Jay Vine: The numbers game

Jay Vine has endured a challenging season, despite winning the Tour Down Under in January. He reflects to Rouleur on the highs and lows of being a WorldTour professional

This article was produced in association with Elite.

From his home in Andorra, Jay Vine enjoys fine mountain scenery, but from the perspective of the tail end of the 2023 racing season, he’s not enjoying the view back over the year so much. It has been – the Australian’s word – a “disaster”. A knee injury flared up at the UAE Tour and put him out of that race, along with spring targets Tirreno-Adriatico and Volta a Catalunya. He was sick through the Giro d’Italia and came 34th. He crashed out of the Tour de Suisse. Same at the Vuelta a España. You get the sense that this last one was the final straw for the year.

As we went to press, Vine was preparing to head to the mid-October Tour of Turkey for one last hit-out, his team keen for him to squeeze one more target in, perhaps more for morale than meaning, but the impression is that the line for Vine was drawn after that Vuelta crash: 2024 starts here, because 2023 is done.

Perception is a funny thing, though. Vine’s 2022 is perceived as being a successful year, because he won two Vuelta stages and got two second places in good stage races – Turkey and the Tour of Norway, the second of these to Remco Evenepoel. Yet according to procyclingstats.com, he scored roughly the same number of points in 2023 as 2022 (489 in 2022, 475 to date in 2023), for before his season began to go south in February, he won the Australian national time trial championships and the Tour Down Under, defeating Simon Yates. Only nine riders won a WorldTour stage race in 2023, so Vine is in rarefied company.

“Remove January, and it’s a terrible year,” says Vine, who has been growing a moustache since his Vuelta crash, a visible record of the time that is passing as his rehabilitation progresses, but also a good metaphor for the fact that nature is always at work, even if it might move invisibly and frustratingly slowly at times. The physical wounds have largely healed, though the Australian reckons he might have bust a rib or two; the psychological recovery is ongoing, though he is already applying a glossy layer of self-improvement to the rough surface of disappointment.

“Not the best year. But January was really good: first national title and first WorldTour stage race win,” he reflects. “And then being able to see how good I can do with limited training in a Grand Tour, after an injury. Learning how the team operates and how I can fit in and play my role a bit better. Learning a bit more about myself. It’s been a good year for learnings.”

He adds: “You’ve got to take the positives out of it. If you’re Debbie Downer on everything you’re not going to be sitting here smiling.”

See Jay Vine at Rouleur Live 2023 on 3 November

Professional cyclists have to be optimistic. Perhaps it’s a coping mechanism for the fact that every racer loses more races than they win – between the black and white of success and failure, there is the grey area of positives and learning from experience. Vine did not achieve great results in the two Grand Tours he started, nor in the week-long stage races in which he should thrive; however, his results weren’t too bad in the Giro – several top-20 finishes, including 10th in the Monte Lussari time trial, and he was key support for João Almeida’s third place overall. And he achieved that off not being able to train or race for significant periods in the spring.

There are external positives also: Vine has signed a four-year extension to his contract at UAE, taking him to the end of 2027. Apart from it having been a rubbish year, it’s been quite a good year for Jay Vine.

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That Giro was an instructive one for anybody interested in the career and life of Jay Vine. The disappointment of getting sick and being below par bubbled up in a much-discussed interview he gave before stage 12, in which he said riding for the top 10 was uninteresting to him. It said a lot about the way cycling works – his job at the Giro was by that point riding in support of Almeida, and though some star domestiques can end up in the top 10 overall while supporting a leader, it’s neither a given, nor, with Vine’s health causing problems, was it going to happen.

But it also said a lot about Vine himself: he comes across as very pragmatic, very direct and very logical. He speaks very openly and honestly, and I hope he never stops doing that. He sounded ever so slightly tetchy in that Giro interview, but he was well into the second week by then, probably knackered, and definitely ill. Of course, his words started a binfire on social media.

“It was all taken a bit out of context,” he says. “I was outside the top 10 by a long way, I was getting sick, I was already on antibiotics, I was digging myself a hole. Even if I continued to lose a bucket of time every day, which would have meant not being useful for João, then gone for my own goals of winning stages, that would have been another three or four days gone. In that time frame, my own ambitions get shuffled.”

Furthermore, it was interesting that the top 10 simply wasn’t a target, but that’s fine. Vine’s contract has been built around top threes and wins, and being of assistance to possible Grand Tour winners, so these are the things he tries to do. For many riders, a top-10 in a big race is a target in itself, but in Vine’s view, it’s not what he’s paid for. Eighth place, along with 12th place, is not on the podium, and therefore coming eighth or 12th, or anywhere else, is the same to him, in financial terms.

It’s tempting to see Jay Vine weighing up results in terms of effort in, reward out, and drawing a line to the thing that he is, probably unfairly, best known for. Vine’s origin story is well established – he came from nowhere to emerge on the indoor racing scene and landed a WorldTour contract on numbers alone, goes the myth.

