Produced in association with RoadCode; all images reproduced with permission from Jay & Bre Vine

It’s 19th February when Jay Vine rolls over the start line in the UAE to begin his fourth season as a professional cyclist. For the 28-year-old Queensland native, every season represents a unique opportunity – one that he doesn’t take for granted. Signed by Alpecin-Deceuninck following his victory on the 2020 Zwift Academy, he made an impression at the Vuelta in 2021, before following up that promise with two stage wins at the race in 2022. His performance attracted the attention of UAE Team Emirates, and he signed a contract with the Emirati super team through the end of 2027.

It could be interpreted as something of a whirlwind, for a rider coming through a little later in life and not quite in the usual manner, but despite the opportunity afforded to Vine by the Zwift that enabled him to land a contract and move to Europe, it’s clear five minutes after you begin to speak with him, that it’s all part of a grand plan. And the plan extends well beyond his racing career. Jay Vine is a man with a vision. And it’s all coming together beautifully.

The bright side

We first meet in Altea at the UAE team media day in December, and of course, the ice is broken with the usual questions about the feeling within the camp, and the year ahead. Vine is mainly just happy to be around his teammates again, both old and new. ‘It's good to see everyone again,’ he says. He’s relaxed and takes his time thinking over his answers. You get the impression he’s happy to talk, and not worried about the generic line of questioning. ‘We've got a couple of our more experienced guys, but the rest of them are all brand new, super-talents, you know, from the junior and under-23 ranks. It's good seeing everyone as well, like, obviously I don't suit the Belgian races, so there's a lot of guys that I don't see all year, especially with last year being so interrupted.’

‘Interrupted’ is a diplomatic way to put Jay Vine’s 2023, in which he suffered multiple setbacks with illness, injury and crashes. I tentatively enquire whether he is able to take anything positive from the experience and he is unequivocal in his response.

‘Oh, absolutely. Yeah, I was pretty down on last year. But looking back on it, I've secured another four years in a contract. My goal when I first turned professional was to get 10 years in a career before moving back to Australia. So I’ve only got three years after this contract has ended. And, you know, I'll be 32 by then. So, that's already extremely, extraordinarily, incredible.’

His ability to look beyond the misfortune is refreshing. He continues to reflect on what he’s managed to tick off of a lofty set of personal goals. ‘You know, I've achieved two of my goals. When I turned professional – to win [the Tour] Down Under and to wear green and gold [of national time trial champion]. I participated in a world championships. That was also one of my goals. So, yeah, it's incredible. And, you know, I get to do some more races this year.’ He smiles, and I remark on how tough it was to watch him take so many knocks as a spectator, yet he’s able to put a positive spin on it.

‘I heard a really good quote from another really famous Australian, not that I'm really that famous,’ says Vine. ‘Ned Kelly, who when he was about to get taken away by the police, said, “such is life.” You know, I think that perfectly explains my year in 2023. But 2024 is coming up next. It's not stopping, it's not slowing down. So let’s get on with it.’

The only way is indeed, up. With the positive mindset Vine clearly has in spades, he’s able to head into the new season with renewed enthusiasm. He’s also mindful of the contrast with other riders. ‘I put a lot of pressure on myself trying to compare myself to the other guys. But at the end of the day, I was able to win my home race, on debut, the first time I showed up, and it’s a World Tour race. I got to wear green and gold in Europe. I still need to tick off the road race, but I was able to wear the time trial suit. It's disappointing I didn't get to finish the Vuelta because then I missed out on another two time trials.’

Eyes on the prize

There’s no doubt that Vine doesn’t shy away from big goals. He outlines his plans for 2024. ‘The Giro is a massive goal, going with Tadej, and Vuelta again, so two big Grand Tours in the same year. So getting prepped as well as possible, hoping for some good weather in Italy. And then maybe a selection at the Olympics. That's also one of my goals, to wear a tracksuit at the Olympics for Australia. And that's a pretty full year.’

