Jai's big cycling dreams for Australia

Ian Chadband
·4-min read

Jai Hindley has been lounging on his couch for the past week, he hasn't thought about going anywhere near his racing bike and, frankly, no-one can say Australia's newest cycling luminary hasn't deserved the break.

Yet even as he relaxes with his girlfriend Abby at his Spanish base in Girona, the man from Perth can be forgiven a spot of idle daydreaming about the day he came just 39 seconds shy of winning one of the world's great races, the Giro d'Italia, after three weeks and 3,350km of brutal slog.

It all came down to one final time trial in Milan last Sunday. Him in the leader's pink jersey against the clock. And him against a British friend who lives round the corner in Girona, Tao Geoghegan Hart, as the pair entered a unique duel locked on exactly the same time.

"A pretty insane day," Hindley reflects with a wistful smile.

"To be dressed head-to-toe in pink and rolling down that start ramp with every man and his dog on the side of the road, yelling your name, and then finishing alongside the Duomo. To be there was, well, just like dream material."

A week on, he admits it's hard to take in that a tour, which began with him as "shadow" leader for his German-based Team Sunweb ended with him taking over the reins, surprising not just himself but the whole cycling world.

Alas, Hindley could not quite write the 'happily ever after' line as Geoghegan Hart's time-trialling nous prevailed but he hopes his greatest chapter is still to be penned.

"I think the next Aussie grand tour winner could be around the corner," says the 24-year-old, who has followed evergreen Richie Porte, third at the Tour de France, onto a grand tour podium this European summer.

"There's a massive group of Aussie talent racing on the pro tour and some really good riders out there, like (Giro stage winner) Ben O'Connor.

"Look at the number of our guys in the Vuelta at the moment (11 in all), it's the most I've ever seen."

Yes, but could Hindley himself be the pick of that crop?

"I don't know, we'll just have to wait and see," he says with a broad grin.

"But I'd love to be chasing grand tours. It's something I always wanted to do. That's what I'm going to focus on from here on in."

Hindley has entered rarefied territory. Apart from Cadel Evans' 2011 Tour de France triumph, no Australian in 117 years had ever come as close to winning a Grand Tour.

And even if there were those ready to sniff that the 2020 Giro was devalued because big names crashed out, Hindley's not fussed.

"Fair comments, to be honest, but at the end of the day, it was still incredibly hard racing and I did some my best power numbers ever at this race," he said.

"And not just one day, every day."

Britain's former Tour winner Sir Bradley Wiggins says Hindley will challenge for a decade, while Australia's cycling luminaries like Evans, Porte and Simon Gerrans all showered him with congratulations.

"When you've got these guys who you aspired to be like, guys who have helped paved the way for Australian cycling and they're messaging you, giving you encouragement and saying they've been watching you race, it's like 'whoa, it's really, really cool'," he says.

"The support of everyone is fantastic."

He felt it from a distant nation. One reason he thinks Australian cyclists fare so well in Europe now is because "it shows real dedication because you really have to pack up your bags and move over here and commit".

Sometimes, it can be a lonely life but it's only at times like the final week on the Giro, when he began to hear that the likes of his old mates at the Midland Cycling Club were staying up all night to watch him that Hindley felt quite humbled.

He knew there would have been hearts in mouths too, especially when he came close to tumbling off his bike at the top of the iconic Stelvio climb while indulging in a Keystone Cops attempt to put his jacket on.

"I thought I'd be able to slide through, without you asking about that. Oh man, it was so embarrassing!" he protests.

"For me, though, everything did just click and come together at this Giro, and it was incredible. But I think there's a lot of of other Aussie guys out there in a similar boat.

"So you never know who it's going to be but whoever it is, they're going to be well supported by Australia. Just like I felt at the Giro.

"And that was pretty special, just like the full nation was behind me. An incredible feeling."

And one he's determined to experience once again.