Australian hopes big at Tour de France after Giro glory | Tour de France

IIt’s a good time to be an Aussie cycling fan. Jai Hindley recently became the second Australian to win a grand tour, winning the Giro d’Italia at the end of last month. The women’s Giro Rosa is imminent, with a strong Australian contingent in the peloton. The Commonwealth Games are not far away, offering a plethora of cycling events, including a return to the velodrome for Australian track cyclists after the Tokyo disappointment. In September, the world’s best will arrive on these shores for the World Championships, taking the scenic routes around Wollongong. And, on Friday, the Tour de France begins.

Starting in Denmark, the 109th edition of the Tour promises to be rich for Australian riders. After Hindley’s triumph at the Giro, hopes are high among the Australian members of the World Tour peloton. Although Hindley is not competing in France – an expected move, given the race is taking place so soon after the Giro – there are at least two yellow jersey hopefuls keen to match their compatriot’s recent achievement.

The first is Ben O’Connor. The 26-year-old Western Australian announced himself to the world stage during last year’s Tour de France, with a remarkable solo victory in the Alps. The stage win catapulted O’Connor into the overall race; while a podium finish ultimately eluded him, his fourth place was nonetheless impressive – with only two other Australians, Cadel Evans and Richie Porte, having done better on the Tour. The performance was all the more remarkable as it was O’Connor Tour debut.

Driving for the French team AG2R Citroën Team, O’Connor will start on Friday in top form. He placed seventh in his season-opening tour, the Ruta del Sol in Spain, sixth in the Catalan Tour, fifth in the Tour de Romandie and won the one-day Tour du Jura. Earlier this month, O’Connor secured a place on the podium in the traditional pre-Tour Critérium du Dauphiné warm-up.

When the going gets tough on the Tour, O’Connor will find a familiar face in the selection with fellow Australian Jack Haig named co-leader of Bahrain Victorious. Perhaps the highest rated Australian climber of his generation during his youth, even more so than Hindley and O’Connor, Haig delivered on that promise with a podium at last year’s Vuelta a España, Spain’s grand tour.

Jack Haig at the Criterium du Dauphine earlier this month. Photography: Dario Belingheri/Getty Images

The now 28-year-old Victorian has maintained that form throughout the new season – finishing sixth overall at the Ruta del Sol and Paris-Nice, and fresh off O’Connor in fifth in the recent Dauphiné. Backed by a strong squad and with Bahrain aiming to secure their first Tour podium, Haig looks like a contender – unless the team has been rocked by a recent police raid.

It remains to be seen whether O’Connor or Haig can really fight for the sacred yellow jersey. Tadej Pogačar has won consecutive editions of the Tour and will be tough to beat. Jumbo-Visma duo Primož Roglič and Jonas Vingaard took first and second place in the Dauphiné, comfortably ahead of O’Connor; Three-time Vuelta winner Roglič is hoping to avenge his harrowing 2020 Tour, when Pogačar snatched the yellow jersey from him on the penultimate stage. Long-time force Ineos Grenadiers will no doubt be influential on the road too, with former Tour winner Geraint Thomas recently winning the Tour de Suisse.

A place on the podium may be more likely than an overall victory, but the history of the Grand Tours shows that anything is possible. The first week, in particular, could cause early chaos – with a series of difficult stages likely to upset the established order.

Elsewhere in the peloton, Australian sprinting sensation Caleb Ewan is hoping to regain his past Tour glories after a disappointing performance at the recent Giro, where crashes and other mishaps saw him exit early without a stage win. On the sprint stages, Ewan will find himself up against his former team, Australian team BikeExchange Jayco, who ride for Dutch sprinter Dylan Groenewegen. BikeExchange will also be looking for stage wins via Canberran Michael Matthews, winner of the 2017 Tour green jersey, who starts on the back of promising form.

In the mountains, fellow Australians Michael Storer (Groupama-FDJ) and Chris Hamilton (Team DSM) will seek to seize all the risks that arise. Storer put in an outstanding performance at the Vuelta last year, showing off his climbing prowess with two stage wins and the King of the Mountain jersey, while Hamilton finished second on a tough stage at the 2021 Giro. of the same generation as O’Connor and Haig, the quartet demonstrate the current strength of Australian cycling.

Over the next three weeks, Australia’s top male cyclists will have plenty of opportunities to shine at the biggest event on the annual cycling calendar. The race will be followed by the historic Tour de France Women, an eight-stage tour starting on the Champs-Élysées on the same day as the men’s finish, replacing the more limited La Course. And with the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham and the home road world championships coming up, the opportunities are there for Australian cycling.

Helen L. Cuellar