He reflects on what it would mean to be a part of a Grand Tour winning side. ‘I talked to Jack Haig [Bahrain-Victorious] before the Vuelta, we're pretty close. I was talking about how my first World Tour race was when he came third in the Vuelta [2021]. I was like “What's the highlight of your career so far?” And surprisingly, he said he really enjoyed winning the [2018] Vuelta with [Simon] Yates. That always stuck with me, you know, not his third place but being part of a Grand Tour winning team. I really think that'd be pretty cool to be part of as well. And you know, with Tadej coming to the Giro, he's going to be one of the top favourites to win the overall. And being part of that team is going to be pretty incredible. Yeah, I've never had the out and out odds-on favourite to win a race in my team, so yeah, it’s gonna be pretty cool.’

In terms of his physical development it’s interesting to enquire as to where Vine feels he is, in terms of his path to his ultimate peak. ‘Well I haven't really done a full season yet,’ he notes. ‘I’m only finishing my third year as a professional. So I really don't know. I guess I've probably done two full Grand Tours of Spain across three attempts. I reckon some of these young guys we've got on the team from under-23s have done more race days in Europe already. So I certainly hope I haven't reached my peak already.’ He laughs, and it’s once again interesting to note that there’s a sense of Vine knowing exactly where he wants to be, and knowing that he’ll get there in time.

Longevity within the sport comes up and I reflect on whether coming to the sport slightly later might give Vine an advantage on this front. ‘I have no idea, I mean, Valverde raced until he was 41 and he was competitive all the way up to his final year. I think it also depends on how you go mentally, like, some guys want to keep racing all the way until they're 50. Cadel Evans, if you read his book, he didn't want to retire. And that was like, three years after he won the Tour de France. It's both physical and mental, how you wind up. Downtime is definitely really crucial in our sport.’

Team Vine does Europe

The subject of downtime is one where there’s lots to talk about. Anyone who follows Jay or his wife Bre on social media won’t fail to have noticed the many adventures the couple enjoy together. ‘I’m definitely a car guy myself,’ says Vine, by way of introduction to his off-season adventures. ‘And you know, I'm more than a day's travel away from Australia. And after Europe, I'm going to move back to Australia and have plenty of commitments with hopefully a massive family full of healthy young children so shipping everyone back to Europe or America for holidays is probably not gonna be an option.

'So we live up Europe as much as possible. Best way to see as many cities as you possibly can is driving so, this year, I spent two weeks, nearly 6000 kilometres, driving around Europe trying to see as many things as I possibly could in a Bentley Continental. So, that was my holiday.’

For a car fan, the Nurburgring in Germany was a highlight, as was Verona in Italy. ‘But strangely enough, my highlight was probably Stonehenge and Bath in the UK,’ says Vine. ‘Seeing the Roman baths and the abbey there and Pulteney Bridge was probably my favourite day, and then staying in the bed and breakfast that my wife picked out.’

Where else is on the list, before Team Vine heads back to Australia to settle?

‘I want to make sure we tick off all the world heritage sites. So the Pyramids will be one of them. We won't drive to Egypt! I rode past the Colosseum, but I haven't actually properly looked at it. I want to see Athens and all those sorts of things. We haven't been to the Vatican. I want to go see Venice...’ he continues, wistfully, giving the impression that his appetite for travel is endless.

Like the other Antipodean riders in the peloton, Vine faces a decision over whether to travel home each off-season, but he confirms he’s done with that for now. ‘I haven't gone back in a while. Last year, I spent three months, maybe more in Australia immediately when I finished the racing season, but I don't think I'll do that again. Yeah, I'm definitely not going to be racing back to Australia on the first of October. No, I want to actually experience Europe and obviously, I'm in that stage of my life as well, when family starts to come along. I'm not putting everyone on a plane to fly back.

‘That's the thing Europeans don't really get, like, a lot of Europeans, they're within an hour's drive of their hometown. Being part of the Defence Force group in Australia, my parents moved 600 kilometres away the day after I finished high school, and I moved in with my future wife, like, three weeks later. So my parents were always a day's travel away from me, as it was. And I hadn't lived at home for seven years before I turned professional. Once a year you went and saw your family. So I see my family once a year.

'And now my siblings are growing up and doing their own things and moving out of home as well. So to organise to see them all it's sort of an Australian thing. Unless you stay in the one town. You move away and it's a day’s travel and you don't see very many people that often. But luckily enough 10 or 20 years ago, we didn't have Skype. We didn’t have WhatsApp. We didn't have FaceTime. Now, if I feel homesick, I can just call anyone of my siblings up and see their faces.’

