Leo Hayter courts top teams after Baby Giro win

Londoner says he went into the race with few expectations of success

Leo Hayter wins at the Baby Giro
(Image credit: Courtesy of Hagens Berman Axeon)

Leo Hayter’s agent is in for a busy few weeks. After the 20-year-old Brit won the Baby Giro – one of the biggest under-23 races in the world alongside the Tour de l’Avenir – in dominant fashion, he is now being inundated with enquiries from the world’s top teams.

Hayter, younger brother of Ineos’s Ethan, won the race with a substantial margin of 2.21 but at one point had a lead of nearly six minutes after putting in a blistering performance in the mountains.

He told Cycling Weekly: “I haven’t got a contract yet. As you can probably imagine, I have options and with my agent we’re working through them, and we’ll see what’s best for me in the future.” Up to nine top teams have made enquiries about his services for 2023, CW understands.

Hayter’s performance at the U23 Giro came off the back of a challenging 18 months that included a period away from the sport to rediscover his motivation, and a split with his former team DSM. 

“This is the result that proves what I know I’ve always been able to do. I know the numbers I produce are really good and I know I’m capable of winning big things, but you always need a bit of luck and things to go your way. This year, they really haven’t. I’ve had Covid and then quite a few different small injuries and niggles and bike-fit problems, and I couldn’t really get going,” he told CW. 

Proof of ability

Hayter, who rides for the talent factory Hagens Berman Axeon squad we profiled in the 26 May issue of CW, said his favourite part of the week wasn’t actually wrapping up the GC but winning stage two – the first of a pair of stage victories – where he broke away from the pack and triumphed alone by 39 seconds. 

“That was really a shock and showed what I can do... It was good to prove it to myself and I’m also very pleased to be able to prove it to everyone else. You look at Twitter or forums and it’s not always nice to hear people call you inconsistent when you know you’re better than that,” he said.

He added: “I’m not sure if I hadn’t won on stage two that I would have done what I did on stage three because I don’t know if I would have had the confidence to go that hard.”

How the race was won

What he did on stage three was pretty much put the general classification to bed on the race’s queen stage. The day started with an hour-long ride uphill in the neutral section which he said “wasn’t easy”. “When we started it was hailing as we descended this Italian pass. From that point to the bottom of the Passo di Guspessa, which finishes over the top of the Mortirolo, it was full-on racing, on every climb there were attacks.”

On the Guspessa, pre-race favourite Lenny Martinez (Groupama-FDJ) attacked and went away. Hayter crested the climb alongside Lennert Van Eetvelt (Lotto-Soudal) and Romain Grégoire (Groupama-FDJ) in a chase group behind. Romain attacked on the descent and got away.

As the race reached the valley and the slow grind up to the line, Hayter and Van Eetvelt agreed to work together to reel in the two escapees. As they caught Grégoire, he sat up. “As soon as he wasn’t looking, I just went,” recalls Hayter. “I kind of assumed that Lennert would follow me and he didn’t. I looked behind me and suddenly I was like, ‘S**t, I’m on my own here.’”

On the 4% gradient, 15km run to the finish Martinez suffered a hunger flat and Hayter caught him quickly and dropped him instantly. “From then I had to set a pace I knew I was comfortable with the whole way up. It was kind of unbelievable the way the gap was going out, I really didn’t expect it… Every time the [timing] board came up, I was getting 20 seconds more each time,” said Hayter.

“I had cramps after the line and I was in pain. But by the time I’d gone to the podium, they hadn’t even come back.”

His lead allowed him to play the rest of the race tactically, allowing others further down the classification to chase to protect their own positions. But it still wasn’t all smooth sailing. “I have to say a big thanks to my team-mates, because actually, by the end of the week, everyone was sick, really sick. I was the only one without some kind of sickness. But they all pushed themselves every day – it was quite inspiring.”

Hayter will now very likely be talked up as one of the next big talents for the GC in the world’s top races but he said the pressure was unlikely to have a negative effect. “Any pressure I have is from myself and onto myself,” he said confidently.

The Londoner is next in action at the National Championships where he’s signed up to race the U23 TT and the elite road race. Beyond that, he hopes to be selected for the Tour de l’Avenir later in the summer, where he would start as a favourite.

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