He also talks about his ability and results in terms of numbers – five-minute wattages, 15-20-minute wattages and power to weight. You could look at his pathway into the WorldTour, listen to him talking about watts and watch interviews in which he talks about what his job is and what it isn’t, and conclude: this is a pragmatic, rational, ambitious, slightly cool individual. He also talks a lot about money, which is the kind of thing that sometimes rubs more romantic fans up the wrong way. But behind the pragmatism, there’s an introverted individual who has an emotional side as well.

See Jay Vine at Rouleur Live 2023 on 3 November

“Do I like winning? Of course. Do I enjoy being in the bunch, riding around with mates? Yeah, absolutely, it’s fun. It’s really enjoyable and it beats the hell out of sitting behind a desk,” he says. “I fell in love with road cycling and knew I wanted to be a pro road cyclist before I had any chance of getting paid for it, or knew what type of cyclist I was going to be. Absolutely, I do genuinely love the sport.”

Jay Vine is a self-described defence family brat. He was born in Townsville City in Queensland, and his family moved to follow his father, who was a pilot. The Vines were in Canberra while Jay completed high school, and he ended up staying there while his family moved on. He was the eldest, by some way, of five siblings, which wasn’t so different at times from being an only child. Vine is 27; his youngest sister is just going into year 11.

Fittingly for the product of a defence forces family, he describes himself as the ‘in-between rank’, passing orders on from parents to younger siblings. Because of the age gaps, he also often ended up with a choice – talk with his parents and their friends, or with his younger siblings. As often as not, he chose the former, which was fine with him.

“I often say to Bre [Vine’s wife] that I was born in my 40s,” he says. With his family gone, Vine half-heartedly went to university, and worked in a stationery shop, waiting for something to happen. Around that point, he started cycling to get around town, which appealed to Vine’s sense of economy.

“I cycled to get around because I couldn’t afford a car,” he says. “It was a tool to get around. Then mountain biking bit me, and bit me hard. After my first ride on flat pedals, I already got home and bought myself some clipless pedals and entered my first race, months in advance. It was a 50km marathon, which I think took me nearly four hours. It was one of my worst experiences on a bike to date.

“But I loved it. I loved the pain. I loved the endorphins you get out of completing something. I swore I’d never do road cycling, all the way up to 2018, when I was 22. I was never going to do it, but did a couple of local races, got invited to New Zealand’s Cycle Classic and got bitten by the road cycling bug.”

He loved the freedom of cycling. He also loved the simplicity... and, of course, the cheapness. “It was free,” he says. “Well, not free, but for example, bowling is 30 minutes and it costs 30 bucks. Then I’ve got the fuel, parking... That’s an hour of my day that’s cost me more than I’d earn in an hour at my job. Whereas I could spend six hours on the bike and all I have to buy is four muesli bars, which is six bucks. I can go into the bush, I can make a pretty picture on Strava, I can go out with my mates, hurt myself really bad, stop at a coffee shop and have an overpriced latte somewhere in a bouji part of Canberra.”

At some point, however, cycling stopped being cheap, and started becoming very expensive, to the point that Vine would need to start earning money from it in order to justify it. “Coming from Australia, Conti cyclists do not get paid,” he says. “Some Conti cyclists have to buy and service their bicycles, maybe at a discount, but we’re still talking thousands of dollars to purchase a bike and keep it maintained. Then there’s travel to bike races, and also there are only three or four UCI-level races in Oceania, so the big cost is plane tickets to get to Asia or Europe.

“Mountain bike racing is very expensive. Usually it’s 150 dollars to get into the race, 100 bucks in fuel to get to the race. You have to find some accommodation. I’d usually stay the night before and drive back immediately after, because there goes another 150 dollars to stay the night. If you get a flat and you couldn’t fix it, you DNFed that race, and you’ve lost more than a fortnight’s worth of stationery shop salary.”

These days, of course, as a WorldTour professional on one of the world’s most successful teams, and a Grand Tour stage winner, he is finally set financially, not that it has changed him. “It’s my personality. I don’t think it’s going to change regardless of what salary I get. I still get annoyed when I have to pay two euros for parking.”

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Vine will be 28 in November. These days, kids in their early 20s are winning Grand Tours, at an age when Vine had barely discovered road racing. This puts him in an interesting position – significantly older than riders who are already entering their peak years, yet relatively fresh as a professional with plenty to learn and improve on.

