A hearty clap and a yelp for joy pierce out from inside the Bora-Hansgrohe team bus. 200m down the road, in the green penumbra that surrounds Laruns, Jai Hindley has won stage five of the Tour de France. And he’s taken the yellow jersey, too.
The plan had worked, everybody assumed. Starting the day 22 seconds down, all the Giro d’Italia winner had to do was sneak into the breakaway and steal time. The team had chalked out the perfect coup, the move that couldn’t fail, plotted to the most minute of details. Except it hadn’t.
When the team’s race car pulled up and sports director Rolf Aldag stepped out, the real strategy – or lack thereof – was revealed.
“To be dead honest, it wasn’t the plan to put Jai in there,” he said. “It was more of an accident, actually.”
Just 30km from the flag drop in Pau, Hindley embedded himself in a near 40-strong breakaway group that nudged its way up the road. The group thinned out over the HC Col du Soudet and into the Pyrenean valley, but the Australian kept still within it.
By the foot of the Col du Marie Blanque, around 25km from the line, Hindley was alone with AG2R Citroën’s Felix Gall, who he dropped at the summit and never saw again.
The move on the day may have been instinctive, but the groundwork had been laid months before.
Speaking after his victory, Hindley explained he had singled out stages five and six a long time ago, poring over them with his coach, and carrying out his own recon rides. “It’s been quite a long time on the road, actually,” he said. “At the start of May, I flew to the Basque country [to recon] the two stages in the Basque Country, then today’s and tomorrow’s stage.”
The Australian’s preparations didn’t stop in the Pyrenees. “Then [I did] like four and a half weeks of altitude training, before and after the Dauphiné. Basically, I’ve been living like a monk for the past two months or so, and living out of a suitcase. I haven’t really seen my family or anyone else too much.”
The hard work proved critical in the end. When he went alone over the Marie Blanque on the road to Laruns, Hindley was left to rely on his knowledge of the parcours. “It was really hard to hear the radio actually all day,” he explained, “especially on the last climb with all the fans.
“I knew if I was going solo over the top, I needed to descend pretty well and get down there pretty quick. I just wanted to come to the line on my own, and I managed to do that. Pretty crazy. The guys on the radio were going off.”
The guys on the radio, it turned out, could see little of the finale. “We were so far off with the car that we didn’t even know where they were anymore,” sports director Aldag said. “He did it on his own, and he did it bravely.”
Hindley’s reward would be a first Tour stage win and a pristine yellow jersey, something he never imagined in his debut at the race. Can he wear it in Paris? “I’m not here to put shoes on centipedes,” he smiled.