LottoNl-Jumbo’s Alexey Vermeulen Talks Dauphiné
Rider Interview: The 2017 Critérium du Dauphiné was one of the toughest, but a young LottoNl-Jumbo team came away with the KOM jersey and a stage win. Alexey Vermeulen played his part in helping the dutch team add to its growing palmarès. We caught up with the young man in his Girona home right after the race.
We first spoke to Alexey at his first training camp with the LottoNl-Jumbo WorldTour team, back at the start of 2016, since then he has been mixing it with the big boys of pro cycling. In 2017 his season started with the Tour Down Under and since then he has featured in the Dutch team line-up exclusively in WorldTour events.
After Alexey’s 2017 debut Down Under, his race calendar has been out of the ‘Top Drawer’ of professional cycling: Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, Abu Dhabi Tour, Strade Bianche, Volta Ciclista a Catalunya, La Flèche Wallonne, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Tour de Romandie, Amgen Tour of California and last week the Dauphiné. Apart from the Strade Bianche, he finished them all.
The high points have to be the overall win in California for his teammate George Bennett and the stage win and final King of the Mountains jersey for Keon Bouwman in the Dauphiné and Alexey was on hand to play his part for the team. After a reminder from Alexey that he was due an interview with PEZ, we caught him the day after the Dauphiné finish and the day before he jetted off to the US for the National championships.
PEZ: Nice ride in the Dauphiné, Alexey. Can you tell us a bit more about it?
Alexey Vermeulen: Yeah, I guess in short; it was fast racing all week, it was intense and I would say it was probably one of the hardest races I have ever done in my career. The only thing keeping it from being the hardest race was the clement weather. It was on every day. The first three stages, they called sprinter stages, were all over 2,000 meters of climbing and all on small roads; right, left, up, down. Then there was the time trial and the race switched over and we had some of the most epic mountain days you’ll ever see, even in a Grand Tour. It was a pretty hard race, that’s for sure.
PEZ: Did having Koen Bouwman in the King of the Mountains jersey make things harder?
I don’t know if it made it harder, there were times when we had to watch who was going in the break and work on helping him get in the break. We had thought that when Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal) lost the yellow jersey he would go for the mountains jersey, but I think he really emptied himself to hold onto yellow. When he lost it he kind of dropped out and couldn’t contend and Koen was the only one left, so it worked out in our favor. Then in the last stage he [Bouwman] blew quite early in the stage and on that day there were only two or three guys who could take the jersey from him. That was the duo from the previous stage up l’Alpe d’Huez; Peter Kennaugh (Sky) and Ben Swift (UAE Team Emirates). If they had taken the first three mountains and not he last one… but it ended up blowing completely away and it didn’t happen like that and Koen was able to hold on and it became a fight for the time limit instead.
PEZ: Bouwman had to go for it on the last climb.
Yeah, he went hard, he ended up not having to, but there are cases when you don’t mess with your math.
PEZ: How does the Dauphiné compare to the Tours of Catalunya and California that you rode earlier this year?
That’s a hard question because, in my mind, they are very different races. Catalunya and Dauphiné, I would say, are pretty similar, with the Dauphiné having… maybe not a tougher field, but guys in better shape and also the last three days were definitely harder with the mountain stages than in Catalunya. California is hard; but all of that technical, small, up-down stages that I talked about in the beginning of Dauphiné, California has nothing to compare with that and sometimes that just zaps your energy more than anything else. Being focused on staying at the front and all that. That being said we had a very different team in California, I was part of a team with George [Bennett] were we had the ability to put our name and stay in the top 20 – top 40 guys, the entire race. In the Dauphiné we didn’t have that with us, Stef (Clement) was going well, but coming from the Giro, nobody really knew where we were. We had a young team and we kinda had to fight for every inch that we got. In that sense it was also hard.
PEZ: It was a pretty successful Dauphiné for you and the team, considering it was such a young team.
Oh, 100% they were really happy. We had two guys from the Giro, and only three out of almost twenty riders from the Giro finished the race and we only lost one guy, Gijs Van Hoecke, on the last day. Overall it was a really motivated young group.
