Australian cyclist Jai Hindley claims 18th stage of Giro d’Italia, puts himself in contention to win overall race



Australian Jai Hindley has thrust himself into contention to win a wide-open Giro d’Italia after taking victory in an extraordinary 18th stage that saw the rider from Perth move into second place overall, just 12 seconds behind his teammate Wilco Kelderman.

Riding the race of his life, just as his fellow West Australian Ben O’Connor had done 24 hours earlier when winning the 17th stage, Hindley, who had been riding in support for his Sunweb team leader Kelderman, instead took centre stage when the Dutchman cracked.

The ‘Queen stage’, a 207-kilometre monster between Pinzolo and Laghi di Cancano and taking in the iconic snow-covered Stelvio pass, ended up as a dramatic duel between two unexpected ‘domestiques’, Hindley and Britain’s Tao Geoghegan Hart.

They had started the day with Hindley third and Geoghegan Hart fourth in the general classification.

Yet in the final push for the line after more than six hours in the saddle and having stalked the Briton for kilometre after kilometre, the 24-year-old Australian burst past in the final metres to seal his first-ever Grand Tour win.

“Winning here is such an incredible feeling,” said an overjoyed Hindley.

His winning bonus points ensured Hindley, whose biggest claim to fame before Thursday was winning this year’s Herald Sun Tour, moves three seconds ahead of the Briton in the GC standings.

More than that, Kelderman’s struggles in battling home fifth on the stage meant that though the Dutchman still took over the lead of the race from Portugal’s long-time frontrunner João Almeida, his teammate Hindley is now only a tantalising 12 seconds behind him.

Almeida, who had been leading the race for 15 days, had a calamitous stage, finishing 4:51 behind Hindley, to drop back to fifth overall.

Even though only 1:19 covers the first four in the race — Kelderman, Hindley, Geoghegan Hart and Spain’s Pello Bilbao — Team Sunweb will now have a powerful double hand to play.

Although Kelderman may remain favourite with his time trialling expertise likely still to prove decisive come Sunday’s final stage, Hindley, looking so powerful in this final week, is in a superb position to take advantage of any slip-ups.

Wardrobe malfunction almost costs Hindley dearly

Hindley’s biggest danger during his brilliant ride had seemed to have come from himself.

At one point on the ascent, he struggled to put on his jacket in the cold, almost crashing his bike before managing just to wrestle his arm in.

But neither he, nor Kelderman behind, could zip up their jackets before the top so that when they set off on to the high-paced descent, they were exposed to the biting cold with the wind chill putting the temperatures below zero.

Two other Australians played a big part in the drama. First, O’Connor, for the third day running, made an audacious break before being hauled in while Rohan Dennis put the power down for his Team Ineos teammate Geoghegan Hart on the Stelvio.

The biggest surprise came when Kelderman was dropped with nearly 10km of the climb left, leaving Hindley with the dilemma whether to support his ailing teammate or pursue the Team Ineos pair.

Kelderman knew Hindley had made the right decision. “It was the hardest stage of my life,” admitted the Dutchman. “We had a goal and we achieved it. Wearing the Maglia Rosa is a dream after so many difficult years.”

AAP



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