In 2020 Jay Vine won a competition on the internet. Today he scored his first podium at his debut Grand Tour.
How are those two things connected? Well, it wasn't one of those Instagram giveaways where you tag fourteen people you know, add the original post to your story, follow six new accounts and get 'entered into a draw' to win a pair of socks that Vine won.
This contest is called the Zwift Racing Academy, and through it, Jay Vine won himself a pro contract with Alpecin-Fenix. Today, riding for that team, Vine crashed, got back up, caught the breakaway of which he'd earlier been a part, fought past them, then battled with WorldTour stalwart Jesus Herrada (Cofidis) all the way to the line at the summit finish of Pico Villuercas.
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Vuelta a España : Stage 14 - Jay Vine involved in nasty crash with car
Zwift, you probably know, is an online indoor training platform. Riders race or train in a virtual world, and – for a few years now – the platform also runs an annual contest to discover under-the-radar or under-appreciated talents from the amateur ranks. The Academy started out with the women's side, with Canyon // SRAM hiring the winners of the first two contests, ex-marathoner Leah Thorvilson and former fixed-gear criterium specialist Tanja Erath. Erath still rides pro for Tibco Silicon Valley Bank while Thorvilson has since moved to a domestic team after two years with Canyon. They have proved that you can become a successful pro cyclist via the Zwift route.
Until this year however, there had not been an equivalent success on the men's side of the sport. Until this year, we hadn't met Jay Vine.
The Australian rider is 25 years old, and still rough around the edges – but he's not a total newbie to professional racing. In 2020 he raced the Herald SunTour, one of the last major cycling events to take place before the COVID-19 pandemic. He placed 5th there on GC. The eventual winner, Jai Hindley, went on to place second at the Giro. The pandemic put paid to his hopes of getting noticed any further by pro teams, as he was effectively trapped in Australia. The Academy, then, came as something of a godsend.
After winning the Academy, Vine got a one-year contract. That's already been extended by two more years and in La Vuelta so far, Vine has already proven he belongs in the WorldTour mix. He notched an 11th on Stage 7 to Balcon de Alicante, another uphill finish, but today was the day he really proved what he can do.
- 'That was horrible' - Jay Vine collides with a car but battles back for podium finish
- Brilliant Bardet takes Stage 14 with perfectly judged display of climbing power in the mountains
Vine's crash came today at around 35km from the finish. He looked like he was out of La Vuelta, never mind contention for the day's glory. By 15km to go, he was not only back on his bike, but in the mix with Romain Bardet (Team DSM & Tour de France podiumer) and Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers & Olympic Champion) for a Grand Tour stage win. A couple of years ago he was working for the Australian government in compliance and data analysis in the pharmaceuticals space.
Ultimately, the jury awarded today's most combative rider award to Dani Navarro (Burgos BH), a Spaniard who also battled hard to overcome a crash – but who did not suffer nearly quite so much, nor finish as high, as Vine. Today Jay Vine may not have won the most combative award, but he won a lot of hearts.
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