Australian Jai Hindley is on the brink of an historic and glorious triumph in the Giro d’Italia after a blistering ride on the famed Marmolada climb in the penultimate stage.
Hindley blasted away from the race leader and former winner Richard Carapaz on the last ascent of Saturday’s 20th stage to storm into a handsome one minute 25 seconds overall lead with just one potentially career-defining time trial to go.
“It was the perfect stage,” declared Hindley, who finished sixth on the stage behind Italian winner Alessandro Covi – but he was still loath to make a prediction of victory ahead of Sunday’s final time trial in Verona.
While Hindley is now odds-on to win – barring a cycling tragedy in Shakespeare’s fair city – he’ll still be edgy, recalling the deep hurt of 2020.
Just as two years ago in Milan, the Western Australian will be wearing the race leader’s maglia rosa – pink jersey – going into Sunday’s race against the clock.
But on that occasion in 2020, the Perth rider, who had started the time trial on the same overall time as Tao Geoghegan Hart, missed out in heartbreaking fashion, losing ultimately by 39 seconds to the Briton.
That was then, this is now
The scenario this time, though, is very different.
Hindley holds a substantial lead, in handsome pole position to become the first Australian winner of the race and only the second ever to win a grand tour, following Cadel Evans’ Tour de France victory in 2011.
Fellow Aussie cycling luminary Robbie McEwen said it would now be a “disaster” if Hindley didn’t win, while British Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins believes the Australian has sealed victory with his “amazing” ride.
After putting on the maglia rosa, Hindley declared: “It’s the most beautiful jersey in cycling in my opinion.
“It’s a privilege and an honour to wear this again,” added the 26-year-old, who’s not had the easiest time since that 2020 near-miss, when he achieved the best result at a grand tour by an Aussie outside Evans’ landmark win.
“It was a bumpy road back here and I didn’t know if I was going to get a chance to wear this again, but it’s just an incredible feeling,” said the rider for German team Bora-Hansgrohe.
“It’s not over, there’s a hard day tomorrow and I’m going to give it everything in the time trial.
“When I heard Carapaz was dropping down, I just went all out.
“But we will see how it goes tomorrow, it is always hard to say how a time trial will go…”
Italian Covi won the 168km stage from Belluno by 32 seconds after his breakaway but the main race drama was going on behind on the Marmolada’s Passo Fedaia as Hindley unleashed his all-out attack to distance Carapaz in the final 2.5 kilometres.
Ridden to perfection
It was perfectly executed as Hindley roared up to join his German teammate Lennard Kamna, who was already handily placed up the road, and between them, they quickly put Olympic champion Carapaz in difficulty on the Dolomites’ highest mountain.
Carapaz, the 2019 winner who’d led by three seconds going into the penultimate stage, missed the service of his trusty Australian lieutenant Richie Porte, who had had to pull out of his final Giro the day before with a bout of gastroenteritis.
“I knew this would be the crucial stage of the race, with the brutal finish,” Hindley said. “I knew if you had the legs you can make a difference.
“We stayed patient until today, and it is amazing. We could not have timed it better.”
Hindley leads overall by 1:25 from Team Ineos’s Carapaz and 1:51 from the third-placed Mikel Landa (Bahrain-Victorious) and, realistically, only those three can win the race.