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MUSCAT, Oman (VN) — WorldTour rookie Michael Vink has had a fairly unusual career trajectory.
Despite garnering interest from top-tier teams in the past, the 31-year-old spent over a decade racing at Continental level. That was until this season when UAE Team Emirates decided to hand him a contract based on his performances on virtual racing app MyWhoosh.
Vink, who hails from New Zealand, never thought of giving up on his dream of finally turning professional and it finally paid dividends.
“It was crazy because a few times in my career I was close to signing WorldTour, but for whatever reason, it hasn’t worked out,” Vink told VeloNews at the Tour of Oman. “When I got a call up to this team, it was the year that I was least expecting it. It just goes to show that if you keep working hard and you keep persisting and never lose sight of your goals and your dreams then things can happen.
“I just love the sport, I love to ride my bike. When I retire, I will still ride my bike. It’s not just the racing, it’s the whole atmosphere, the lifestyle, it’s the whole package for me. That’s why I’m still doing it at my age and hopefully for many years to come.”
While Vine got his place in the pro peloton through the Zwift Academy, Vink was effectively headhunted by UAE Team Emirates via the MyWoosh app. The platform is UAE-owned and sponsors the cycling team.
He made his debut at the Tour Down Under, where he helped support his teammate Jay Vine — a fellow indoor star that is now doing great things on the real road. He fell ill ahead of the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race and would have to pull out.
He’s back on track at the Tour of Oman, playing support to a number of potential leaders, including Pascal Ackermann and Davide Formolo.
“It’s been good. There’s been a lot to learn but the team has been really welcoming. It’s a nice atmosphere to be a part of so it’s been a great team to start my career with,” he said.
“This team is so professional, and the level is so high. Because the level of the team is so high, when we go racing comparatively it’s not so bad. Just trying to keep up to a level like this makes it a lot easier. Everyone is so strong and so motivated, and everyone is riding on the front. I think it’s really the best team to transition into.”
This season is all about proving his worth to UAE after the team showed its faith in him. He has no grand plans for 2023, other than doing exactly what is asked of him and hoping that he can turn this opportunity into something more.
“I just want to keep the team happy. It’s all so new for me and the team, to have someone like me on the squad. It’s going to be a learning experience for both of us, but so far I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing and try to find my place in the team. That’s really what I want to do,” Vink said.
Going from inside to out
Vink’s transition from the indoor trainer to a career on the road is becoming more common in the cycling world and there is a slowly growing number of riders that have been making that jump, particularly with the Zwift Academy gifting cyclists an opportunity to score a pro contract.
Having spent over a decade racing with teams out on the real road, Vink doesn’t see himself as a true indoor rider but one that took the opportunity when the coronavirus pandemic disrupted normal life.
“It’s a funny position for me to be in because I feel like I was a purist cyclist that went to indoor and then went back to the purist side of things. I don’t feel like I’ve come from that environment, I feel like I’ve come from a real traditional road background,” he said.
“I’ve been doing it 13 years now, definitely a traditionalist and I know the sport really well. The transition to the online thing was almost a bit of fun and doing something a bit different. It was never something that I was super serious about. But with Covid and things, it was either that or no racing at all. I had to choose some sort of racing, whatever it may be.”
With all of that being said, Vink believes that virtual racing is a great place for teams to talent-spot. Though some may not yet have the skills to race in the bunch, he says it shows the true physical capabilities of the riders.
“If you have the legs, you have the legs, with the power numbers that you do, you can’t fake it. You can train a lot of things, but you can’t train people to have these high thresholds and high power numbers,” Vink said. “For me, for talent scouting, I think it is 100 percent the best way to go because you can really see is the hardest thing to get from a rider. Results are one thing but you also need guys with the legs and that’s what the online stuff will show.
“In racing, there are so many variables. You have to get on the front, find good positioning, and be able to read races and all of that. That’s all stuff that you can effectively train, but the real top end and having those legs is something that’s really difficult. If the teams can find that online and teach the riders other parts, then you get someone like Jay Vine.”