Update: Since this interview and the article was written, it has been officially announced that Jay Vine is set to leave Alpecin-Deceuninck to join UAE Team Emirates for the next 2 years.
For a while, Jay Vine has been listing off the things he’s done during his two week off-season. I asked the question on a whim, as that lazy journalist’s opening gambit for interviews that take place when the racing is done for the year, but Vine is taking the liberty to reply with a supremely detailed answer. “I’ve just been doing things that I didn't do for the past two years, like mowing some grass, building some concrete foundations, putting some fences up. I’m trying to keep busy, but doing stuff that's different that might seem like chores, but just mentally is not cycling related,” he says.
Vine lingers the longest as he talks through the renovations he’s been making to his Mini Cooper 65 which he bought before he turned professional two years ago. “I've been working on it loads,” he says. “During COVID was one of my expenses because I didn't know what was going to happen so I bought this car. It ran, but then after not touching it for two years, it no longer runs, and it needed a whole bunch of work done to it so I've been waiting for parts to arrive and putting that back together.”
This is the sort of person Vine is. He’s straight talking, generous with his answers, and refreshingly, honestly, quite normal. Maybe it’s because he’s pretty new to this game of being interviewed after only being a part of the pro peloton for eighteen months. It’s like when he won his first stage of the Vuelta a España this year and told The Cycling Podcast that the best thing about it would be the extra financial compensation that comes with getting a big win. These are things you don’t normally say as a professional bike rider.
I was sitting there as I interviewed Vine expecting the usual response to my nonchalant inquiry about his off-season, along the lines of “I saw family, saw friends, took some time to relax,” but Vine simply isn’t someone who follows the status quo, and that’s part what makes him a very exciting prospect.
The 26-year old Australian secured his professional contract through one of the most left-field ways possible: through the Zwift Academy. It’s a talent identification programme that takes place completely virtually as participants compete against each other in Zwift races at home on their turbo trainers. The eventual winner secures a professional contract with Alpecin-Deceuninck, the team of Mathieu van der Poel. At the end of 2020, Vine was that winner.
Since then, the Aussie talent has done more than enough to silence any doubts around his deservedness of a place in the men's WorldTour peloton. This year, he won two stages of the Vuelta a España on two of the race’s toughest mountain days. In the first, he climbed alone to the top of Ascensión al Pico Jano alone, holding off a charging Remco Evenepoel to cross the line first in the fog, punching the air with delight.
Jay Vine wins stage six of the 2022 Vuelta a España (Image: Getty)
“I’ve never prepared that well for an event,” Vine says of the Vuelta. “I was confident I could get a stage win, but I was annoyed at the start of stage six because I missed the breakaway, it did not start very well. I was pretty unhappy for the first part of the day until it started raining and then I got even more unhappy.
“On the second to last climb, my directors told me to keep pushing and see what we could do in the back half of this race from the GC group. After cresting the top of that climb and looking at the group of guys that I had around me and feeling quite good still, I thought, this could be my day. It was an opportunity to really show what I can do, which is pretty special.”
Only two days later, Vine secured his second stage win of the race. Once again, he took victory solo on a tough climb, making him one of the standout riders of the Vuelta this year. In both stages, he held off the chasing group of favourites for the general classification, and I wonder if this tempts him to target the GC in the future, rather than individual stage wins.
“It definitely gave me confidence but there's so much more to going for GC that you don't see. The days before that, I was sitting up in the last two or three kilometres in the sprint days, just so that I could stay out of trouble,” says Vine. “I wasn’t really saving much energy but getting away from the sprint lead outs. That's where the GC teams, instead of riding for a sprinter to keep their riders at the front, they are riding for a GC guy.
“It's really hard to balance those two things. Like if you have a sprinter in the team, keeping your climbing guy out of the wind as well. It's not that easy to follow a sprinter through the bunch, especially in the last three kilometres. That whole nuance of how to balance team goals is pretty tricky. The GC thing at WorldTour level is sending a team specifically to help out in climbs in flat runnings, I'm quite happy sticking with the stage wins for now.”
