It wasn’t Jay Vine’s kind of weather, but it was definitely his kind of day. The Australian had targeted the ascent of Pico Jano before this Vuelta a España began, and the climb proved as amenable in reality as it had appeared in the road book.
Vine famously won his passage to the professional peloton by way of riding his turbo trainer to win an online competition, but there were no home comforts on stage 6 of the Vuelta, played out on a mountainside doused in rain and shrouded in low cloud. His first victory as a professional was earned the hard way and in the most arduous of circumstances.
“I’m still using Zwift to prepare for races, because I’m a bit of a softy,” Vine joked when he took a seat in the press conference truck afterwards. “If the weather was like this when I was at home in Andorra, I wouldn’t have been riding outdoors. I still use Zwift to prepare for important events, especially because in rainy weather, you can’t predict what other road users will be doing. But a lot of my training is on the road, because fortunately the weather is very good in Andorra.”
If Vine’s remarkable power-to-weight ratio presented him with his first professional contract at the start of 2021, his displays on the road last season earned him a renewal from Alpecin-Deceuninck. And even though the team is built around the talents of men like Mathieu van der Poel and Jasper Philipsen, the 26-year-old has carved out his own, distinct niche at the Belgian squad.
“The team is highly focused on the sprints and Classics, that’s pretty obvious because we’ve got some of the best Classics riders on the planet,” Vine said. “But we had three guys in the front group today, and they were able to place me going into the base of the climb.”
First pro win
On his Vuelta debut a year ago, Vine caught the eye with a fine third-place finish atop Pico Villuercas and he was sent to this year’s race with the aim of capturing a mountaintop victory. Through the early days of this Vuelta, he had deliberately shipped time in the general classification with the aim of infiltrating breaks, but he missed the early move on stage 6 and he was instead condemned to win the hard way, by attacking from the group of favourites.
“It’s almost unreal. I got a flat tyre in the first 5k and I missed the early break, although it was still the team’s plan for me to go for it on the final climb if it all came back together,” said Vine, who attacked from the group of favourites at the base of the 12.6km haul to the finish before catching and passing the lone leader Mark Padun (EF Education-EasyPost) midway up the ascent.
“To be able to do that from the GC group is incredible, but I’ve been working towards this all year. I knew that Padun was still up the road, and I knew that if I wanted to close the gap, I had to go from a long way. It was lucky – well not lucky exactly, because it was planned – but I was 13 minutes down on GC, so no one would care if I went. That meant I was able to pace the climb pretty handily.”
Vine’s description does the magnitude of his display a disservice. Although he was able to slip clear of the red jersey group with nary a reaction at the foot of Pico Jano, he had to fend off a fierce pursuit from Remco Evenepoel (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl) most of the way after the Belgian launched his own onslaught with 9km remaining.
When Vine caught and passed Padun with a little over 6km to go, for instance, he led Evenepoel and Enric Mas (Movistar) by 20 seconds, and he still retained 15 seconds of that buffer come the summit. For reference, men like defending champion Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) and Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe) were 50 seconds down with 6km to go, but their deficit would swell to 1:37 by the finish.
“It was supposed to happen last year, but accidents happen,” Vine said of his first professional win. “It’s even more special because I’ve been so close so often this year alone. And I’ve basically worked the entire year building to this event. My wife doesn’t work, she’s full-time supporting me, so at home, every day is a training camp for me and her.
“In the last metres, I was thinking of a couple of things. I thought this was for my wife, who’s basically just done everything for me for the last three or four years to get this point. And I also thought, I guess it’s time for me to get a Corvette.”
It has, by any measure, been a stunning journey for Vine these past three years. In early 2020, he hoped fifth place at the Herald Sun Tour might open opportunities to make the move from the Nero Continental squad to European racing. Instead, the coronavirus pandemic threatened to cut off the prospect at the bud. “The only route I had left was to take the Zwift Academy to get this spot on my team,” Vine said. The future was virtual then. The present must scarcely feel real now.