The extraordinary thing about Leo Hayter’s recent victory at the U23 Giro d’Italia, beyond the crushing dominance of it, was the fact that no one saw it coming. Not even Hayter himself.
His name wasn’t on the list of pre-race favorites, but he wasn’t even on the entry list until 10 days before the start in Gradara. Hayter was, it turns out, a reserve rider for Axeon Hagens Berman and only got his call-up thanks to a late drop-out.
“I’d had a bit of a shit year in general,” Hayter explained to Cyclingnews. “I got COVID twice, and the second time, in early March, knocked me out. I couldn’t really train properly for a month, I was just so fatigued. .
“I did Liège and got my head kicked in there, then did Tour de Bretagne and got my head kicked for seven days, but then a week later I went to visit my girlfriend in Italy and suddenly, I don’t know, I just felt good on the bike. Since then I’ve just been feeling better and better. “
When a spot opened up on the Giro squad, Hayter felt like he had the legs to possibly target a stage win, if not the overall – a role that was due to fall to US rider Matthew Riccitello. That stage win came early and, true to the overall nature of Hayter’s Giro, unexpectedly.
“I didn’t plan at all to go on the second stage,” Hayter said. “We had a fast guy who was going for the sprint but the opportunity came up on the climb before, some of the favors were attacking then it was stalled for a moment and I knew it was a good time to go. without thinking. “
Hayter crossed the line alone, 39 seconds up on the bunch, and took the pink jersey.
What happened next day was something else entirely, and it’s no exaggeration to say it’s a stage and ride that will go down in the race’s history.
Stage 3 was a 183km trip through the Italian Alps with three major climbs and 5,000 meters of elevation – not including an hour-long uphill neutral zone. It would be brutal for a Grand Tour, never mind an U23 race. Hayter won it by almost five minutes.
The even more staggering thing was that the last couple of minutes behind Groupama-FDJ’s hot-prospect pocket-climber Lenny Martinez, so he put almost seven minutes into the pre-race favored in the space of 30km .
The statistics were extraordinary, but, in the absence of live TV coverage, Hayter recalled how it all played out on the road.
“The neutral zone was just about 55 minutes, and it definitely wasn’t easy. , I thought there is only one way to go about this, and it was just a drought, it was crazy running, people were attacking downhill, it was crazy, and it was like that all day.
“The Guspesso was the main climb, really steep at 11km at 11%. I didn’t really expect it. When it was Martinez went, I couldn’t really follow. Actually, I didn’t really try. was setting a fast pace, but comfortable hard.
“Then we took the descent and it all got messy again. So FDJ was in control and I thought that when I got to Gregoire I was kind of kicked to try and drop him, but when I looked behind Lennert wasn’t The road was really unforgiving there, it was like 3% I really couldn’t tell he was fucked.
“From then on it was 25km slightly uphill TT to the line, and every time I got a time it was 20 seconds more than the last. It hit four minutes and I was like ‘what the fuck’. but I also didn’t believe it because, the way I dropped them all, it made sense. never needed to. “
It’s amazing to think that Hayter still has extra reserves in the tank, and he puts his performance – on top of sheer strength – down to experience, being two years older than Martinez and better versed in fueling and pacing.
‘A lot of options’ to go pro in 2023
Either way, Hayter finished so far ahead that he saw another rider. He had the Giro by Six minutes and while he was “pushing it” to assume he’d won, he was his race to throw away.
Leo Hayter show and more exercise controlling the race and seeing it through.
“Because the gap was so big, it made it really easy for us to be honest,” he said. “It got to the point where the others were sort of racing for a second.
Speaking on Monday, two days after he lifted the trophy in Pinerolo, Hayter was reluctant to bask in the glory of his victory, instead noting that “life moves on” and that he needs to prove himself in the next races, which includes British nationals, Tour d’Alsace and likely the Tour de l’Avenir.
However, he did show that he has done no disservice when he comes to turn professional next year. After leaving Team DSM for Axeon over a dispute as to when he could go pro, Hayter told Cyclingnews that he will make that step in January 2023 and that it is now less a case of finding a WorldTour contract than choosing which one.
“I would say now, for me, next year is the right time to go pro, from January,” Hayter said.
“I haven’t found the team yet, but as you can imagine, I’ve just won the Baby Giro, I’ve got a lot of options and I’m working through them with my manager.”
Hayter, younger brother of Ineos pro Ethan, has said that he is still trying to find a balance in his career and life, having taken time out of the sport last year to rediscover his motivation.
“There are always hard days,” he said. “It was definitely hard when I was struggling with COVID.
“But I’m usually happy about the bike, everything else goes well and I’m happy. Giro. “