Alpecin-Deceuninck, Vine’s current team, has sprinters such as Jasper Philipsen – who won the Champs Élysées sprint stage at the Tour de France this year – and Kaden Groves (who will sign for the team in 2023) are often given full support in Grand Tours. It’s for this reason that Vine has been rumoured to be looking elsewhere for a team, specifically UAE Team Emirates, despite being contracted to Alpecin-Deceuninck until 2024. He’s quick to silence those rumours in our interview though.
“I did get some contact after stage eight, not after stage six, after stage eight [of the Vuelta a España] from some teams. But nothing came from those chats after the stage, no.” Vine says.
Vine has been open about the reality of life as a professional bike rider on multiple occasions, be that around contract or salary negotiation or the day-to-day difficulties that he faces. He doesn’t shy away from that topic as we talk about the nitty gritty of being a full-time cyclist.
“The prize money is slightly lower than what you'd sort of expect, considering the amount of money that's involved in the whole Tour de France, for example,” he says. “The thing that you don't see is the hotels that you have to sleep in. For example, I’m considering taking a mosquito net to my next race. It is going to be packed in my bag as if I'm sleeping next to a dengue fever infected river because of the amount of times where hotels do not have air conditioning, and you open the window and immediately, mosquitoes the size of small birds fly and start feasting on you and you can't sleep.
“Also a portable fan. I have to carry my own portable fan around in my suitcase because you ask: can you please turn the air conditioner on? And they say: I'm so sorry. We turned them off last week and we can't turn them back on. I’m like: oh, wonderful. I'm just going to have my little portable fan, thanks Zwift for teaching me about little portable fans. It's not the most glamorous life. It's a tough job but I also love racing. It's incredibly fun.”
Jay Vine on his way to winning stage six of the 2022 Vuelta a España (Image: Getty)
Vine adds that he has to be careful with his spending on a day-to-day basis, noting that the even price of petrol being increased by 40 cents had a strain on his budget. “We have to do altitude throughout the year by ourselves. We have to pay for food. We have to live a life outside of riding bikes, so all these little things take a toll. Not everyone's on six million like some riders in the WorldTour. It's tough, but we're all working towards setting ourselves up so that we can retire comfortably in the future.”
The Australian rider has a positive outlook on 2023, however, as Alpecin-Deceuninck makes the step up to the WorldTour level from ProTeam. He admits that financial burdens will be significantly eased thanks to his victories at the Vuelta, as he gets paid his win bonuses at the end of this year. Vine also notes that the team’s extended calendar in 2023 will work better for him.
“They've got a completely different program for next year being in the WorldTour. There are a bunch of races that we will be doing next year, like Catalonia, San Sebastian, Basque, Romandie, Dauphine, there's easily 30 extra race days in those that you will have to send squads to,” Vine explains.
As well as stage hunting in the Grand Tours, Vine sees the hilly one-day races as a big target for the future. “My dream race to win is Il Lombardia,” he says. “It's just such a special race and it's the first monument that I ever watched. It's such a beautiful area. I love Italy. Italy is probably my favourite country.”
In the more immediate future, Vine hopes to perform well in the Tour Down Under, and will be preparing hard for that this winter. I ask him if there’s any specific things he wants to improve on over the off-season.
“Apart from my Mini Cooper,” he jokes, “Monument distances are something that I want to work on. The two Monuments I've done this year haven't been the most successful, the most pleasant. I need to improve my energy expenditure after four and a half to five and a half hours.”
And away from the bike, Vine says he plans to read books about how to fix his Mini Cooper, watch YouTube videos about cars he can’t afford (“and hopefully, in the future, drive cars I can’t afford”) and re-watch his favourite move, Jurassic Park (“the original Jurassic Park not Jurassic World,” he’s quick to clarify).
“Really, I try to have fun during what I'm doing,” he says. “That's a key thing to my success.”
Cover image: Getty