Jai Hindley is on holiday somewhere in Italy. He won't tell the 15 journalists who have come to his virtual press conference where, just in case we all decide to mob him on his trip. Taking half an hour out to chat to the media from around the world is exactly what he needed to relax, for sure.
"I booked a bit of a holiday around Italy," he explained. "I wanted to keep the party going. I had all this planned before this race, but I’m just in Italy with my girlfriend. I'm enjoying the time. It’s a beautiful country. I really love it, and it’s nice to still be here."
It's a well-deserved holiday, considering the 26-year-old has just won the Giro d'Italia, the first Australian to do so, the second to ever win a Grand Tour. This is his Bora-Hansgrohe team's first Grand Tour victory as well, just months into their reinvention as a general classification-targeting team.
48 hours on from his historic victory, it has not really sunk in yet. Nor should it, considering Hindley is just the 12th active rider to have a Grand Tour win - the Tour de France, the Vuelta a España, or the Giro - to his name.
"Actually, the moment I crossed the line, didn't really have time to do anything," he said. "I didn't really have time to think or breathe, do anything. It was just like full gas interviews, and then the presentation and then we had a big party afterwards, which was also super nice.
"The highlight for me, ok obviously, like winning the race was huge, but was to have my parents and my girlfriend there. My parents, especially when I hadn't seen for such a long time, that was like really special. It hasn't really sunk in yet, but I think it will in the next few weeks or so. It still feels like a dream."
His parents had been flown over by Bora-Hansgrohe to see their son do something no Australian had ever done before. The 20 plus hours of flying were probably worth it to see the man from Perth in the maglia rosa on the podium in Verona, but it was a mammoth trip.
It showed the commitment Bora have to their new signing, as there was no guarantee Hindley would be on the podium, let alone win the whole thing. They clearly thought the young man would deserve it, whatever happened.
"It was the icing on the cake," Hindley said. "It was quite last minute. They were going to come on a bit of a holiday in the middle of June. When the team asked me if I wanted them to come out for the final, I couldn’t say no. That was an incredible gesture of the team and the sponsors.
"Imagine not seeing your parents for two and a half years, it’s ridiculous. Especially last year with such a rollercoaster of a season, it’s so taught. When you’re going through the shit, you can’t physically see your parents, it’s really brutal. They kept supporting me, and actually they are my number one fans."
"To have them at the finish was truly what dreams are made of," he continued. "They’re actually on their way back to Oz now, because my mum has to go back to work, but it was one of the best days ever."
After finishing second at the 2020 pandemic-delayed Giro, Hindley endured a difficult 2021. He failed to finish the Volta a Catalunya, the Tour of the Alps, and the Giro, and had to deal with a painful saddle sore which affected his whole season.
Fortunately for him, Bora still saw him as part of their plans, and as part of their general classification revolution. Since joining the WorldTour in 2017, the German squad had largely been focused on the Classics and one-day races through riders like Peter Sagan.
With his departure, they had to change. They got Hindley in from Team DSM, joining Wilco Kelderman, who had done the same thing the year before. Aleksandr Vlasov was signed from Astana, and Sergio Higuita made the leap from EF Education, all GC options in themselves. Hindley has jumped to the top of the pile with his Giro victory, though.
"It’s pretty massive for the team," he explained. "For sure they’ve made some big changes and big investments by signing some GC riders. They're trying to change the team by signing some big GC guys. Stepping away from all this, like Classics, or one-day type of team, which they were for quite a few years, and they really had figured out.
"That’s a big risk, and it does take a lot of time and effort to transform the team into a GC team. It’s not an overnight thing. There was a lot of pressure and stress within the team management to prove to the sponsors that they could be a GC team. I was really happy to win the Giro and to, you know, prove to the team that we can be a GC team. We’re definitely going to be a team to watch in the future."
Bora might be a GC team to watch now, but Hindley is a GC rider to watch as well. He proved his tenacity over the three weeks, along with his climbing ability. He bested formed Grand Tour winners like Richard Carapaz and Vincenzo Nibali, beat established GC names like Mikel Landa, and outlasted other talents like João Almeida and Romain Bardet.
"It’s a funny one, Grand Tour racing, you can feel really good one day and then really bad the next," he said. "Especially the third week, cos it’s such a strain on the body. In my previous experiences I feel I come into my own, and feel the best in the third week. It feels nice that that’s my strength, it gives me a lot of confidence. That I can ride consistently in the third week.
"I was feeling pretty nervous when I was going into the stage [the penultimate one, where he clinched the pink jersey] because you either had it or you didn’t. I was super nervous and not feeling super great, because it was stage 20, and you’ve been racing your bike for almost three weeks up to that point. Everyone is on their limit.