PEZ: To come home with the mountains jersey from a race like the Dauphiné is pretty good.
Yeah that was a plus. The reality is that we all tried to help, but it was a lot on Koen’s shoulders, he rode out of his skin to get into a couple of those break-aways. It was quite impressive, specially that stage win (stage 3). There are not many teams that would have come expecting or thinking that they could win a stage. It was lucky, but you also have to take your chances… and we did, which is nice.
PEZ: The day to Tullins that Koen won the stage, you were 5th. Tell us more about that day.
Well, actually it was my worst day on the bike of the whole race. I felt like absolute crap, it was one of those days when I just saw the break rolling and I put myself in it and Koen rode across to it. I was up there and literally me and Antwan Tolhoek attacked at the same time and looked at each other and he just said go and I rode across. The break didn’t really fight to get away and we went down a technical section for a while and we got up to nearly seven minutes. We were doing all the due diligence you can; drinking and eating and all the time during the stage your never sure you are going to make it, even with 20K to go you don’t know if you are going to make it. We got over the final climb with 40K to go with a 15 kilometer descent and I was like: ‘Oh, well!’ We still had about two and a half minutes on top and it kind of stuck there at two and a half and two-fifteen for a while and you can hear the directeur getting excited in the car over the radio. It was touch and go for a while, but it was a good group of guys who didn’t look back and rode their balls off, for the want of a better phrase, all the way to the line. In the end I talked to Koen about 5K out as we turned left under the road to the finish, we were pretty sure we were going to make it as we had over a minute. I talked to Koen, but I could see he was ‘on a day’ and feeling good. It’s hard to sacrifice those chances, you don’t get those chances often, but I made the call to try to keep it going that last kilometer for Koen and he delivered. It was beautiful, especially for the team when you don’t expect anything and also young guys up there, we were the two youngest in the break. It’s nice to complete it and everyone was happy.
PEZ: What was the talk between you and Koen on the run in to the finish?
Ah, who was feeling better, what the best option was, if there was a chance. It was a weird break; there was two of two teams and in that sense we had to watch the other guys in the other team and we decided that if someone was to jump, then I was going to follow. But other than that it was just keeping us moving and keeping everyone to one side so that Koen knew where to go and when to go and to take it to the 200 to go and whenever Koen wanted to jump, he could jump. You know it’s quick and you don’t want to give away your tactics when you are in these scenarios, it’s like when you are passing by you say two sentences, then he goes behind you and you do another rotation and you say something again quick, coz the minute you start to give away that you are talking about it a lot then everyone starts to…. So it was probably four or five quick turns when we talked about things and asking who was good and what we are feeling. He said he thought he had it in him and really there were only two guys we were worried about, really only one guy if we were honest, making sure we would get there first, keep it lined out and he could stay were he wanted was important. He came on the radio through that last round-about and said: ‘Lexey, stay on the front.’ Coz he liked where he was, he was in a good position and it worked.
PEZ: Who was it you were worried about in the group?
One of the Delko guys, Evaldas Siskevicius, he finished second. He had a teammate [Quentin Pacher – Ed.] and he was sitting on my wheel and so they also had team tactics to play, but he never came round Koen. It was really nice and it was special also because you don’t get those opportunities very often and it was also special for me because it was another young rider on the team. It’s not like working for an older pro who already has wins, I was part of his first professional win and I think there is a chance he will be part of mine at some point. It was a moment I think everyone will remember and it changed the race, our goals going into the race were pretty minimal, it starts lifting you up and you get a little more excited, a little more motivated, loftier goals than we had and I think, honestly, that win pushed Koen’s confidence to go for the mountains jersey completely.
PEZ: What was it like back at the team bus after the finish?
