Hindley joins cycling champs on tour honour roll
JAI Hindley has secured the win of his life, taking out the Jayco Herald Sun Tour title after a rapid final stage in which he was never troubled.
Hindley won both mountain stages - Falls Creek and Mount Buller - and was a picture of poise during Sunday's 89.1km, 22-lap circuit finale around the Royal Botanic Gardens won by sprinter Kaden Groves (Mitchelton-Scott).
The West Australian climber, who rides for German WorldTour outfit Team Sunweb, finished 17 seconds ahead of young surprise packet Sebastian Berwick (St George) and 36 seconds in front of 2017 champ Damien Howson (Mitchelton-Scott).
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"It's the biggest win of my career. I'm pretty ecstatic," Hindley said.
"It's a super relief to finish the tour off today and get the win and repay all the boys for all their hard work all week."
Hindley, 23, joins an illustrious honour roll as a winner of Australia's oldest stage race, joining the likes of Chris Froome, Bradley Wiggins, Stuart O'Grady and Simon Gerrans.
"For me, this is a huge win," he said.
"It's pretty amazing to get my name on that trophy; there's some pretty big names on there, and to be a part of Australian cycling history.
"This race goes back a long way and there's been some big names and a lot of great riders have ridden this race. To etch my name onto that trophy is pretty unreal."
Hindley said he was taking nothing for granted going into the final stage, despite it being a sprinter-friendly course almost guaranteed not to affect the general classification.
"I was very nervous, but I had every faith in my guys and they rode awesome all day and controlled the race, just like they had done the whole week and I can't thank them enough," he said.
"It's been a pretty big Aussie summer of racing with a few ups and downs.
"We had a super young team. In Tour Down Under we made a few errors and I think coming here we could really put the puzzle together."
Hindley and Team Sunweb were a late entrant into the Herald Sun Tour after a difficult time at Tour Down Under and the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race.
"The atmosphere a week ago was a fair bit different to today, so to go back (to Europe) we're happy we did the race and it was great to keep this group together for another week and keep progressing with their teamwork," sports director Luke Roberts said.
"Last year Jai had a podium in the Tour of Poland so in the one-week WorldTour stage races he's shown he can compete with the best.
"I'm sure there will be some more opportunities this year and he can take some confidence from this race."
GROVES CAPS IMPRESSIVE WEEK IN STYLE
He flew in by chopper and then Kaden Groves flew away on the bike to win the final stage of the Jayco Herald Sun Tour in the Royal Botanic Gardens.
Groves and his Mitchelton-Scott teammates had their long transfer from Mt Buller made easier by team owner Gerry Ryan, who called in the air support.
And the emerging sprinter returned the favour, powering clear to win the 89.1km circuit race in front of teammate Dion Smith and Dutchman Moreno Hofland in a sizzling 1hr58mins.
"I was very thankful to Gerry. It was certainly a first experience for a lot of the guys and it made the trip from Buller easy," Groves said.
In a frenetic finale, Groves held third wheel on the last of 22 climbs up the Anderson Street hill and took second position into the last corner before saluting across the line.
"The finish was hard enough for me, it really suited me and it was hard enough to drop some of the other fast guys and I'm happy to get the win," he said.
"There were many accelerations. I wasn't sure I'd have the legs to get over (the hill), but everyone was hurting and the finish was a cross headwind.
"Me taking the barrier, everyone had to come over in the wind so it would have been really hard to come across."
It capped a superb week for the 21-year-old, who won two stages and was second in another in his three sprint opportunities.
"The guys were perfect in keeping me fresh in every stage and delivering me to the finish as smoothly as possible," Groves said.
EAT, SLEEP, RIDE, REPEAT
It's an old saying Ben Hill adopted on the Jayco Herald Sun Tour, even when his legs threatened to collapse.
For five consecutive days of this race, the 30-year-old from Scone in New South Wales emptied the tank to get himself into the breakaway in search of sprint points.
His relentless endeavour was rewarded on the fifth and final stage in the Royal Botanic Gardens when he was confirmed as the green jersey winner of Australia's oldest stage race.
"We knew if Kaden (Groves) won the stage and I got no points, which was a real possibility, then he would win the (green) jersey, so I had to get out the front and take some points to make sure and I took that first sprint," an elated Hill said.
"I was really relieved after the first sprint and after the second sprint when I had it sewn up it was a really good feeling."
But the win was made even sweeter after the drama of Stage 3, where Hill briefly lost the green jersey when he was tricked into not contesting the first intermediate sprint on the roads to Wangaratta before having to stop with cramp ahead of the second one.
"Stage 3 was a pretty low point in the tour and I honestly didn't know how I'd back up, but I ate a lot, slept well and woke up the next morning surprisingly good, actually," Hill said.
"I think sometimes when you get in the break the first two or three days everyone kind of gives up and it's a lot less stressful, but it's a lot less satisfying than having to battle all the way through to the finish.
"I was able to keep finding myself in the moves and it all worked out."