It’s been a long time between drinks for Aussie cycling fans. Back in 2011, Cadel Evans became the first Australian to win the Tour de France. Fast forward a decade, Jai Hindley has become the first Australian to win the biggest race across the French-Italian border in the 2022 Giro d’Italia.
Hindley is now the second Aussie ever to win one of cycling’s Grand Tours, which are all three-week-long tours of Europe in the Tour de France (France, obviously), the Giro d’Italia (Italy) and the Vuelta a España (Spain). Going into the race, it was Richard Carapaz the Ecuadorian gold medallist from the Tokyo 2020 Olympics who was the favourite, but Hindley rode his race to perfection, winning Italy’s biggest race by 1 minute and 18 seconds.
While less than a minute and a half might sound like nothing, in the context of a 21-stage bike race that covers 3,445 kilometres and took Hindley 86 hours 31 minutes and 14 seconds to complete, it was the way the 26-year-old claimed his victory that was so impressive. Attacking on the penultimate stage of the race, Hindley claimed the pink leader’s jersey with just a single stage to go, where he was able to hold off Carapaz with relative ease.
Attacking on the second to last stage sounds like a pretty obvious strategy to win a bike race, but to be in the position to pull off such a raid on the lead of this year’s Giro took everything the young Aussie and his team had. The battle for the General Classification (overall winner) kicked off in earnest when Spanish Juan Pedro López took the lead at the end of Stage 3, holding it for ten stages till Carapaz overtook him at the end of Stage 13.
However, while López and Carapaz were duking it out for much of the final two weeks, Hindley was quietly biding his time, staying in close contact with the leaders of the race, but never launching an all-out attack himself. That was until stage 20 when Hindley took advantage of the hard work Carapaz had done to defend his leading position during the previous week, where six out of the seven stages were in the energy-sapping mountains.
Hindley attacked the final climb of the race, using a teammate to help him ride away from the other challengers for the overall victory and taking the lead of the race by a mighty 1 minute and 25 seconds, after beginning the day in second place just 2 seconds behind Carapaz. All he needed to do to secure the overall win on the 21st and final stage was avoid crashing his bike, which he was able to do, and he wrote his name into the history books in the process.
This win isn’t just significant in the history of Australian cycling, but also holds extra significance in Hindley’s career as he lost the 2020 edition of the Giro d’Italia after leading the race by 2 seconds with the final stage still to ride. On that occassion, Hindley wasn’t able to hold off a charging Tao Geoghegan Hart who when on to win by 39 seconds and left Hindley in second place.
It’s a great win for Hindley and for Aussie cycling, demonstrating that the next generation is competing fiercely on the world stage after Cadel’s famous victory more than a decade ago. If you’re keen, you can watch highlights of the final two stages below, with Stage 20 where the fireworks really start to fly.