Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe) was among the elite cadre of riders who endeavoured to track the initial acceleration of Remco Evenepoel (QuickStep-Alpha Vinyl) at Pico Jano on stage 6 of the Vuelta a España, but there came a point when they could follow no longer. Evenepoel was, for an afternoon at least, travelling at a rate of knots they simply could not match.
“That last climb was pretty much a full gas effort from bottom to top, and chapeau to Remco, he was phenomenal,” Hindley told Cyclingnews in Camargo on Friday morning. “He just rode away from everyone, no worries, and there’s not much you can do in that situation. It’s like that.”
Pico Jano was wrapped in low cloud and buffeted by driving rain on Thursday afternoon, with the best climbers in the Vuelta flitting faintly in and out of sight like spectres amid the gloom that enveloped the mountainside. While Evenepoel’s every pedal stroke – not to mention the contortions of Enric Mas, condemned to match his pace to the top – was captured clearly by the television motorbike, the level of collaboration among the chasers was harder to assess.
“Everyone in that group was completely on the limit, I think. If anyone was feeling stronger then they probably would have been on Remco’s wheel,” Hindley said. “But in the end, no one really works well together in that situation, because everyone’s trying to save as much energy and everyone’s on the limit. The cooperation wasn’t super great, but that’s pretty understandable.”
Hindley reached the summit 1:22 behind Evenepoel in an 11-strong group that was led home by defending champion Primož Roglič. (Jumbo-Visma). Other contenders, including his Bora-Hansgrohe teammate Wilco Kelderman and Simon Yates (BikeExchange-Jayco), were also aboard. As the Vuelta re-enters the mountains in Asturias on Saturday, Hindley lies 11th overall, 1:55 off Evenepoel’s red jersey.
“To be honest, I really didn’t feel like the strongest guy there, that’s for sure,” he admitted. “It was a really hard stage, especially when the rain started coming down at the bottom of that descent. That made it a very stressful and hard day. It added another dynamic to the race and it meant you used up a lot more energy.”
On winning the Giro d’Italia in May, Hindley’s first act was to make an unannounced visit to the chapel atop Madonna del Ghisallo to donate his pink jersey to the collection displayed therein. It was a typically understated way to mark the biggest victory of his career, and the Australian was no doubt glad to drop off the radar in the weeks that followed. By the time the Tour de France got underway in July, Hindley had already quietly processed his Giro win and was busily preparing for the Vuelta.
“I had quite a bit of time off, as my next race wasn’t until San Sebastián, so I knew I could get in a good period of training,” Hindley said of his adjustment to life as a Giro champion. “It wasn’t too bad. After having all the time off, I was motivated to come back and try to find that form I had in the Giro again. For me, mentally, it’s all good. I’m still feeling mentally pretty fresh and ready for another couple of hard weeks of racing.”
Hindley is vying to become only the fourth rider to win both the Giro and Vuelta in the one year, but this season marks the first time that he has raced two Grand Tours in the same season. The challenge is a novel one, even if the build-up – which included seventh overall at the Vuelta a Burgos – was encouraging.
“The run-in I had was actually pretty good, I didn’t have any injury or illness, touch wood,” Hindley said. “It’s the first time doing two Grand Tours, so it’s a bit of an unknown for me, but I’m enjoying it and actually not feeling too bad. Hopefully the legs get better during the race, we’ll see.”
In May – and, indeed, in his breakout 2020 Giro – Hindley saved his best performances for the third week, and he will hope that trend continues at this Vuelta. The gap to Evenepoel was considerable at Pico Jano, but the Perth native’s powers of endurance make him a contender despite his current deficit. The weekend’s back-to-back summit finishes at Colláu Fancuaya and Les Praeres will reveal more.
“These stages will already be pretty hard, but that’s just typical Vuelta – it’s quite unpredictable and it’s usually quite aggressive to make the breakaway every day,” Hindley said. “You have to take it as it comes. It’s really unpredictable racing, but it’s really fun racing too.”