For over a decade now, Cadel Evans has stood alone in Australia’s cycling pantheon as the only Australian to have won a cycling grand tour. With a history that dates back to the early 1900s, across a collective 288 editions of the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España, only once had an Australian stood atop a grand tour podium at the end of 21 gruelling stages.
No longer. On Sunday, Hindley matched Evans’s historic 2011 Tour de France triumph with Giro d’Italia glory in Verona. The 26-year-old from Perth, who says being a professional cyclist was all he ever dreamed about, became only the second Australian to win the general classification at a grand tour.
It is a truly elite sporting accomplishment – on par with winning a tennis grand slam, or a handful of Olympic gold medals. Whatever else Hindley achieves in his career, he will always be remembered as the first Australian to win the Giro and the first to follow in Evans’s momentous footsteps.
“It’s a really big achievement – it’s hard to get your head around the fact an Australian has finally won this race,” SBS cycling commentator Matt Keenan said, just hours after calling the race. “It is a privilege to get to call a significant moment in Australian sporting history.”
Hindley’s triumph is all the more remarkable given the worrying sense of deja vu that had lingered over his campaign for the pink leader’s jersey. Two years ago, the West Australian announced himself to the world with second place overall at the Giro, a shock result for a rider who had been relatively unheralded. But that success, until now the best Giro result by an Australian, was tinged with disappointment after Hindley took the iconic pink fog on the penultimate stage, only to lose it on the final day to Britain’s Tao Geoghegan Hart.
There were striking similarities for Hindley this month. An impressive stage win during a big day in the mountains (on stage nine this year, stage 18 in 2020). A slow but steady ascent up the leaderboard, aided by remarkable endurance on punishing climbs. Good fortune, with other general classification contenders dropping away. And a final day individual time trial, looming over the peloton in the preceding weeks, with the knowledge that the lead could be decided by the race against the clock.
In 2020, Hindley went into the time trial level on time with Geoghegan Hart. He lost 39 seconds, and the pink jersey, along the 16km course in Milan. But on Sunday, history did not repeat. Hindley once again took the overall lead on the penultimate stage, on Saturday, dropping rival Richard Carapaz in the final kilometers of the climb up Passo Fedaia. Yet by decisively overcoming Carapaz’s prior three second lead, and then some, Hindley took an 85-second advantage into the final day.
It would prove insurmountable. On Sunday afternoon in northern Italy, with family and friends watching on back 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 foreshadowed that he had been working on his time trialling, and that hard work was on display. His 15th place stage finish, giving up only seven seconds to Carapaz, meant a repeat of 2020 was never a concern. Given the decisive role time trials play in grand tours, the performance also hinted at the possibility of more success to come.
“He showed that potential a couple of years ago at the Giro,” Matt White, head sports director at Australian team BikeExchange Jayco, told cycling show the Detour on Sunday. Hindley started his pro career with White’s development team, in 2017, before joining Dutch outfit Sunweb and, in January, Germany’s Bora – Hansgrohe. “To come this year and deliver, it’s very impressive,” White said. “It’s a big, big day for cycling in Australia.”
Keenan predicted a bright future for the newly-crowned Giro champion. “He is now one of the creme of the crop when it comes to racing your bike for three weeks,” said the commentator. “He is only 26 …” Cadel Evans didn’t win the Tour de France until he was 34. “
Hindley has never ridden the Tour, focusing his energy instead of the Giro for the past four years. With the pink jersey secured, his focus might shift to the most high-profile of the grand tours, first among equals. “We definitely haven’t seen the best of Jai Hindley yet,” Keenan said.
Sunday was a fitting day for Hindley to etch his name into cycling history. Exactly two decades ago, on May 29, 2002, Evans became the first Australian to wear the pink jersey, fleetingly, for just a stage. It was Evans’s first grand tour and an indication of a glittering career ahead, culminating in the Tour de France yellow jersey. Twenty years to the day later, and just a couple of hours south from the site of Evans’s early success, Hindley finished what the Australian cycling legend began.
At long last, an Australian has won the Giro d’Italia. Evans now has company in Australian cycling’s hall of fame.