Patience can be a virtue, but Jai Hindley had no tomorrow by the time he reached the upper reaches of the Passo Fedaia. For the final week of the Giro d’Italia, the Australian had set up a base camp with just a time bonus under Richard Carapaz in the overall standings. The final assault on the summit could not wait any longer.
Racing for 3,400km, from Budapest to Sicily and all the way to the Alps, had failed to separate Hindley and Carapaz in a Giro that was long on thrills but curiously short on excitement. That all changed completely in the space of 3.4 km of mountain road high in the Dolomites on stage 20, when Hindley finally shook off Carapaz to take possession of the pink sweater†
Born at 2,900 meters above sea level, Carapaz would thrive at this high altitude, and his Ineos team was still pushing the issue on the Fedaia at the start of the never-ending straight past Malga Ciapela. However, with 3.4km to go, Hindley started pushing and felt something give. His teammate Lennard Kämna, who fell back from the early break, added to the momentum. At 2.8 km from the top, Carapaz’s resistance was broken.
After Kämna waved off, Hindley continued alone. Pretty much tied to Carapaz since the race left Hungary, the 26-year-old now had the freedom of the mountainside. Ten meters quickly became a hundred. An opening quickly turned into an escape. He came home sixth on the podium, but 1:28 on a struggling Carapaz. The pink jersey belonged to Hindley, and probably the Giro too.
“Today was a pretty crucial day, with the last climb so tough, and I knew if I wanted to do anything in the race it would have to be today, no matter how the legs felt,” Hindley said as he took a seat in the truck of the press conference. “I gave it my all and when I heard that Carapaz was struggling a bit, that was the only motivation I needed to go full throttle to the line.”
By Friday afternoon, Bora-Hansgrohe had laid the groundwork at Kolovrat, but Hindley opted for a major offensive on the final climb of Santuario di Castelmonte, arguing the terrain was too mild. He instead waited for stage 20, which took the race over the Passo Pordoi and then the Passo Fedaia, the Giro’s answer to the death zone of mountaineering.
“The way cycling is now, it is very calculated. You have to keep your bullets at the right time,” Hindley said. “Yesterday we tried to shake things up a bit, but I don’t think it was a good day for it. I knew today was because of the final climb. I knew if you had the legs there, you could make a difference. And even if I didn’t have the legs, I’d try something today.”
Kämna’s assistance on the upper part of the Fedaia seemed to both encourage Hindley and demoralize Carapaz, though his presence at that critical moment was the result of providence rather than planning. The German was initially not recommended to infiltrate in the early half, but the team soon saw the advantages of the situation.
“You can’t make that up, it ran like a Swiss watch,” Hindley smiled. “I didn’t say anything to Lenny because I was completely on the limit. All that information came through the car, the DS told Lenny it was a good time to wait because the race exploded. When he looked around, he saw me coming up the road, so he stopped and put the pressure on for a while. I think it helped to decide the podium today.”
Hindley’s patience is not limited to this Giro. Two years ago, he took possession of the… pink sweater on the corresponding stage, only to lose it the following afternoon in the final time trial in Milan. Hindley’s magnanimity in the mixed zone in Piazza Duomo that afternoon masked his disappointment at a maddening near miss in that unusual, pandemic-postponed Giro.
“It was fun, but it was also devastating to lose the jersey on the last day like I did,” Hindley said. “I thought a lot about that moment while training.”
It wasn’t immediately clear if or when the opportunity would come around again, especially as his 2021 season was ruined by a litany of misfortune that would have put Job to the test. Hindley was able to laugh about it during his press conference on Saturday evening, but then it was terrible: illness in Paris-Nice, a crash in the Tour of the Alps, antibiotics in the Giro and then a saddle sore that caused him to withdraw from the race itself.
“Actually, it wasn’t a saddle sore, it was something on a higher level. It wasn’t like a regular saddle sore, it was crazy,” said Hindley, who was later deemed redundant to DSM’s requirements for the Vuelta a España. kindness remained intact, but he left for Bora-Hansgrohe last winter with something to prove.
“It’s been a really frustrating year, and I also had people asking me if 2020 was just a fluke. It was very frustrating, but with the support of the people in my inner circle I think I’m back at that level this year. It was a bumpy ride, but I’m happy to be here.”
In the mixed zone atop the Marmolada, an Ecuadorian journalist thanked Hindley for his time, then sadly told him he had disappointed an entire nation. “I’m sorry, but that’s the race,” Hindley said. A group of Ecuadorian fans, meanwhile, called Hindley to the barriers for an almost comforting selfie, dutifully obliging him.
With a buffer of 1:25 at Carapaz ahead of Sunday’s 17.4 km time trial in Verona, Hindley looks almost certain to win this Giro. It’s certainly a healthier buffer than the second he wore Tao Geoghegan Hart at this point in 2020, but he was wary of seeing the test as a lap of honour.
“It’s nice to be a little bit more ahead than two years ago, but it’s definitely not going to be an easy time trial,” Hindley said. “The race is not over yet.”
He’s been patient for so long. What’s another tomorrow?