fFor over a decade, Cadel Evans has stood in the Australian cycling pantheon as the only Australian to have won a major cycling tour. With a history dating back to the early 1900s, out of a total of 288 editions of the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España, only once has an Australian finished on a Grand Tour podium at the end of 21 grueling stages .
No longer. On Sunday in Verona, Hindley matched Evans’ historic 2010 Tour de France triumph with Giro d’Italia glory. The 26-year-old from Perth, who says becoming a professional cyclist was everything he ever dreamed of, became just the second Australian to win the overall classification at a Grand Tour.
It’s a true elite sporting achievement – comparable to winning a tennis grand slam or a handful of Olympic gold medals. Whatever Hindley achieved in his career, he will always be remembered as the first Australian to win the Giro and the first to follow in Evans’ meaningful footsteps.
“It’s a really big achievement – it’s hard to believe that an Australian has finally won this race,” said SBS cycling commentator Matt Keenan just hours after the race was announced. “It is a privilege to be able to name a significant moment in Australian sporting history.”
Hindley’s triumph is all the more remarkable given the worrying sense of deja vu that had accompanied his battle for the leader’s pink jersey. Two years ago, the West Australian announced himself to the world with second overall at the Giro, a shock result for a rider who was relatively unknown. But that success, the best Giro result by an Australian to date, was tinged with disappointment after Hindley won the icon maglia pink on the penultimate stage, only to lose it to Britain’s Tao Geoghegan Hart on the final day.
There were striking similarities for Hindley this month. An impressive stage win on a big day in the mountains (stage 9 this year, stage 18 in 2020). A slow but steady rise in the rankings, aided by remarkable endurance on strenuous climbs. Good luck with other contenders dropping out for general classification. And an individual time trial on the final day, which has loomed over the peloton for the past few weeks, with the knowledge that the lead could be decided by racing against the clock.
In 2020, Hindley entered the time trial on time with Geoghegan Hart. He lost 39 seconds and the pink jersey on the 16 km circuit in Milan. But history did not repeat itself on Sunday. Hindley took the overall lead again on Saturday’s penultimate stage, dropping rival Richard Carapaz in the final kilometers of the climb up Passo Fedaia. However, with Hindley decisively overcoming Carapaz’s previous lead of three seconds and then some, Hindley went into the final day with an 85 second lead.
It would prove insurmountable. On Sunday afternoon in northern Italy, while family and friends watched at home in the early hours of Monday morning Australian time, Hindley banished the demons of 2020 to secure Giro glory. Before the race, the Australian gave a hint that he had been working on his time trial and that hard work was showing. His 15th stage result, where he lost just seven seconds to Carapaz, meant a repeat of 2020 was never an issue. Given the crucial role that time trials play in Grand Tour events, the performance also hinted at further successes.
“He showed that potential at the Giro a couple of years ago,” Matt White, sporting director of Australian team BikeExchange Jayco, told cycling show The Detour on Sunday. Hindley started his professional career in 2017 in White’s development team before joining Dutch team Sunweb and German company Bora-Hansgrohe in January. “Coming in and delivering this year is very impressive,” White said. “Today is a big, big day for cycling in Australia.”
Keenan predicted a bright future for the newly crowned Giro champion. “He’s now one of the crème de la crème when it comes to three weeks of bike racing,” said the commentator. “He’s only 26…Cadel Evans didn’t win the Tour de France until he was 34.”
Hindley has never ridden the Tour and has focused his energies on the Giro for the last four years. With the pink jersey secured, his focus could shift to the most iconic of the Grand Tours, first among equals. “We definitely haven’t seen the best of Jai Hindley,” Keenan said.
Sunday was a fitting day for Hindley to write his name in cycling history. Exactly two decades ago, on May 29, 2002, Evans became the first Australian to briefly wear the pink jersey for just one stage. It was Evans’ first Grand Tour and an indication of a glittering career, culminating in the Tour de France yellow jersey. Twenty years to the day later and just a few hours south of Evan’s early success, Hindley finished what the Australian cycling legend started.
Finally an Australian has won the Giro d’Italia. Evans now has company in the Australian Cycling Hall of Fame.