Australia is a sport mad country. Just think of the reaction to the death of Shane Warne earlier this year, or the position it always has on the Olympics medal table, despite having not that big a population.
Jai Hindley is the latest Australian into its pantheon of great sports people, now he has become the first to win the Giro d'Italia, only the second to win a Grand Tour after Cadel Evans. He follows fellow men from Perth like Daniel Ricciardo, Justin Langer and Rod Marsh into legend. At just 26, this will surely not be the last time we hear from the Western Australian either.
As "Advance Australia Fair" echoed around Verona's Arena, built in 30 AD and therefore probably older than any structure in the Antipodes, the wave of emotion that greeted Jai Hindley was clear. His parents were in the Roman amphitheatre to greet him, reportedly the first time they had seen each other in two and a half years thanks to the pandemic, so they picked the right time.
He is personable, wears his elation and disappointment clearly, and was also a deserving winner of the 2022 race. Unlike 19 months ago, when he was on the podium again, he was on the top step. That time around the maglia rosa slipped out of his hands on the final day, but this time he had a firm grasp of the lead, and held on for a comprehensive victory.
"It’s a beautiful feeling really," Hindley explained after the stage, where he finished 15th, an incredible result in itself. "There were a lot of emotions out there today. I had in the back of my mind what happened in 2020 and I wasn’t going to let that happen again to be honest. To take the win is really incredible."
Bora-Hansgrohe came into the Giro with three leaders, in Hindley, Wilco Kelderman and Emanuel Buchmann, but it was the first of these that impressed throughout, both in being able to hang on, and then pouncing when he had the chance.
The German team have refocused on general classification riding at Grand Tours, now that they have moved on from the Peter Sagan-era, and their decision seems to have paid off. In the three above, and Aleksandr Vlasov and Sergio Higuita, they have a great core of mostly young riders that can challenge at the biggest races in the years to come. With his Grand Tour win, Bora's first, Hindley has put himself firmly at the top of that list.
Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) was for many people the outstanding favourite for the race, and only continued to build this reputation over the three weeks. However, when it matter, he cracked, giving up over a minute to his GC rival on the penultimate day.
His lead was such that he almost had the ability to relax a bit in the final time trial, not that he did, although he did not go all out on the descent of the only climb, to ensure he stayed upright. In fact, it was one of the best time trials of his career.
"I was getting updates and I also felt pretty good on the bike, I didn’t really feel like I was fighting it," Hindley explained. "It felt pretty good. I was receiving the time checks and I knew it was a decent ride, so in the end I really wanted to take the descent pretty cautiously, and then I just gave it everything to the line. It’s just an incredible feeling honestly."
There is now a 12th active rider who has won a Grand Tour, and we seem to be in an era where, apart from the Tadej Pogačar-dominated Tour de France, and the Primož Roglič-dominated Vuelta a España, there is a whole new cadre of GC riders coming through.
On the final rest day, Hindley had said that he was at the Giro to win, which raised some eyebrows, but he fully backed this up.
"Yeah, for sure. 100%," he said last week. "Like, I'm not here to put socks on a centipede. We're here to win the race. Why not? I wouldn't be here if I didn't think the team could win. We're all in, we're all in to try and win the race."
On Sunday, he proved that he can win Grand Tours, and in some style. The Australian can now rest, happy that he has completed the biggest achievement of his career to date.
"It’s really incredible man," Hindley concluded. I’m really proud to be Australian, and happy to take this one home."
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