One thing leads to another, and in Jai Hindley’s case, when the Giro d’Italia winner was asked on Tuesday if he thought one day he could win the Tour de France, his answer was unhesitating. “For sure, why not?” he said.
“Never say never. That would be the ultimate dream. I’m definitely not going to say it’s not possible.”
So, less than 48 hours have passed since Hindley took the final final pink jersey in the Giro d’Italia and talk of new, bigger goals is already kicking in. But if the Tour is part of his longer-term plan, Hindley knows that it’ll be a step-by-step process and one that won’t be happening in 2022.
Rather, this year he’ll likely be doing the Vuelta a España and hopefully the World Championships. After that, as the Bora-Hansgrohe racer told journalists on Tuesday in a virtual press conference, he’d like to make his Tour debut, perhaps in 2023.
“I’ve been a pro for five years now and that would be a huge step. Not necessarily GC but just to do it, that would be awesome,” he reflected. “Maybe next year.”
It’s very much in keeping with those Tour dreams that, as Hindley revealed on Tuesday, the first ever Grand Tour the 26-year-old saw ‘live’ was in 2011 in France. That was when a certain Cadel Evans happened to be en route to Australia’s first ever victory in the Large Loop.
“It was the first time I ever came to Europe to race, too,” he added. “I was mostly in Belgium but we went to watch a few mountain stages of the Tour. I was on the side of the road with my family and friends and when you watch it in person, it’s really crazy.
“It turned out that it was the year that Cadel would win. To know I was there is pretty cool. Actually I was in Belgium when he did the final TT [in Grenoble-Ed.] on the second last day and when I knew going to win it, it was a huge moment for Australian cycling. For sure I’ll never forget watching that. “
Hindley has now joined Evans as Australia’s only two Grand Tour winners. “That’s also phenomenal, when you put it like that,” he said. “Cadel is a household name, I think if you asked the average person on the street who knew nothing about cycling if they knew Cadel Evans, they’d probably say yes.
“He’s one of the most important and influential Australian cyclists ever so for me to win a Grand Tour as well as it’s huge. It’s very, very special.”
‘Imagine not seeing your parents for two and a half years’
Hindley admits that since winning it’s been a whirlwind of interviews and media events, but he’s trying to keep his feet on the ground and sticking to what he planned beforehand, too.
First up for the Giro winner is an already-planned holiday in Italy, although he also says meeting his parents again in Verona this weekend after a two-and-a-half year enforced gap due to COVID restrictions was “very special”. That was particularly the case, too, given how hard it had been for Hindley last season when pretty much everything race-wise went wrong.
“That was really the icing on the cake. The team actually organized to fly my parents out and it was quite last minute. I had arranged for them to come on holiday in mid-June and normally I wouldn’t have been seeing them til then. But of course I couldn’t say no and that was an incredible gesture from the team and sponsors.
“Imagine not seeing your parents for two and a half years, it’s ridiculous, crazy. Last year was really tough, a rollercoaster season, too, and when you’re going through the shit and can’t physically see your parents, it’s really brutal.
“But they kept supporting me, they’re my number one fans. So to have them at the finish was truly what dreams are made of. They’re on their way back to Australia already, Mum has to go back to work. But it was one of the best days ever, I’d say. “
Hindley also underlined his thanks for support from his Midland club, as well as all his fans in Australia, telling the young riders in the club that they should “dream big – it is possible”. He was asked, too, about what success for himself and last year in the Tour for another rider from his hometown of Perth in Western Australia, Ben O’Connor (AG2R-Citröen), meant for Australian cycling in general.
“For sure cycling is not the biggest sport in Australia, but it’s definitely getting bigger and bigger. And I remember first riding with Ben, you normally start as a young teenager but he came a few years later, and I remember seeing from day one he could be really strong and had a big engine.
“It’s super nice to watch a guy from the same city as you perform on the big stage, and we actually have quite a lot of guys out there. If you look at the current number of Aussie pros, it’s probably the most there’s ever been. .
“So keep an eye out for the Aussies – it’s extraordinary there are so many Aussie pros, for sure some big things are happening.”
Taking on the Giro – and Ineos Grenadiers
As for the race itself, both for Australia and for Bora-Hansgrohe, this is their first Giro victory, but to ensure that happened, Hindley pointed out, the team had worked very cohesively from the start and even beforehand when it came to team- building.
The stage to Turin, where Bora-Hansgrohe took the race to Ineos Grenadiers and again to the Fedaia, where Lennard Kamna dropped back to give Hindley a crucial foundation for his final attack, were probably two of the most high-profile moments when a teammate intervened in his favor. But there were many others.
While other teams have not succeeded in handling ‘tridents’ of GC leaders well in recent years, Hindley said that starting the race with three leaders – himself, Emanuel Buchmann and Wilco Kelderman – had been nothing but positive for him personally. That was because communication between the three had worked out well from the start and support from the other two as his leadership chances grew steadily had been 100 percent.
“It’s not always the easiest thing to manage but I think the team managed it quite well. It’s very dependent on how the guys are, too, with no big egos and being great teammates,” Hindley said.
“For example, when Wilco had a mechanical and lost his chances on GC, of course he was devastated, but for the rest of the race he was super motivated to help me, and everybody saw that on the Tirreno stage. [stage 10 to Jesi – Ed.]. He and Emu ‘ [Buchmann] were on fire.
“If a guy who’s been on a Grand Tour podium [like Kelderman – Ed] is riding as a domestique for you, you don’t get that happening so often. They are great teammates. “
Overall, Hindley said, the Bora-Hansgrohe line-up was on point from the first day to the last, and, despite taking on a team like Ineos Grenadiers which had won the Giro for three times in the last four years, the German squad never felt like underdogs.
“Some days we really made the race,” he argued. “We were confident and knew we had a strong squad.”
The one truly bad moment, as has been pointed out before, came when Hindley had his late puncture and wheel change in the third week and initially thought he could lose the race. But even though he had passed the 3km-to-go banner by that point so there was no time loss, that potential moment of crisis was also the point when the stress levels started to ramp up as Hindley realized just how close he was to taking pink, and how easy it would be for everything to unravel.
“That was the only really crazy day. Apart from that, everything was under control and we rode a really calculated race,” he said.
“I only really made big moves when it was crucial and there was no plan to leave it all to the last day in the mountains [to go for the lead] but it worked out like that, with some pretty awesome teamwork to set it up.
“The team hadn’t reconned that stage, though a few of the guys knew it. But I looked at the profile in depth and I knew the last five kilometers would be brutal. So I held back and held back and then made the move. . “
But Hindley’s win is not just about Australia, of course. For Bora-Hansgrohe, too, the step up has been a huge one and, as Hindley says, the transformation of the team from a more Classics-focused squad to one that can take on Grand Tour challenges doesn’t happen overnight. But the gamble has paid off, and from the get-go.
“It’s massive for them, a big risk, and it was a lot of pressure and stress to prove we can be a GC team,” he concluded. “But we proved it, and we’re definitely a team to watch in the future.”