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For Jai Hindley, things must feel eerily familiar.
Of course, this Giro d’Italia is taking place in its regular spot in May instead of October as in 2020, where on the second rest day he also sat nestled in the podium spots, albeit nearly three minutes down on race leader João Almeida.
What transpired was a cacophonous third week of racing. Wilco Kelderman’s rain jacket struggles defined a crumbling GC challenge as he eventually fell away after Almeida had, the Dutchman’s Australian understudy instead taking the maglia rosa into the last day of the race.
Hindley barely got to wear it. Only on the podium of that stage 20 before trading it for a pink skinsuit for the final time trial that saw Tao Geoghegan Hart usurp him at the last.
But now, heading into the final week once more of an Italian Grand Tour, he sits seven seconds behind Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) as the Ecuadorian’s closest challenger, and the 26-year-old expects the challenges to come as soon as tomorrow’s Mortirolo stage.
“Tomorrow, I think, is going to be epic,” Hindley said in his rest-day press conference. “Like, straight out of the gates it’s going to be epic. After the rest day, guys always have mixed feelings and I think tomorrow honestly we could see some big things happening in terms of guys losing or gaining time. I think tomorrow will be a pretty important day and I’m really keen to be up at the pointy end.”
Is he keen to try and don pink once more?
“It would be super nice to be back in the pink jersey after only wearing it for a day in 2020, it was bittersweet. I also had a pretty rough season in 2021. For sure the pink jersey is a huge motivation. It would be very nice to wear it again.”
Hindley says he could talk all day about his terrible 2021, suffering numerous setbacks and problems that saw him never really gain the form necessary to be competitive.
He decided he needed a fresh start with a new team after four years at DSM, although says there wasn’t anything wrong with his old squad and it was the perfect place to turn pro, giving him opportunities he wouldn’t have had with other employers. But ultimately he needed more and opted to “hit the reset button” with Bora-Hansgrohe, following his old teammate Kelderman to the German squad.
“I wanted to prove to myself I was capable of riding at that level,” Hindley says of following up second place at the 2020 Giro with a disappointing 2021. “And that it wasn’t a fluke like people on social media think.”
A rare moment of bite from the upbeat Australian, quick to smile and always speaking with turns of phrase indicative of his nationality.
“Yeah for sure. 100%,” Hindley began when we finally got around to the question of whether or not he thinks he can win this Giro d’Italia. “Like, we’re not here to put socks on centipedes. We’re here to win the race. So yeah, why not? I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think the team could win so we’re all here to try and win the race.”
Winning the Giro is something Bora-Hansgrohe have been planning for a while. At Milano-Torino earlier in the year, the team unusually brought some climbers to the race predominantly for sprinters. The plan soon became clear. The next day Kelderman accompanied sports director Enrico Gasparotto for a recon of the Turin stage. Gasparotto thought it could be a key stage and wanted a closer look. His instincts proved right as Bora-Hansgrohe took the race to the rest of the peloton on stage 14, moving Hindley up to his current resting place of second place overall.
Alongside Hindley, Bora-Hansgrohe also has Emanuel Buchmann in seventh overall, two minutes adrift, and Kelderman in 13th, a further eight and a half minutes down. The latter suffered a mechanical on Blockhaus (the tough mountain stage won by Hindley) and lost a lot of time, but didn’t come back to the bus sulking. For Hindley, it would be nicer to have all three of them available as tactical pawns, but Kelderman’s lack of insolence after his own personal setback typifies the team’s strength and unity, a journey that began in Austria back in October, where the squad “cut loose and got on the beers”, basking in the afterglow of the off-season.
“Sorry, Jai,” a reporter from the press room interjects. “What was that you said about not being here to put socks on?”
“Not here to put socks on centipedes mate,” Hindley replies with his Australian twang. “It means we’re not here to play around, to put it like that.”
Luckily, his main rival Richard Carapaz only has two legs with which to turn the pedals. But with the memory of 2020, Hindley is ready to fight every bike length of the way once more.
“Hopefully I can do a better time trial there this year. It will be down to the line for sure,” he promises. “Every second counts.”