Road

Zwift Academy winner on riding with Mathieu van de Poel: ‘Just saying that sounds ridiculous’

Jay Vine earned a contract with Alpecin-Fenix having believed his chances of racing into the pro ranks were doomed by COVID.

Jay Vine had been trying to turn pro for years. Having believed his prospects of landing a full-time deal this year to have been squashed by COVID, the young Aussie hit the big time this weekend through the most unlikely of pathways – by winning the Zwift Academy.

“It still feels a bit weird calling myself a pro, I might save that until January 1,” the 25-year-old told SBS Cycling Central.

Vine won the selection process that determined the Zwift Academy finals last week, coming out top of a pool of five to earn a year’s contract with second-tier Belgian squad Alpecin-Fenix, home to Mathieu van der Poel. Neve Bradbury won the women’s Academy, earning a slot with Canyon-SRAM.

“I am going to be on Mathieu van der Poel’s team … just saying that sounds ridiculous,” said Vine. “The team – I don’t think they’d mind me saying this – are one of the top three classics teams in the world right now. I don’t think many would argue that they’re not in that top three.

“Every race start Mathieu van der Poel is at, you’re lining up with one of the favorites for that event. It’s going to be a really cool experience.”

The Canberra resident is no newcomer to road racing after having raced with Aussie conti squad Nero since 2019. This winter, he finished fifth overall at the Herald Sun Tour behind overall winner Jai Hindley and fourth-place Neilson Powless, a marquee result in his young career.

Vine had been hoping the promise he had shown at this winter’s Sun Tour would mark the start of a stepping-stone season to professional racing. However, along came COVID and the Australian and Asian seasons came to a grinding halt, putting an early stopper on his hopes of racing into the eye of a roving talent scout.

“I had those doubts [about turning pro] all year … but it never stopped me from trying,” he said. “I certainly wasn’t going to wait a year then start again from scratch in 2021. The Zwift Academy – back in March when this all blew up – wasn’t even on the cards because until this point it had been Under 23 only.”

The opening of Zwift’s competition for elite riders to a wider range of applicants gave Vine his chance.

And so it turned out that the virtual world of Watopia rather than the wide roads of Australia gave the youngster the platform to step up to the pro ranks.

“Three days ago, I was fully focused on going for the national champs time trial title,” he said. “That was my peak for this early bit of 2021, but now it’s secondary. The team could want me for the team camp in January, which would mean I’m not in Australia for nationals in February. It’s amazing how much things change.”