"When it gets to that point of the race it’s almost more mentally than physically challenging," he continued. "Mentally, I was ready to fight, and it paid off. To prepare for that last stage, I wouldn't say we did anything specific. The team also I don't think reconned that stage, we had a few guys who knew the final climb.
"I looked at the profile pretty closely, quite in depth. I knew the last five K was going to be brutal. So I really just held back and held back until then, and then made the move."
There were moments of worry in the final week, even if it looked like Hindley and Bora-Hansgrohe had it under control.
"The stage where I punctured in the last kilometres [stage 18], that was very stressful," he said. "From that point on the whole race became stressful for me. In the last Ks of the stage, I had a feeling like I could lose the whole race because of the puncture. Then when I started to realise how close I was to the lead then the stress levels started to rise.
"That was the only real crazy day, other than that we had everything under control. It was a calculated race. We used our energy pretty efficiently. We only made big moves when it was going to be a crucial part of the race, and didn’t waste energy in unnecessary parts. It wasn’t a plan to leave it all to the last day, but it ended up like that. It was pretty awesome teamwork to leave it until then."
Despite being relatively fresh at GC riding, both Hindley and his team were mature and professional beyond their years in waiting patiently for their opportunity in the Giro. Ineos Grenadiers looked like the team in control at points, but they were also the ones with most to lose, and lose they did.
"The team morale throughout the whole race was incredible," Hindley explained. "I haven’t really experienced such a good atmosphere in a long time. IT was really cool to be a part of that, everyone was on point from day one to the last stage. I never really had the feeling we were the underdog, I think the team rode a really good race. I didn’t feel intimidated at all by any other teams, I was really confident with our team. I knew we had a really strong lineup, and the guys were phenomenal. "
This could be a watershed moment for Australian cycling. Their first ever Giro win, their second since Cadel Evans won the Tour in 2011, and Hindley is only 26. He has time to go on and win a lot more.
In fact, this is a bit of a golden age of GC riders from the other side of the world, with Ben O'Connor (AG2R Citroën), Jack Haig (Bahrain-Victorious), and Michael Storer (Groupama FDJ) all performing well in the last year, and possibly all riding the Tour in July. Meanwhile, there are other emerging talents like Luke Plapp (Ineos Grenadiers) and Lucas Hamilton (Team BikeExchange-Jayco), who are still on their way up.
"Cycling isn’t the biggest sport in Australia, but it’s getting bigger and bigger," Hindley said. "I remember riding with Ben when he first started [the AG2R rider is also from Perth, as is Storer]. He actually started pretty late, he came a few years later than most people I remember riding. You could see that this guy was going to be super strong. To watch him performing as he did at the Tour last year it was super cool.
"It’s really incredible, and we have quite a lot of talented young guys coming through from Australia. When you look at how many Aussie WorldTour pros there are, it’s probably the most there has ever been, These guys are really talented. Definitely keep an eye out for the Aussies."
Cycling might be behind cricket, Aussie rules, rugby league, rugby union, soccer, tennis, basketball, and more in Australia, but it's a sport mad country. There is enough space for bike racing to thrive and breathe.
New South Wales will be hosting the road World Championships in September, a landmark event for the country. It's a race the Giro winner wants to take part in, if he gets selected. A Grand Tour champion on home roads will be special.
Hindley has certainly felt the support of the country, and will be elevated to a hero there. If he keeps winning, his fame will only go one way.
"I’ve received quite a lot of messages and support," he said. "It was pretty overwhelming. I had it pretty similar two years ago when I was second, and it’s really incredible. Everyone is super happy, and super positive. It feels like I have the full support of the nation, it’s a really incredible feeling...
"To all the young kids, especially at Midland Cycle Club, I started there and had big dreams, and it is possible. If you do all the hard work, and you know you want it, it is possible. To all the kids, dream big."
Asked what it's like to be thought of in the same breath as Cadel Evans, Hindley said it is "phenomenal".
"When you put it like that, Cadel is probably a household name in Australia. If you ask just the average person if they knew Cadel they would probably say yeah. He’s probably one of the most important and most influential Australian cyclists ever. It’s huge, and very, very special."
He wants to ride the Tour, possibly next year. It's the one Grand Tour he hasn't tackle yet, so it is on the plans.
Asked if he could win that, the biggest race in the world, he said: "For sure, why not. Never say never. That would be the ultimate dream, but I’m definitely not going to say it’s not possible."
Jai Hindley is a Grand Tour champion, even if that might not have sunk in for him yet. He is here to stay.
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