Jai Hindley made history by becoming the first Australian to win the Giro d’Italia in cycling – and it was the sweetest of reunions at the finish line.
Jai Hindley experienced the sweetest of family reunions on Sunday by winning the Giro d’Italia in front of his parents after not having seen them since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Hindley became the first Australian to win the Grand Tour of Italy by snatching the pink jersey on the penultimate stage before heading into the final day time trial in Verona to seal a momentous victory.
The 26-year-old’s family celebrated in the city’s ancient Roman arena when he lifted the trophy, capping a big victory for the cyclist and the country.
Before Sunday, he had not seen his family since the Sun Tour in February 2020, after which he was in his hometown of Perth “for less than 24 hours” before returning to Europe.
“I didn’t know that was the last time I was going to be back home for a few years,” Hindley told reporters.
“Then a few days ago I found out my parents were coming to the finish and I was really blown away, not seeing your parents for two and a half years is amazing.
“Having them arrive in the Arena today was special. Really special. I think at the end of the year I will go home and savor every minute of it.
Hindley secured his win by holding off Richard Carapaz in Sunday’s time trial, a skill that was once his weak point and cost him victory at the 2020 Giro.
He said he worked on his technique with his team Bora Hansgrohe, and banished the memory of his painful collapse on the final stage of the time trial two years ago when he conceded the Giro to Briton Tao Geoghegan Hart during the last day.
“I went to California, to this specialty seat, spent quite a bit of time in the wind tunnel trying to work out better positions on the new setup and I think that helped a lot,” he said. declared.
Hindley said he could try his luck at the Vuelta a Espana this year and is also eyeing a place at the world championships, to be held in NSW in September.
“I think it would be a great event and it’s not every day that you get the opportunity to do the world championships in your home country, especially when you’re from the Oz roster. So yeah , I’m super keen to be on this team,” he said.
“I think after today I’m going to relax a bit, drink a few beers, park and really savor the moment.”
Hindley’s victory at the Giro d’Italia was taken in the country, giving him his cycling debut.
Some 13,000 kilometers separate Hindley’s hometown of Perth from Verona, where he rose to the top ranks of cycling, but he has an affinity with the country.
Hindley moved to the Mediterranean nation when he decided to take up professional cycling.
He owes his passion for the sport to his father Gordon, who was fittingly in the ancient Roman arena in Verona to watch his son lift the Giro trophy.
“I was six and wanted to be a footballer. Then I saw the Tour de France on TV and my life changed,” Hindley said in 2020, when he agonizingly lost the Giro in the last step.
“From that moment on, I didn’t want to be anything other than a professional cyclist.
“My idols were the great Australian runners, Robbie McEwen and Stuart O’Grady, Cadel Evans… But it’s not easy to leave your country to go to the other side of the world.”
At just 18 when he left Australia, Hindley moved to Pescara on the Italian Adriatic coast with Umberto Di Giuseppe, who welcomed him into his home and let him race in his team.
“Jai is a very serious boy who has never given me a problem. He knew what he wanted to do,” recalls Di Giuseppe.
Hindley says he is stubborn and has scoured the Italian circuit for any Under-23 races he might enter.
After a season on reserve for Australian team Mitchelton (now BikeExchange), he convinced Sunweb (now DSM) to sign him and was introduced to the WorldTour in 2018.
He picked up his first big professional victory on home soil two years later, winning the Sun Tour in Melbourne, then unknowingly said goodbye to his parents for the last time until Sunday.
He was unable to return to Perth due to Covid-19 restrictions and only saw them at the final stage of this year’s Giro, the crowning glory of his career so far.
The year 2020 was the start of his career despite the pandemic, which cut the season to three months and cost him time with his family.
In October he won a mountain stage of the Giro and then – like this year – snatched the pink jersey in the penultimate stage, only to lose it rather than win it in the climatic time trial in Milan.
“I was devastated by it,” Hindley admitted on Saturday night.
“After 2020, when I was so close to winning and it was brutal to lose on the last day, it took me a long time to recover.
“Coming into the arena (today) knowing that I had won the Giro was quite special. The next step for Hindley is to make his mark outside of Italy, his home away from home and where he scored the biggest win of his career.
“The Giro opened a lot of doors for me as a rider,” he said. “This race has opened my mind to what I can do as a professional cyclist. I will cherish the moment for a long time.
— with AFP