Hindley conquers Falls Creek in tight climbing battle

Credit: Con Chronis / Jayco Herald Sun Tour

Jai Hindley upgraded his second-placed finish at Falls Creek in the Jayco Herald Sun Tour from 2017 into a win in 2020 as the road tipped skywards for Stage 2.

Hindley came to the line with Sebastian Berwick (St George Continental) and Damien Howson (Mitchelton-Scott) and was able to beat them in a grinding uphill sprint to the line after nearly 30 kilometres of climbing up to the resort town. A tired-looking Hindley saluted his first win as a WorldTour rider, with Howson second and Berwick third.

“I think everyone was pretty gassed there at the end,” said Hindley, “no one could really get away. Damo and Seb were super strong and I couldn’t shake them.

“In the end, I hit out pretty early, probably way too early and then had to take a step back, get a second wind and wait to a hundred metres to go and go round Seb.”

Hindley had a beaming face after taking the victory, and explained his love for the climb that has treated him well over the years.

“I’m a bit lost for words really,” said Hindley. “I really love this climb, I came in second last time I did it so to get the win it’s pretty special for me. I have family that live in Mt Beauty and it’s super nice to catch up with them and put on a good ride.”

Team Sunweb have put a lot of faith in Hindley this summer, as the talented young climber approaches his third season with the squad. On the high slopes of the climb, it was the red and white train of Sunweb that was responsible for really thinning out the group.

“It means a lot to me,” said Hindley. “They also backed me going into Down Under. It wasn’t meant to be there, I think this race suits me a bit more.

“To come away with a win after the guys putting the faith in me, it’s super special and nice to be able to pay back the team for all the hard work today.”

Hindley pulls on the leader’s jersey with the stage result and looked ahead to talk about he and his team’s defence of yellow.

“Tomorrow’s stage will be interesting and could be one of the hardest stages of the Tour,” said Hindley. “Then with Buller, I’m super interested to see how I’m going to go. I like the long climbs, so I’m keen to race on it.

Hindley isn’t looking too far ahead at the moment, though as a rider who appreciates the long climbs racing in the high mountains of Europe shape as a natural progession for the 23-year-old.

“It’s always a different level in Europe,” said Hindley. “It’s taken a while to slowly step the level up over the last few years. To get a win today, my first pro win, it’s pretty nice. Just happy to get my hands in the air.”

Stage 2 of the Herald Sun Tour was a 117.6 kilometre jaunt from Beechworth to Falls Creek, with the 30 kilometre finishing climb expected to be the key feature of the course.

Luke Mudgway (Black Spokes Cycling), Bentley Niquet-Olden (Nero Continental), Scott McGill, Cade Bickmore (both Aevolo), Genki Yamamoto (Kinan Cycling) joined early attackers Angus Lyons (Oliver’s Real Food Racing) and Ben Hill (Team Bridgelane) to form the day’s break.

The early break was pegged to a maximum advantage of three and a half minutes and with the near thirty kilometre climb of Falls Creek to complete the stage, the attackers were left to scrap it out for the sprint jersey points on the road.

Bickmore took out the first intermediate sprint from Mudgway and Hill, before Lyons tried his luck going solo with 55 kilometres to go. Hill scrambled to get on terms with the Oliver’s rider and managed to get over to the Victorian and then out-sprint him to take maximum points, securing himself the sprint jersey at the end of the stage.

Hill dropped off the pace with the jersey tied up and Lyons was left to forge a solo path to the top of the Falls Creek climb, earning himself the most combative jersey.

The peloton brought back the gap to Lyons as they reached the bottom of the climb, with the long climb featuring descents and variable gradients to sort out the quality of the climbers. Mitchelton-Scott, Israel Start-Up Nation and Team Sunweb were prominent in the early pace-setting on the lower slopes, thinning the group down to an elite selection of 20 riders.

A number of small surges got off the front of the main group, with Salvador Guardiola Tora (Kinan), Lachlan Morton (EF Education First) and Jay Vine (Nero Continental) all trying to go off the front of the race. With the initial break of Lyons brought back and the last attack of Vine neutralised, Team Sunweb set a fearsome tempo on the front.

The big shock of the day came when Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) was dropped with five and half kilometres to go, the former Vuelta a Espana winner slipping away from contact with the leaders and eventually finishing just under six minutes down on the race winner.

Howson took on the mantle of the leadership role for the Australian team and was the first to respond once the Team Sunweb pace-making ran out and Hindley attacked. They were joined by Neilson Powless (EF Education First) and Berwick, and the four riders set themselves to attacking each other to try and slip away to take the race win.

Hindley looked the strongest, and would often be the one to set the tempo when it dropped. He came into the final few hundred metres in the lead and starting a grinding sprint to the line which see-sawed in which rider looked like they were going to take the win, but eventually the West Australian was triumphant.

Damien Howson was happy with his performance after having leadership thrust upon him late in proceedings.

“Unfortunately Simon didn’t have the best of days today so our director Matt Wilson gave me the responsibility to try and pull something off today,” said Howson. “I knew I was feeling relatively good and to be around the mark today is pleasing and I’m looking forward to the rest of the Tour.”

Howson dropped to the back of the group and looked to be checking on Yates just before the British rider was dropped, with Howson revealing that he had known that Yates wasn’t going great a few minutes before he was dropped from the front group.

“I’d been told about my changing roles and to be stuck in second wheel probably wasn’t the position I wanted to be in,” said Howson. “I also didn’t want to give anything away. I was comfortable there, biding my time.”

Howson was the victor the last time the Herald Sun Tour came to Falls Creek, using the result as a springboard to his general classification victory.

“I guess we came from Tour Down Under where Richie’s the King of Willunga and it would have been nice to call myself the King of Falls Creek but not to be.”

The men’s Jayco Herald Sun Tour will continue with a 178.1 kilometre stage from Bright to Wangaratta.

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Written by Jamie Finch-Penninger

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