A chat with Jai Hindley: On GC goals, leadership, pressure, and more

The West Australian is still getting his chances, even with Primož Roglič now on the team.

Back in 2022, Jai Hindley became the first Australian to win the Giro d’Italia and just the second Aussie to win any of the three Grand Tours. Last year he won a stage of the Tour de France to earn himself a day in the yellow jersey, ultimately finishing the race in seventh overall. This year, the 27-year-old’s GC opportunities appear to have been curtailed somewhat with the addition of Primož Roglič to the Bora-Hansgrohe squad. But is that how Hindley sees it?

The West Australian recently caught up with Escape Collective via video call from his new European base in Lugano, Switzerland, having recently moved there from Andorra. In this conversation Hindley spoke about his ambitions for the months ahead, his place in the team, his approach to battling generational talents like Jonas Vingegaard and Tadej Pogačar, plus a whole lot more.

Note that this conversation took place after Tirreno-Adriatico (where Hindley finished third overall, behind Vingegaard and Juan Ayuso), but before Itzulia Basque Country where Roglič was leading overall when he (plus Vingegaard, Remco Evenepoel and others) crashed out of the race on stage 4. Hindley finished Basque Country in 12th overall, as Bora-Hansgrohe’s best-placed rider.


Matt de Neef: How do you look back on Tirreno-Adriatico. Happy with how it went?

Jai Hindley: Yeah, I think I can be pretty happy with it to be honest. It was a pretty high-level race. We weren’t really mucking around on the climbs. It was pretty solid on both of the GC days.

Personally, the run-in towards the race – I was at altitude before for a couple of weeks. It was a bigger goal of mine to go there and have a crack. The goal of the team was to get a guy on the podium, which I think was pretty realistic with the team we had there. I was happy to pull it off, to be on the podium.

It was also the best GC result I’ve had in a while so also not too disappointed. Obviously you always want more and you want to win bike races but like I said, the level was quite high. Jonas [Vingegaard] was also head and shoulders above everyone on the climbing days so it’s pretty hard to argue with the current Tour de France champion.

Hindley (right) after finishing third at Tirreno-Adriatico, behind Vingegaard and Ayuso.

MdN: What’s it like racing against guys like Vingegaard and Pogačar and Remco Evenepoel? It feels like in the last few years we’ve had a bunch of these guys that are just seemingly on a different level. Has it changed anything about the way that you prepare for races or the way that you race?

JH: I think the level in general has gotten higher and higher over the years and then you have these guys who are just head and shoulders above everyone else, and then everyone is sort of just playing catch up a bit. I also did pretty good numbers in Tirreno and was getting smoked every day, so it’s not so fun, you know, but what can you do? *laughing*

MdN: Yeah, that sounds frustrating. I was chatting to Jack Haig about this at TDU and he was saying that his team is more focused on stage-hunting now at the Grand Tours because they’re like “We just can’t beat those guys.” Do you see it that way? Or are you always just trying to get your best GC result?

JH: I’ve always been about going for GC. I think it’s pretty sick. It’s pretty hard with those guys, but in the end, they’re also just human. They’ve also got two arms, two legs, and a head. For sure they’re phenomenal riders but I think they’re not untouchable, you know?

They’re obviously doing things right and they’re also super-talented guys. I don’t think they just rock up to races and just bash out a whole bunch of wins. I think they’re also doing everything they can to be there in the best shape and it’s working for them.

I just do the best that I can do. Everything that I can do. And what happens happens, but for sure, it’s not easy to race against these guys. Because as we’ve seen time and time again, they’re really a level above everyone else.

But I think in general, for the sport, I think we’re really in like a golden era of cycling when you look at these guys. I don’t know if people appreciate it so much; just the level of the Tour when these guys come together at races. I was watching the highlights of the Tour last year, after the stage – it was just unbelievable, you know? So I think we’re really in a golden era and there’s some real class riders.

Hindley in action at the recent Itzulia Basque Country.

MdN: How do you look back on last year’s Tour now? You had some amazing results, winning that stage and spending a day in yellow …

JH: Mixed emotions, let’s say. It was the big goal of the year, and I didn’t really focus on anything too much before. The results before were pretty shithouse if I’m honest. I wasn’t going super-great anywhere, apart from maybe like Dauphiné …

MdN: Fourth at the Dauphiné is pretty good!

JH: Yeah. I mean, I was happy with it but in the end, for the team, I don’t think it’s the best result ever. For me, personally, it was good, especially the timing right before the Tour there.

But yeah, I didn’t set the world on fire results-wise. And I just had the whole focus on the Tour. I think there was quite a lot of pressure just around the Tour. I think the good thing about this year and what I’ve changed is to go to the races before and race to win. I wasn’t in that mentality last year and I think that is helping a lot this year.