Finding a rhythm

Fast forward to February, and the wide open expanses of the middle Eastern desert beckon, as Vine begins his fourth year in the pro peloton, with a second crack at the race he was forced to retire from in 2023 due to injury. This time around, he’ll finally get his shot at the dune climbs of Jebel Jais and Jebel Hafeet, as well as tuning up his individual time trial for the first time since 11th June last year (he came second, sandwiched between two of his teammates, in a UAE Team Emirates podium white-out).

Though much of the attention in the early season has been on Vine’s young teammates, the group in UAE mostly comprises experienced heads, including leader Adam Yates. ‘It’s a great group of guys,’ Vine tells me in a voice note. We’ve agreed to catch up but time differences and team duties prevent a one-to-one chat. ‘I don't get to ride with [Mikkel] Bjerg much throughout the year, but he’s my roommate this year so he's good to ride with and roommate with.’

Vine pauses for the roar of the race track in the background. ‘I’m just looking forward to getting around some of these climbs and just being able to race in the UAE because last year I came in with an injury and it just got worse throughout the race so I had to abandon. I'm looking forward to this year actually doing the two climbs and having a good crack at the TT.’

He outlines the rest of his programme for the season. ‘We chose to not go to Australia to put better focus on the other goals of the year, with the Giro obviously being a pretty big one. Peaking so early in January, it’s difficult to carry that form all the way through to the Giro so we're going to start a bit slowly this year.

‘It's also only my fourth year as a professional so I'm trying to find my rhythm. The way my programme is structured this year I'll have a break in the middle when the Tour’s on and hopefully have a good final part of the year with the Vuelta. So that's how it's all shaping up. But hopefully I can mix it up each year as this thing goes on, so that I can have a bit of variety in my calendar.'

Vine confirms he will also race Paris-Nice and Catalunya in the run-up to the Giro. There’s something far more pressing than just bike racing that I want to talk to him about, though…

Peacocks, donkeys, and a Lamborghini Tractor

For social media followers of the couple again, this won’t be new information, but for anyone else, Jay and Bre announced earlier this month that they were expecting their first child. Having chatted about his plans for a large family in December, it felt like another step on the path towards the grand plan, which extends far beyond his racing career and into the future.

‘Bre's doing really well,’ Vine tells me in a second voice note. ‘The due date is towards the end of the year, so I should be able to have a good solid block of time with the baby before the 2025 season starts which is really good. Not that you can really plan these things. We’re really happy and everything's all healthy with Bre. Now that I'm away racing, she's trying to do as much as she can with prenatal classes and research on baby passports and what she has to do with the Australian embassy and Andorran residency and all this sort of stuff.’

Vine made no secret of his ambition in terms of the size of the family he’d like to have, and his vision of the future doesn’t stop at children. He aims to be a ‘Dr Doolittle’ with a farm on the East Coast of Australia.

‘With the farm we're looking at having a bunch of different animals, chickens, maybe a dairy cow. Peacocks to keep the snakes away, donkeys because we love donkeys. Donkeys are actually Bre and my favourite animals. And dogs and yeah, just have a merry old farm. Definitely a family-orientated future, I don't think will be jetting to and from Europe once I'm retired, because it would just been too expensive with all the plane tickets we’ll have to buy. So that's why staying in Europe as much as possible is key whilst I'm racing. It's why I'm going to try not to rush back to Australia for a month every year, so that I can spend that time in Europe.

Vine lays out his ultimate vision of family life, and it’s about as wholesome as it gets. ‘I'm looking forward to having a very traditional, down to earth little family back in Australia, you know, teaching the kids how to do basic stuff. Hopefully get a little farmstead type thing going. Yeah, with a bunch of animals. Hopefully have myself a tractor, I'm deciding between a Porsche and a Lamborghini tractor to go in the shed to occasionally plough fields or move stumps, filling it with animals and chickens and homesteading, basically. Yeah, that'd be my ideal lifestyle.’

Thanks to Jay and Bre Vine and RoadCode for facilitating this interview.

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