare Benedetti, Patrick Gamper and Ben Zwiehoff set a furious pace that eventually paved the way for the Australian to sprint for second place in Turin, and the time bonus that came with it.
This is when Carapaz took over as race leader from Lopez and Hindley muscled his way into second on GC. Just three seconds separated the two leaders. And for a week there was nothing to suggest that one was better than the other; the Ecuadorian and the Australian were locked together and, attack as they did, neither could drop the other no matter the terrain or the team tactics.
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The final Saturday of the Giro, however, changed all that. On the steepest part of the final climb on the final mountain stage, Hindley extinguished all doubt he may have harboured. He paced himself with patience. He waited for exactly the right moment. He rode towards the finish at Marmolada, up the brutal Passo Fedaia, monitoring Carapaz and waiting to see a moment of weakness that never seemed to come.
Up they went, onwards to the finish of stage 20, Carapaz and Hindley, together as they’d been for the previous week, with no sign of who was better. Up, up, up… they continued until those final kilometres when the gradient demanded action.
Watch the finale of stage 20. Witness the moment that an Australian became the champion of the Giro d’Italia. Look at Hindley’s conviction when he realised that Carapaz couldn’t follow. Enjoy the realisation that a one-time runner-up was about to win the maglia rosa. Savour the feeling of satisfaction that Hindley would have felt as he powered towards the line squeezing time out of his rival and racing into the lead of the Giro.
He was born to race up mountains. He was gifted the love of cycling from his father at an early age. He is a natural talent with an incredible physique that has allowed him to become a professional athlete, practicing the sport he’s become a fine ambassador for.
He knew he could win the Giro, even if others doubted him while they focussed on others.
Hindley would wear the maglia rosa for the final stage. He had done so before but this time he wasn’t going to concede. Winning the Giro was his destiny and it happened overnight in Verona. The time trial wasn’t to be his undoing; it was a 17.4km parade that allowed him to enjoy racing in a pink skinsuit while the eyes of the cycling world were upon him. And this time, he would be able to celebrate the end of the race as the champion.
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He’s raced two days of his life in the maglia rosa: on the final day of the Giro in 2020 and 2022, and this time Jai Hindley ended the stage with enough time to enjoy the reality that he’d done what he believed he could. He won the race. He is the champion. And he should be proud.
“Coming into the arena knowing that I’d won the Giro was pretty special,” he said late yesterday afternoon in Verona after finishing stage 21. “After 2020 when I so close to win and it was brutal to lose on last day, it took me a long time to get over that. I learned from previous Grand Tours that you pay for your efforts the next day.”
The efforts that have made him pay in the past are the ones that will serve him well as he rides into a future that will include a significant reference. From today onwards Jai Hindley has an extra tag that will be his forever: ‘The first Australian champion of the Giro d’Italia.’ Bravo!
– By Rob Arnold