Western Australians have their own homegrown Grand Tour champion at the pinnacle of cycling.
Jai Hindley stepped up to the Giro d’Italia this year and became one of only two Australians to top the podium as overall race winner – with Cadel Evans winning the Tour de France in 2011.
It’s nothing short of a triumph, but maybe there’s more to come.
And Hindley isn’t the only Western Australian prospect.
Last year, Ben O’Connor joined the cycling elite after finishing fourth in his Tour de France debut, just three minutes from a podium finish.
Australia has recently emerged as a treasure trove of cycling talent, taking podiums in four of the last seven Grand Tours.
And WA’s own pioneers can set the tone for the next generation of future champions.
This is ‘where dreams begin’
Retired cyclist Graeme Brown emphasized the importance of Hindley’s win in setting up young cyclists in WA.
“Jai was just a normal kid one day and now he’s won the tour of Italy,” he said.
“Kids look at it and go…maybe I can too. That’s where dreams begin, and no doubt Jai’s dream began in the same way.”
Brown also enjoyed the fact that the sport was now getting more media coverage in WA.
“They’re actually talking about cycling. Just to bring out that awareness for cycling,” he said.
“It’s huge for WA.”
At a media conference after his win, Hindley said it was impossible to describe how special it felt to have the support of an entire country.
“I just want to say to all the young kids, especially the kids at Midland Cycle Club… dream big,” he said.
The Midland Cycle Club is where Hindley began his journey, training at the Perth Velodrome alongside other hopeful riders.
The more than a century old club has already received a significant boost in traffic since Hindley’s win, according to club development coach Mark Williamson.
“We’re seeing a lot of interest in cycling in WA. Whether that’s on the track, on the road, whether it’s gravel, mountain bike, BMX… there’s a real interest,” he said.
“WA has a good track record when it comes to providing quality cyclists.”
‘Most important, have fun’
Speaking of advice for aspiring cyclists, Mr. Williamson emphasized the importance of finding the right discipline, which ranges from road to track to mountain biking, among others.
“Join a club. Learn how to handle a bicycle,” he said.
“People who want to reach the highest level [are] usually very self-directed. There are many good coaches here in WA. But it takes a lot of hard work and dedication.”
To begin with, Mr. Williamson suggested one thing.
“Just have fun.”
How hard is a Grand Tour?
The Tour de France is the most publicized Grand Tour, but among professional cycling circles, the Giro d’Italia – which Hindley won – is often touted as the most difficult.
“It’s a level of fatigue that words cannot describe,” said Brown, who has competed in the Giro himself.
“The Tour de France, everyone knows them. Then you have the Tour of Italy, which is number two, but it is certainly not number two. It is actually more difficult than the Tour de France.”
The average distance of each leg of the Giro is approximately 164 kilometers – that’s almost like driving from Perth to Bunbury.
The distance Hindley traveled in three weeks is equivalent to making that journey 21 times.
World champion cyclist Michael Freiberg said Hindley’s win has put WA on the world map and will strengthen the state’s already growing community.
“We’re hitting above our weight here,” he said.
“There is a lot of interest from the base. But we also have really good talent [which has] has been around for quite a few years.”
Western Australian cyclists, including Ben O’Connor, Luke Durbridge, Cameron Meyer and Michael Storer, are hoping to gain WA’s foothold on the global stage.
Path open to aspiring riders
Young cyclists will try to follow Hindley’s path through the WA Institute of Sport cycling program, for which Hindley has earned a scholarship.
Mr Williamson, who helps manage junior cyclists, emphasized the importance of taking advantage of cycling clubs that offer developmental pathways.
“My role here is to work with the coaches and the other committee members to make sure we find ways for our talented members,” he said.
“We have five pro riders in the pro peloton today who have all come through junior development here at Midland Cycle Club.”
Mr Williamson encouraged those interested in horse riding to join a club.
“We are 120 years old and we are always looking for new people,” he said.
“Jai started the Midland Cycle Club as a junior, as an 11-year-old.
“Like many of the 11-year-olds here tonight, he joined us on one of our nights and has been a member of Midland Cycle Club ever since.”
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