Because last year was just like, focus on the Tour. OK, if you go there and you end up on the podium in Paris or something that’s phenomenal, but it’s also a shitload of pressure on yourself to do that, because you put all your eggs in that basket. And if it doesn’t come off then yeah, you also look like a bit of an idiot, you know?

Hindley winning stage 5 of last year’s Tour de France.

MdN: What would you have been happy with at last year’s Tour?

JH: Yeah, I don’t know. In the end it was also hard to have any expectations because it was my first Tour. But I wanted to just go there and have a real good crack at it, see how I go GC-wise.

It was going good. I was pretty stoked with that stage win, to be honest. It was pretty sick. And I also didn’t expect to take the jersey. That was really a special moment. Also, to have my family there was like, stuff of dreams, you know? But yeah, ultimately, I did go there for the GC and that was the main focus. And I think it was going well and then I just had that shit crash [on stage 14] and my back was just destroyed. I was getting up every day feeling like an 80-year-old man and I was having like two hours of physio treatment, more or less, every day. It was full-on.

Mentally, it was also super tough. I was just losing time. I couldn’t push power out properly because of my back. In the seat, out of the seat. It was just a bit of a nightmare. I was pretty happy to get to Paris to be honest.

But I mean, at the same time, I’m really happy that I finished. I was over the moon with the stage win and all things considered, I’m still top 10 in the Tour, which is also not an easy thing to do. So I can really appreciate that. I definitely take a lot out of it in terms of what things I learned and things to do differently, and also just the experience as well.

MdN: You said your focus is different this year. What do your goals look like in 2024?

JH: Tirreno was the first big goal. Coming up I have Basque Country next which will be, again, a big goal. We also go there with Primož as well so it will be interesting and will be a good race. Then after that I do [Tour de] Romandie and then a big block of altitude and then normally Dauphiné and Tour if I get selected. Obviously the Tour would be the main goal, to be there in as best form as possible.

MdN: You went to the Tour last year hoping for a GC result. Do you do the same this year? Or will you see how it evolves and what the team needs from you?

JH: Yeah, I think it’ll be more like that. I think they have the goal of taking Primož as the one leader and they build the team around him. That’s fair enough – I also understand that. We’ll see how it goes. I think in the end it will also be a really good team – probably one of the best GC teams they can put together so it would also just be nice to be part of that to be honest.

Hindley’s Tour stage win last year earned him a day in yellow.

MdN: I’m sure you’re sick of people asking you about Primož and how much of an impact him joining the team has had.

JH: Yeah, pretty much. He’s a good guy. Easy to work with. I get a good vibe off him. Also for the team, I think he’s a good guy to have on board for sure.

MdN: It sounds like you’ll get your own chances this year anyway.

JH: Yeah, for sure. I mean, it’s also not just me in the team. You’ve also got Alex Vlasov, who’s also a phenomenal GC rider, really consistent. Dani Martínez, Lenny Kämna has also been stepping up GC-wise and I think he’s got a lot of potential as a GC rider [This interview happened before Kämna was injured in a collision with a car in training – ed.]

I think it was important for the team that they found a good balance for everyone. I think that’s what they really tried to do this year, to not just bring a guy in and say “Alright, every race we go to, you’re all working for him, and now you don’t get your opportunities.” I think they’ve been really good with that. They’ve planned where guys will go to target their own goals. And then, yeah, ultimately, at one point, they’ll probably be riding with Primož and helping him at certain races.

I think they’re trying to handle that as best as they can. I think it’s going quite well, at the moment.

MdN: Presumably things like the Vuelta line-up will be decided after the Tour?

JH: I’d imagine so, yeah, but I would be keen to go do the Vuelta. It would be pretty cool to go for a stage win in the Vuelta, I think.

Hindley has won the Giro (2022) and won a stage and worn yellow at the Tour (2023). His best visit to the Vuelta happened in 2022 when he finished fourth on a couple stages and finished 10th overall (the best-placed Bora-Hansgrohe rider).

MdN: You mentioned altitude training before? Do you feel like you’re doing more of that than you used to? And if so, how do you handle that? Is it a pain?

JH: Yeah. I think it’s pretty stupid to rent an apartment, actually, these days *laughing*. I mean, it’s just part of it. It’s part of the evolution of the sport. You see it now, guys going to altitude already in December, January to be good in the first races of the season, because they know they won’t be able to be competitive later in the season, at the bigger races. I mean, I also understand that but then you go to a race like Valencia, one of these early season races, and the level is super high. From the guy that wins the race to the top 10 on GC, I think the level is quite solid, already in February.

