Jai Hindley’s accidental raid on yellow

Forget about best laid plans – sometimes you just need to roll the dice, and you might end up winning the day.

Even Jai Hindley didn’t really expect the day to unfold as it did, but he was fully ready to take advantage of his fortune. Photo © Gruber Images

Iain Treloar
by Iain Treloar 05.07.2023 Photography by
Gruber Images and Cor Vos
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Inside the Bora-Hansgrohe team bus, a strident Germanic chorus of “JA” goes up. The curtain twitches aside, and team staff pour out onto the roadside to wait for the riders and team cars. Their team leader – a 27-year-old Australian riding his debut Tour de France – has just won the stage, taken the yellow jersey, and confirmed himself as a podium contender.

A few minutes earlier and few hundred metres away, Jai Hindley crosses the line, sits up and the kinetic energy that had been stored in his body all day bursts forth. Arms up, air punched, kisses blown to the crowd. 

For Hindley, this is a moment that seems to contain joy and disbelief in roughly equal proportions. As he pulls the yellow jersey up his arms and onto his body behind the Tour stage, he gives his head a gentle shake. Another one when he’s on there in front of the cheering crowd. In the press conference later, he’s still shellshocked. “I didn’t really expect this when I rolled out of bed this morning,” he begins, slowly at first. “I’ve been watching the Tour since I was a little boy – I was six years old, and never thought I’d find myself in the yellow jersey. But here we are.”

Since winning the Giro d’Italia last year, Hindley’s potential as a Grand Tour rider has been evident, but that sits in a context of Tour de France discourse that has centered on a two-horse race since 2020. Today, both UAE Team Emirates and Jumbo-Visma narrowed their focus to each other, and another horse bolted up the road. Hindley entered the first day in the Pyrenees with a 22-second deficit on GC, and finished the day with a 47-second lead.   

A tactical masterstroke? Not really – or at least, Bora-Hansgrohe didn’t mean for it to turn out this way. Rolf Aldag, the team’s head sports director, leant back against a team car, happy-dazed, when he told Escape Collective that the day was “unexpectedly perfect … to plan that like it played out would not be realistic.” 

Of Hindley’s move: “To be honest, for a moment we were a little bit, like, scratching our heads. But then you see the group was going quite fluid, so then you don’t hurt yourself any more than sitting in the bunch – actually, positioning here is easier because you don’t have to fight for it,” Aldag explained. “And so the rhythm changes. Then we profit from it – and in the final you just go for it. You see now it’s a chance, and we don’t throw it away.”

Hindley’s win might have been built on the element of surprise, but its foundations go much deeper than that. “I’ve been living like a monk for the past two months or so and living out of a suitcase which is good fun … I haven’t really seen my family or anyone else too much,” an emotional Hindley said. “It’s what you want to do to be competitive.”

That comes at a personal cost, and it’s recognised by the team. “All that sacrifice, all that time – altitude, Dauphiné, altitude, here … I just don’t know anybody else who would be a more deserved winner for today and a yellow jersey for tomorrow,” his sports director Aldag said.

This Tour, Hindley’s parents are here to support him, as is his partner. At the Grand Depart in Bilbao, they wore matching Jai Hindley t-shirts, lurid and 1990s fluorescent. They’ve followed the race around, and were at the bottom of the last climb today, just before Hindley took flight. “I owe them everything, and they’re everything to me,” Hindley said an hour later, draped in yellow.

There are unavoidable questions that follow a day when a GC contender gains time, and especially when one of the favourites – Tadej Pogačar – has lost time. At the Bora-Hansgrohe bus, there’s a reluctance to engage too much in those questions. For Aldag, that’s expressed in a string of identical words – the “long long long long way to go” in the race, against superior teams. “We just don’t have the team to go to the front, pull up the Tourmalet and control the race,” Aldag said. “We have to rely on others.” 

As for the ‘others’, there’s a growing respect for their Australian rival. Outside Jumbo-Visma’s golden bus, Merijn Zeeman said that Hindley’s ride was one of testicular fortitude: “He had the balls to do it today, so compliments to him.” UAE’s general manager Mauro Gianetti took an even more farsighted view. “I was telling already this morning the battle is not between Tadej and Vingegaard – we also need to expect other contenders,” UAE’s general manager Mauro Gianetti said, a lone bald figure in a sea of surrounding media. “Now we see Jai Hindley is a big contender.” 

Despite Hindley’s growing palmares and a win in a race he’s dreamed about since he was a boy, there’s a sense that there’ll be a certain humility no matter how far he takes it. Maybe it’s yellow for a day. Maybe for longer. French media, meanwhile, spent most of the afternoon trying to wrap their heads around the newest Australian in yellow. Tell us about him as a person, they kept asking Bora’s sports directors. Tell us about how he fits in on the bus. And then, it was time to shoot their big shot in the press conference with the maillot jaune. 

“I’m left handed, from Perth, Western Australia,” he began, grinning cheekily. “I love racing my bike. I love being in Europe, racing in Europe, European culture. I also love going back home to Australia whenever I can. I enjoy smashed avo on toast, like any other Aussie. A flat white. Yeah, just all the standard things, man.” All the standard things, now with a yellow tinge. 

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