It was really exciting that day, it was super. The whole week was pretty relaxed, just with the team that we had. Everything had come through, we had been trying to put a guy in breaks that we thought would work, every day, but you can never pick. I think two of those first three stages two breaks went, but on both of those stages people though they would come down to a reduced field sprint. So back at the bus everyone was very happy and lots of congratulations form other teams. I always think it is funny to look at the directeurs, they walk around with their chests a little bigger, their shoulders a little wider, making more jokes at the tables. It was nice to get back to the hotel for a nice dinner with a little champagne. Koen shared the champagne with Lotto Soudal, who were staying in the same hotel with us. It was a good night, one of those moments you just take in with everything it is. It’s often people get good results, but even on a big team it isn’t often that you win, now I’ve been lucky enough to be part of it twice, two big wins in a month with George and with Keon. They were both fun and both very different scenarios.
PEZ: So what’s next for you?
I fly back to the states (on Tuesday 13th June) to race the Nationals.
PEZ: You usually do a good ride in the National time trial, so what are you expecting out of that?
I want to win the time trial. It’s lofty, a little bit, but I’m also on par with a lot of those guys. It’s a big question right now who is actually going, because once the Tour teams are picked, you’ll know and that changes a lot. It could be a lofty goal, it could be a less lofty goal depending on who goes. Regardless, winning it is not going to be easy no matter who I go up against. It’s hard to say this now because I’m quite tired after the Dauphiné, but I think I can hold on to it for two weeks. I’ll race the road race and the time trial, but my goal and a lot of my mental focus will be on the time trial. It’s going to be hot in Knoxville, Tennessee, we race at 2pm in the afternoon, so it’s going to be very warm, so the Dauphiné will have helped with that a little bit.
PEZ: Do you know what you are doing after the nationals?
I come back to Europe, but I don’t know what races I’ll be doing yet, so most of the team are going to altitude in Austria, the guys who are not doing the Tour. From there some guys will split off and some will stay longer. There are a lot of races then: San Sebastian, Poland, Tour de Wallonne. So all those races will divvy off, guys will go up and guys will go back as the team will be up there for three or four weeks.
PEZ: The last time we spoke was at your first LottoNl-Jumbo training camp in the winter of 2016. How do you think you have changed since then?
Well, I can understand more Dutch gibberish on the race radio. I think you fall into a comfortable place in the team. Last year I was 3rd in the Nationals and this year it has been really easy setting up for the Nationals and it isn’t easy logistically at all. I left both my bikes from California at home in Michigan and I took things from Dauphiné and from California, so for a foreign team I don’t believe that’s very common to help that much. Usually an athlete is left to his own devises, you’re given your bike and told to go, but I’ve really had support. So I think it has gone both ways were I think I’m very happy with the team, it’s going really well. For sure every year is different, last year there was no pressure from the team, pressure from myself, but no pressure from the team at all. This year it’s not that there is pressure, they know what I can do and they know I can do my job, that has been good but also stressful and nice to be part of that. It’s been a great learning experience and I think they are happy with me.
PEZ: What about the end of the season, do you want to ride the Vuelta a España?
100% I did until the 8th stage of the Dauphiné when I was suffering in the gruppetto! No, I do. I think it’s a step you have to make as a cyclist, it gives you a big step also, endurance wise, it also takes a couple of years off your life, but that’s another story. But I think it is something special for a professional athlete and I always wanted to make it to where I am now. This season I have only raced WorldTour races, I’m one of 10 to 15 guys who have only raced. I think, ten WorldTour races this year. It’s hard, but the next step is a Grand Tour. It’s suffering at a different level. If you are suffering on the 8th stage or suffering on the 19th stage… It’s on a wave at that point. You can have your ups and downs in a week, but you can always see the light at the end of the tunnel. I hope to do it, but if I don’t it wont be the end of the World. I’m still 22 till the end of the year, so it’s more in my mind a confirmation from the team. If you look at the team we had at Catalunya, on the list there were 15 guys and most were known Grand Tour starters, and I made the team. There are moments when the team doesn’t say anything, but you know that that means I’ve done well, that was one of them and I think that would mean a lot to me as it would show their confidence in my capabilities.
PEZ: What would be the perfect end to your 2017 season?
Contract and Vuelta, and the Stars and Stripes in two weeks time, that would cap the season off for me. I’m excited, it should be a good end of season, right now I’ve got full focus on the Nationals now, after that I’ll have a little break and then refocus on the rest of the season.