The speed of Jai Hindley’s rise towards the peloton’s elite GC riders is underlined by the fact that the 24-year-old Australian is making his pro racing debut in France at Paris-Nice.
The surprise runner-up at last year’s Giro d’Italia, Hindley is riding the “Race to the Sun” in support of Team DSM leader Tiesj Benoot, who was second last year and after stage 4 was in seventh overall. He is also using the event to get back into the racing rhythm.
“I had a few weeks off at the end of last season and I’ve been slowly tooling back up to race fitness. Paris-Nice is my first race back,” he said on the opening morning in Saint-Cyr-L’École. “I’m not too sure how it’s going to go. It’s a world-class field and I don’t know how the legs are going to feel.”
One thing that Hindley was sure about was the impact of his career breakout Giro success.
“Nothing’s really changed for me in the team. I’m still the same old me. I guess I’m putting a little bit more pressure on myself. As for the big picture, I guess that’s to try to cement my place among the top climbers in the world. I want to be up there consistently,” he said.
Speaking again on the morning of the fourth stage, Hindley refused to be drawn on his racing programme for this season.
“I can’t say, I’ve got to keep it on the hush hush. I should be doing Catalunya after this and I’m actually super excited about that because it’s my home region race,” said the Girona resident.
He also reflected on his duel with Tao Geoghegan Hart (Ineos Grenadiers) at the Giro, where the Briton edged the Australian out of the leader’s maglia rosa on the final day time trial.
“It was a massive moment for me,” he said. “I guess it was a bit of a surprise for a lot of people, but leading up to that Giro I was working my ass off so it was super nice.
“It was something that I’ve been working towards for my whole career and it came at the Giro! It gives me a lot of confidence but it’s just the beginning hopefully, a big step in the right direction. I want to be up there consistently, and I’ll try to aim for that this year,” he affirmed.
Unable to travel back to Australia over the winter because of coronavirus-related restrictions, Hindley has had a very different build-up to this season.
“The training was a bit different to what I’m used to, going back to Perth and Oz, where it’s about 40 degrees [Celsius] for a lot of the time. But I think in the long run, it’ll be better for my season that I stayed over. I was training in cold weather and now I’m racing in cold weather.”