His first Vuelta stage win in 2022 came when he attacked and dropped the GC group on a summit finish, proof that on his day he is one of the best climbers in the world, and therefore a contender for any mountainous stage race. He’s also the national TT champion, which makes him even more of a contender in stage races. His goals and ambitions extend from doing well in hillier one-day races, especially Strade Bianche, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Il Lombardia, winning or at least contending in week-long stage races like Catalunya and Itzulia Basque Country, and operating in a free role in Grand Tours – he could support Tadej Po- gačar to a GC win, or envision a top-three finish himself in the right circumstances, or target stage wins. He also puts Olympic selection and riding for the national selection in the Worlds road race high on his bucket list, and if there’s one single result he wants before the end of his career, it’s a win in the Australian national road race, in order to wear the green and gold for a season in Europe.

“I’m still at the start of my career,” he says. “It wouldn’t have been that fa fetched ten years ago to be only just getting leadership now, for a person of 27. I remember back in the day when you weren’t old enough to even ride a full Grand Tour until you were 24. The sport has evolved so rapidly. I have more physical years on people, but I’d suggest I’ve got fewer kilometres in the legs than a lot of younger people in the peloton.”

Vine, like most modern professionals, knows himself physically extremely well. He describes the essence of his talent as a bike racer as his 20-minute watts-per-kilo output, on a climb that is not too steep. He also responds well to altitude. But strategically and tactically, he is still learning.

“I know how much energy you can save throughout a race, which helps me,” he says. “What annoys me is when I’m using more energy than I have to, whether it be sitting out in the wind a little bit, picking a side of the road, closing the back door, all those little things that allow less mental stress, but also less physical stress on the leaders.”

For instruction, he’s been watching teammate Diego Ulissi closely. “The amount of subtle things he does at a race, that I didn’t even think of, is invaluable,” he says. “He is able to sense when we are heading into the final, or the way the wind is blowing and in six kilometres there’s going to be a corner, and he’ll start to move us up ten kilometres before I even notice the wind. It’s not even mentioned in the meeting, but he can sense when the peloton is starting to bunch up and start closing doors. We move into position and get into the top 10 wheels, no stress at all. From that, I’ve started doing a lot more homework on courses, wind and all that kind of stuff, but also in the race, looking around, seeing which riders are grouped together.”

See Jay Vine at Rouleur Live 2023 on 3 November

And though he was a latecomer to the sport, his character means that he fits into the demands quite well. The long hours of solitary training suit introverts, though cycling does also force its protagonists to live in close quarters with each other for weeks at a time – you can’t very easily be unsociable and still work well in such a team-oriented environment.

“Being introverted is not a bad thing, especially in cycling,” he says. “I’m comfortable enough with my own thoughts, as scary as they sometimes may be, to sit there in silence and think to myself about stuff. My big thing is always, I don’t like talking for the sake of talking.

“Like, my best mate in Australia is an extrovert. I spent three days with him and I was exhausted and just wanted to spend a week with my wife not talking to anyone and having a detox. Whereas he took those three days, accelerated through them back into work and got refuelled by that.”

Some people need to be around other people all the time. Jay Vine’s idea of post-career paradise is to have cars to work on, and to own a smallholding: “A hobby farm, with two of every animal, from emus to iguanas to donkeys to geese. I love animals!” he says.

But the short-term goals are more pressing: a better 2024, to make up for 2023. And given that 2023 was actually quite good, so long as you include January, that means wins and placings in the world’s biggest races. Even Vine can see the positives: “I got an extension with the best team in the world, won a stage race, got selected for the Worlds and learned a lot.”

A good year, then, with better to come.

See Jay Vine at Rouleur Live 2023 on 3 November

Jay Vine x Elite 

Jay Vine’s UAE team works with Elite, who provide the outfit’s indoor training and warm-up/cool-down protocol solutions. Elite are leaders in interactive trainers, and have developed what they call the ‘Elite cycling ecosystem’, with everything you need to get started with indoor training, from the trainers themselves through software systems and accessories. We asked Vine about his usage of Elite’s systems.

How do you use stationary trainers?

I use the Elite Tuo to do my warm-ups for TTs, it’s important to get a good warm-up done in preparation for that. Also for the start of really hard stages, it gets the legs going before the neutral start and the race kicks off. Also, cooldowns at the top of climbs, we tend to have at least one at every finish and usually two or three if it’s a mountain stage, so guys who are racing all the way to the finish can spin down and cool down afterwards. 

Are there workouts you any that are only indoor workouts, that can't easily be replicated outdoors?

Living in Andorra, there can be some pretty terrible weather, so using the trainer when it’s snowing or it’s really pelting down with rain is quite useful. It just gets the session done, because it’s not worth the suffering and the cold and the risk of injury by going out with the traffic. Very useful when the weather is really really terrible.

This year when I injured my knee I used the trainer a lot for my rehab. I could do my easy spins on the trainer. There are so many mountains in Andorra, that you just can’t go easy on an outdoor ride. So it helps with recovery. It was much better for me to stay inside on the trainer and spin the legs around at a lower effort than what it would have been going outside and putting too much load on it.

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