For those with big expectations for Jai Hindley since he burst onto the WorldTour a highly-touted youngster, his growth has been a slow burn.
Promising performances in two complete grand tours and finishing runner-up at the 2019 Tour of Poland demonstrate his ability, but it took until his third year in the WorldTour peloton to record his first UCI win for Team Sunweb.
"It's pretty amazing to get my name on that (Herald Sun Tour) trophy," Hindley said. "There's some pretty big names on there so for me this is a huge win.
“I’ve said it before but I really love the Sun Tour, this is the third time I’ve done it now. For an Australian guy to race here, it’s really special. I’m a bit lost for words.”
In the universe of Remco Evenepoel and Tadej Pogacar who quickly became some of the world's best riders, it’s easy to forget it takes time for even the most talented riders to develop.
“I’ve always said I want to be a GC contender," Hindley said. "It’s not always the easiest when you step up to the pros. Any chance I get to put my hands in the air is nice, they don’t come around too often.”
Hindley wasn’t a junior identified for big things. He made his own way in his early years, contesting the incredibly difficult Italian one-day circuit without the support of Cycling Australia or a dedicated team.
Hindley impressed, notching top 10s and 20s, ultimately securing a coveted spot on the Australian Under 23 WorldTour academy.
He started winning those same Italian one-day events and featured on GC at the major climbing races where professional team scouts stalk Under 23 riders.
Hindley progressed to the professional ranks alongside fellow West Australian Michael Storer, the pair graduating from the Mitchelton-Scott development team, the re-incarnation of the WorldTour academy.
It is fitting Storer has been Hindley’s right-hand man on the mountains here at the Herald Sun Tour, continuing their long-term partnership.
“I’ve known Michael for yonks," Hindley said. "And to have him ride in the final for me was amazing. He knew exactly what tempo to do, when to accelerate. Just phenomenal, as with the other guys.”
While Hindley isn’t too forthcoming with the media, those key to his career are full of praise. Dave Sanders, long-time protagonist in the careers of many top-level Australian cyclists and mastermind of Seb Berwick’s ride yesterday to secure second overall, was also present for Hindley’s last UCI win, the 2017 Tour of Fuzhou in 2017.
“Yeah, a great young fella Jai,” said Sanders. “He’s still developing, but this is a really good win to have on his palmares and I’m pleased for him personally.”
“It takes time, people forget. Simon Gerrans said to me once that he was thirty years of age before he started winning big races. You can’t judge things off Michael Matthews winning straight out of Under 23s and being on the podium at worlds in two years, that doesn’t happen normally.
“They have to do their apprenticeship in the big leagues and develop. Jai certainly has the goods to be a GC rider there’s no question about that, but it just takes time. This will help his confidence and his team’s confidence in him.”
Team Sunweb director Luke Roberts echoes Sanders, confident when asked if Hindley could be a GC contender in the big European races.
“Yeah, definitely,” said Roberts. “We have quite a deep pool of young, talented riders in this squad. We have several riders who can be competitive for the podium in the one-week WorldTour stage races and Jai is one of them.
“Jai has some development points that he needs to work on to really step up to be a leader, he’s shown this week that he’s taken steps in that right direction. I’m sure when we’re back in Europe that Jai will have those opportunity to take those leader roles in those one-week races.”
Hindley himself identified the weaknesses he needs to work on to become a leader.
“I’ve always said that my time trialling ability is a bit lacking,” said Hindley. “Fortunately there wasn’t a time trial this year at the Sun Tour.
“Bit and pieces… I can’t put it specifically into words. Also coming into a race as a designated leader. It’s a lot of added pressure, but it’s a nice opportunity for a young guy like me to come in to a race like this or a race like Down Under and be the designated leader. It speaks volumes for the team, having that faith in me.”
Team Sunweb is a haven for Australian riders, with Hindley, Storer and fellow young climbers Rob Power and Chris Hamilton joining Michael Matthews in the ranks of the German squad with a strong Dutch influence.
“We’re… fussy or pedantic, I’m not sure of the exact word,” said Roberts. “Our selection criteria for riders is quite structured. We are a structured team, so those Australians had mostly been exposed to an institute of sport environment, a government sponsored program with lots of people working with them.
“They’re already exposed to that structured environment at a young age. We’ve got about 130 employed in the team. Not all riders can fit in, but we’ve found that the Australians are willing to invest and work with experts in different areas and they’re a natural fit.”
The Hindley-Team Sunweb partnership seems to be a profitable one and if the 2020 edition of the Jayco Herald Sun Tour is anything to go by, one that will produce consistent growth into the future.