Vine and Bradbury go pro with Zwift Academy victories

It’s been a double success for Aussies in the Zwift Academy for 2020, with Jay Vine (Nero Continental) and Neve Bradbury (Roxsolt-Attaquer) winning the selection process and the professional contracts for 2021.

It made for a strange sight, but the living rooms of Jay Vine and Neve Bradbury were the setting and some Zwift-branded t-shirts the attire for one of the most important announcements of their lives to date, both securing professional deals in cycling for the first time in their careers.

Vine becomes the first Australian male winner of Zwift, combining his real-world form with Nero Continental with his indoor acumen, forged over hundreds of Zwift sessions with partner Bre and races with Australian e-cycling team AERO.

Bradbury joins Jessica Pratt as the only other Australian winner on the women’s side of things, and will take up a contract with WorldTour squad Canyon-SRAM, though it’s not certain if Pratt will be back there next year alongside her with plans for 2021 not confirmed. Bradbury said during the Finals that Tiffany Cromwell (Canyon-SRAM) was one of her heroes and she’ll be riding alongside the established Australian professional next season.

The Zwift Academy Finals were live-streamed on Facebook

The 18-year-old worked her way through the qualifying stage to the final group of five vying for the overall prize of a professional contract, working through the Finals process of interviews, rides and races with Canyon-SRAM looking to find the athlete who is the best fit with the team.

Bradbury was just off a tough set of races at the National Road Series in the Tweed with Roxsolt-Attaquer, where she won the sixth day of competition into Mooball, skipping away up the final climb and winning solo comfortably.

Bradbury faced a tough challenge from New Zealander Kate McCarthy in the Zwift Academy Final, with the police officer from across the Tasman finishing just behind Bradbury in the points race, her 17 points just behind the Australian’s 18.

Bradbury then bided her time behind McCarthy in the flat portion of the time trial, before jumping away on the climb to the line where her significant climbing abilities came to the fore. The Victorian powered away and posted a 20-second win.

When it was announced that Bradbury had won, the young Victorian looked beside herself and couldn’t take the smile off her face.

“To say I’m stoked is an understatement, it’s unreal. I’m so excited,” said Bradbury.

When asked for her highlight of the finals process, Bradbury highlighted the chance to interact with the Canyon-SRAM riders.

“I say earlier talking to the pros,” said Bradbury. “I was just babbling the whole time, to think that I’m soon going to be a pro is crazy. That was a really cool experience.”

Jay Vine has been looking to make the step up to the professional ranks and has dedicated himself full-time to the pursuit of a contract within the upper ranks of cycling. That single-minded determination paid off as he secured a deal with ProTeam Alpecin-Fenix, the home of star rider Mathieu van der Poel.

Vine had a very similar preparation to Bradbury, in his case winning two stages of the National Road Series racing in the Tweed before resetting his body and mental focus towards the Zwift Academy Finals.

On the final live stream, Vine was one of the strongest in the points race, though he couldn’t quite match Lionel Vujasin of Belgium, who used his exceptional sprinting power to take the points win 17 to 13 over Vine.

In the time-trial the dynamic was reversed, with Vine leading by 25 seconds over the Belgian heading into the final 200 metres of the course, before suffering an equipment malfunction, with his avatar coming to a complete stop on the virtual road and real-life Vine spinning his legs trying to work out what went wrong. He was able to restart his trainer, but lost his lead and eventually finished half a minute behind Vujasin.

“I emptied myself pretty well,” said Vine immediately after the time trial, before the confirmation of him as the winner. “I thought that I was going to set a pretty good time there. You get this in road racing as well, at least in a road race if I’d flatted there I would have kept riding.

“A bit different with a glitch like that. I wish I had the thought to pull the plug out sooner, I might have been able to cross a bit closer.”

Nonetheless, it was Vine that secured the victory, and selection with the Alpecin-Fenix squad for 2021, the 25-year-old initially looking relieved that his efforts have been rewarded with the prize that he had chased for so long.

“I’m pretty ecstatic to be honest,” said Vine. “I’m lost for words, I didn’t think that it was going to happen this year. This is just incredible. I can’t wait to get over there, when do I start?!?”

While Vine was the favourite for many, particularly those that had seen his talents up close in Australia, there was no premature celebration from Vine as he methodically went about the process of being as fit as possible for the event and his best chance for a professional contract.

“A perfect example, I’m sure Roglic thought he was going to win the Tour de France,’ said Vine. “Anything can happen in the sport. I had to focus on getting as good as I could get. Making sure that there were no mistakes. I did have a dropout… I don’t know what to say.”

With a long sought-for goal now in his possession, the Vines, Bre and Jay, will have a joint celebration on their hands. Bre had been the sole breadwinner within the household, working for the Department of Education, Skills and Employment, supporting Jay in his goal to turn pro at the older-than-normal age of 25.

“I think Bre’s got a bottle of champagne,” said Jay Vine. “I don’t like champagne, but I’ll have a toast and I’ll have some friends around tonight for a barbeque. This is pretty special.”

The double Australian success comes amid a tough 2020 for the domestic scene in Australia, but the dual elevations of Vine and Bradbury see a silver lining for what had been a down year for competitive cycling within Australia.

By Jamie Finch-Penninger