Jai Hindley bags yellow jersey and steals the spotlight with Tour stage five victory
After preparing for the Tour de France with monastic devotion and humble goals, the Australian surprised himself with triumph.
Australian Jai Hindley snatched the yellow jersey and the spotlight from Jonas Vingegaard and Tadej Pogacar in a drama-filled fifth stage.
The Bora–Hansgrohe cyclist took the jersey from Pogacar’s UAE Emirates teammate Adam Yates after the first mountain stage, and leads second-placed Vingegaard by 47 seconds and sixth-placed Pogacar by one minute, 40 seconds in the general classification.
“I can’t believe it. I didn’t really expect this when I rolled out of bed this morning,” said the Tour de France debutant.
“I’ve been watching the Tour since I was a little boy, when I was six years old, and I never thought I’d find myself in the yellow jersey, but here we are.”
Only the second Australian to win a Grand Tour with victory in the 2022 Giro d’Italia, Hindley had mapped out a conservative strategy to tackle the stage but ended up joining a large breakaway before the first climb.
The improvisation proved effective as Hindley broke clear to celebrate victory with his touring family.
The 27-year-old said he had been locked down in altitude training camps and course reconnaissance for months before his debut Tour.
“Basically, living like a monk for the past two months or so and living out of a suitcase, which is good fun,” Hindley said.
“I haven’t really seen my family too much, nor anyone else too much, but that’s what you have to do if you want to be competitive.
“It’s really special for me to have them here and have them supporting roadside. I owe those people everything, and they’re everything to me.”
The rivalry between Danish defending champion Vingegaard and twice Tour winner Pogacar will remain the focus ahead of another testing stage six through the Pyrenees but Hindley believes the general classification is wide open.
His parents said the stage win was 20 years in the making, with Hindley having determined at the age of seven that he would be a pro cyclist.
“He likes to strive, and to get to the next thing and the next thing,” his mother Robyn told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
“And he’s been a slow burn to be here, just small steps every year, and learning. He’s making another step.”
Sleepless night for Pog
Tadej Pogacar was expected to attack in the Tour de France’s first mountain stage, yet it was defending champion Vingegaard who struck first, leaving the Slovenian worried and hoping he will regain his best form before it is too late.
Pogacar, who attacked several times in the first two hilly stages, lost more than a minute to Vingegaard as his lack of fitness showed in the fifth stage on Wednesday after a fractured wrist hampered his preparations in late April.
Vingegaard’s brutal acceleration near the top of the Col de Marie Blanque was too much for Pogacar, who had to dig deep to limit the damage.
Hindley won the stage and took the overall leader’s yellow jersey from Pogacar’s UAE Emirates teammate Adam Yates, with Vingegaard moving up to second, 53 seconds ahead of sixth-placed Pogacar.
The 24-year-old Slovenian, who is often seen with a smile on his face regardless of the circumstances, looked stunned at the finish line after he and his team were caught by surprise.
“Tadej, what do we do?” one of his teammates said on the team radio as a group of 36 riders, including Hindley, broke away early in the stage.
UAE Emirates controlled the pace but Pogacar was without a teammate when Vingegaard made his move.
“It’s a big blow, it’s the first mountain stage,” Pogacar said.
With a tougher mountain trek through the Col d’Aspin and Col du Tourmalet on Thursday, the two-time Tour champion will be worried that he might get hit again.
Damage control and hoping to peak in the final week in the Alps seem to be Pogacar’s best hope of regaining the title he lost to Vingegaard last year.
“Vingegaard was very, very impressive and very good game by Hindley… In the first two stages near Bilbao on the short climbs, Tadej was fine but today it’s a bit different,” UAE Emirates team manager Mauro Gianetti told reporters.
“Fortunately we had an advantage from the first two stages (after Pogacar picked up bonus seconds). We lost time but we’re still in the game
“Vingegaard is super good but Tadej was not good enough to be with Jonas. Hindley won the Giro d’Italia, we had said that the battle is not only between Tadej and Vingegaard and we have to expect other contenders and we see that Hindley is a big contender.”
Pogacar was focusing on Vingegaard, but when it was time to react, the Slovenian’s head dropped.
“We were hoping he would be in good condition but we knew since Liege-Bastogne-Liege (where Pogacar broke his wrist) it would be difficult to be at 100%,” said Gianetti.
“We fought in the first days and took yellow. We’re just 50 (53) seconds behind Vingegaard and it’s only the fifth stage. The Tour is still long.”
Pogacar, however, hinted there was not much he could do for now.
“I hope we’ll have better legs than Jonas in the last week,” he said. Reuters/DM