There are already some potential contenders who expected more from the first nine days of the Vuelta a España. For Giro champion Jai Hindley, there has been no heinous time loss, but a steady flow of gradual losses.
The back-to-back mountain finishes of stages 8 and 9 were especially damaging. The Bora-Hansgrohe leader was 54 seconds behind Evenepoel on on Colláu Fancuaya – a solid showing. However, on the lethal gradients of Les Praeres, he finished 2:45 down on the storming Belgian, behind over a dozen other GC rivals too.
On the race’s second rest day, Hindley is positioned ninth overall, 5:36 down on the lead. “I was hoping my legs were going to come good, I thought the prep I did beforehand was not too shabby,” he told Cyclingnews on Monday.
“I was hoping to go a bit better than I currently am, to be honest, but you get that sometimes. Sometimes when everything goes right beforehand, it doesn’t go right in the race and vice versa.
“So I’m not too sure what’s going on, but I’m still enjoying the racing. There’s still plenty of hard days to come and I’m still hoping that the legs are gonna turn around.”
Hindley feels that the top three overall is no longer in play for him at the Vuelta. “I think the podium might be a bit out of reach, the top five guys have just shown they’re really consistent and up there every day. They’re looking quite strong… but you never know,” he said.
What of the strongest of the lot so far? Hindley was “not surprised at all” to see the lofty level of Evenepoel. “And I wouldn’t be surprised if he wins the Vuelta,” he said. “He’s flying and fair play to him. There’s still a long way to go, you never know how he’s going to go in this last week but he’s done everything right so far.”
Hard racing since Dutch start
Hindley reflected on a tough opening half to the race. “Starting with the days in the Netherlands, they were maybe not the hardest on paper, but stage 3 was actually really hard. If you asked a lot of the riders how they felt, they’d say they were pretty nailed.
“That pretty much set the tone for the days to come. First stage in Spain was also really hard and pretty hot. There haven’t been too many days where we’ve just been rolling round: the breakaway has always taken a while to go and it’s been pretty aggressive racing at the start most days.
“Classic Vuelta style, it’s just very unpredictable. Still a long way to go, still a lot of hard days to come, still plenty of opportunities for us as a team.”
Aside from the chance of stage wins for him, Sergio Higuita or Wilco Kelderman, there’s also sprinter Sam Bennett in good form, bidding to win the green points jersey.
If it gets close with his rival Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo), will we see Hindley in the lead-out? “Maybe,” he said, laughing. “I don’t know if they can hold my wheel in it, I don’t know if they’d want to. I really want to help out where I can. Sam’s had a bit of an up and down year, but he’s here in really good shape, he’s shown that with the two stage wins already under the belt.”
Despite his sub-optimal GC performance, Hindley was laidback and in good spirits, no doubt helped by the dulcet tones of his roommate Higuita, a big reggaeton fan.
“He’s a really good guy to room with, super chill. He loves to do a bit of singing, which I appreciate,” he said.
Aiming for TT gains
On the rest day, Hindley spent an hour and a half on the time trial course of the stage 10 test between Elche and Alicante.
The man from Perth will likely shed more time to the likes of Evenepoel and Roglič on a course made for the specialists.
Since the Giro d’Italia, he has been doing efforts on his TT bike a couple of days a week. “Not anything too crazy, I wouldn’t say I was living on it,” he added.
It’s an area Hindley would like to work on. “It also helps with your climbing in terms of a long, sustained effort, but just doing it in a different position. It’s not my strongest point, but it would be good to improve, because you can always be better.”
It is the first time that Hindley is embarking on two Grand Tours in a season, three months after his Giro d’Italia victory.
“I didn’t know what to expect physically, how the load would be,” he said. “I didn’t really half-assed prepare, I was at altitude for three weeks to get ready to really give it a good crack. The preparation went pretty well, I thought. I just haven’t been able to pull a lid off a yoghurt the last couple of days, unfortunately.
“For next year, hopefully it gives me some foundations for the big goals. I just need to get through this as best I can and see what I can do in the last week.”
Wild about the Worlds Down Under
After the Vuelta a España, his next stop is a landmark World Championships in Wollongong. Hindley could play a leading role alongside Michael Matthews on a rolling course with almost 4,000 metres of climbing.
“It’s a big honour to wear the green and gold, but to be able to do a home worlds is a once in a career type opportunity, if that, especially in Australia. It’s super special.”
Hindley hasn’t been back home since the start of 2020. “It’ll be nice to get back to the continent I come from. I think it’s gonna do wonders for the sport of cycling in Australia.
“The race is also going to be really hard. Given modern-day cycling, it’ll probably be very aggressive and open up pretty early like it did last year in Belgium. I think it’ll be a bloody good one to watch.”
What does he make of the absence of Lotto Soudal sprinter Caleb Ewan? “It’s like that. I don’t pick the team, it’s up to the selectors and they’ve chosen the team they thought would be best for the course and the race. Everyone has to respect that decision, I guess.
“But Caleb is a phenomenal rider and a talented sprinter, so I can understand his disappointment, for sure.”
After the World Championships, Hindley is set to enjoy some downtime. The 26-year-old is overdue a Giro d’Italia victory party, and a shindig is in the process of being organised. “Maybe working with the state government to do an event would be really nice. Good exposure for cycling in Oz and especially cycling in Western Australia, as well,” Hindley said.
“I’m pretty keen to clock some hours on the beach back in Perth when I get there in the off-season,” he added, beaming. “I’ll go back and catch up with friends and family, really enjoy, soak it up and hopefully hit the ground running next year.”