So then I think we just get to the point where there’s not really a proper, traditional ‘offy’ [off-season] anymore. It’s just more ‘maintain’. And then you have guys starting up their training earlier, the European guys going to warmer climates somewhere else, training hard earlier, doing altitude earlier. It’s just the way it’s going. And you just have guys basically going to races and then going to altitude then going to races then altitude.

I mean, it’s pretty crazy, actually, when you think about it. Even before all that you weren’t home so much. I don’t really need to unpack the suitcase ever. And now you have all these camps, going here, travelling there. It’s really like life on the road, but all year round.

MdN: Sounds grim.

JH: Yeah, I mean, it depends if you like it or not. I think you really have to be passionate about it. And you really have to be motivated and driven. Otherwise, it’s a real grind. A real grind.

MdN: Changing gears slightly – I remember back in 2017, I was up at Falls Creek and watched you get second on that Jayco Herald Sun Tour stage up there, and I remember interviewing you afterwards and being struck by how laid back you were. And I think that’s one of the things you’re best known for as a rider. I’m curious – do you see yourself as laid back? Do you feel like you handle the stress of your job well? And are you able to get into business mode easily? 

JH: Everyone’s different and everyone handles it all differently. But I think for me, the most important thing is when you’re at the race, or you’re at the training camp, or when you’re training hard at home or whatever, then it’s like, focused and dialled, and everything has to be on point. I also like to just come back from a race, hang out with my partner, chill on the couch, watch a movie or whatever. Just chill and just totally switch off.

I also have periods where I don’t follow cycling at all. I just see the results; I don’t watch it or whatever. I think it’s also important that you cut yourself out of the bubble sometimes and just be a normal person again. Because it’s not really a normal lifestyle if you do it 365 days a year.

I think it’s just very specific to the individual. I think some guys can really do cycling, cycling, cycling all day, every day. They love it, the numbers, everything, Twitter, all this, you know? I can’t. For me, it’s just about having the balance of that high-performance, high-stress life, and then to just be able to switch it off as well.

MdN: But even in stressful moments, like during races, it seems like you’re pretty laid back, that you’re just enjoying yourself most of the time. But it sounds like you do feel the stress and pressure.

JH: I think there’s always pressure. It’s really just how you handle it. Ultimately, at the end of the day, you can ride a bike for a living. It’s not so stressful. You’re going out riding your bike around Lake Lugano and it’s classified as work. There’s much worse things that we could be doing. *laughs* I think it’s all about your perspective.

Jai Hindley is the defending champion at the Jayco Herald Sun Tour, having won the 2020 edition. The race hasn’t returned post-COVID. Three years earlier, while racing for the Australian national team, Hindley finished second overall behind Damien Howson (left).

MdN: This is a contract year for you, right?

JH: Yeah.

MdN: Does that kind of thing play on your mind? Or are you just doing the best you can, and letting your agent deal with the contract stuff?

JH: Yeah, I mean, it’s full-gas at the moment with the contracts and everything. I haven’t signed anything yet, but hopefully I will get something sorted in the next period, I guess. I mean, it is what it is. It’s part of it. Should be all good I think. 

MdN: Just one final thing: I wanted to get your thoughts on Aussie Road Nationals heading to Perth next year.

JH: Pretty sick. About time, eh? I mean, I think for cycling in Australia in general, I think it’s good. I think Ballarat always hosted awesome Nationals, and for a very long time was a race that always delivered. It was always a super-honest course and it gave a lot of different winners every year … until Plappy [Luke Plapp, who’s now won three in a row – ed.]

I thought it was a great course for sure, but I think it’s also good to mix it up a bit. Because you just have to. I think we’re the only country in the world that has the same course every year for like, what, the last 21 or 22 years or something. I mean, even make it flat or something. Because I think everyone deserves their opportunity on a different course.

I’m pretty biased because it’s in Perth, but I think it will be a pretty cool event. It will also be the first Nationals that I’ve not had to fly for, ever, since doing Nationals as an under-15. I’ve never done a national event in Perth or WA. So for me, it’s pretty cool to not have to fly somewhere.

I think OK, for the eastern states guys and for everyone else, it’s a pain in the arse. “Perth, oh it’s so far away.” But yeah, I’m also not saying having it in Perth for the next 20 years. I think you could have a great race in Queensland, you could have a great race in Tasmania, South Australia, ACT. All these places could host a really good event. So yeah, I’m personally stoked that it’s in Perth.

MdN: Will you be there?

JH: Hopefully. It would be really nice to do it but it depends on quite a lot of things. But at the moment, I would really like to do it. 

What did you think of this story?