Young American In Europe: Alexey Vermeulen
Rider Interview: Alexey Vermeulen is only 21 years old and is in his first year with the Dutch WorldTour LottoNl-Jumbo team. The young man from Michigan has big plans for the future, he sees himself as a Grand Tour contender and let’s face it, he has time on his hands. We caught-up with him to get his lowdown on life as a neo-pro.
Alexey Vermeulen got his interest in cycling (and his surname) from his Dutch grandfather and from there he moved through the US development system taking the junior National road race championship before gaining a saddle in the BMC Development team. Three years with BMC and the Dutch LottoNl-Jumbo team wanted him in their WorldTour team for 2016 and 2017 seasons.
So far this season he has ridden (and finished) the Tour of Valencia, Driedaagse van West-Vlaanderen, Volta a Catalunya, Tour de Romandie, Amgen Tour of California, the Criterium du Dauphiné and the Flèche Wallonne. A baptism of fire by anyones standards.
PEZ: Were you excited or nervous when you signed for LottoNl-Jumbo?
Alexey Vermeulen: I think it was a little bit of both.
PEZ: How did it come about that you joined the team?
I think they had been watching me for a while. They contacted me in July, early August (2015), I had just broken my wrist in July, so I was just sitting there on the couch after flying back to the US thinking that was my season over. I had big plans; I was going to be leader for l’Avenir and I was going to the Worlds, everything an Under 23 wants to do. I had it all laid out in front of me, the big plan and it was thrown into shambles. I got the email and, of course, I thought ‘awesome’ and then it dawned on me that I had to tell them that I had just broke my wrist. I wasn’t sure if they would still be interested, but it went well and we kept talking and we had Skype meetings, because we were never in the same places, then we finalized everything and agreed on it. I had to speak to BMC a little bit as I still had a year left on my development contract, but they were very supportive in the move. I think it was the first time that they had had another team come for one of their riders, so I was interested to see how they would handle it, but it all went well and it all came to be.
PEZ: At BMC it was an Under 23 calendar?
It’s actually an Under 25 team and I did some bigger ProConti races, but for the most part it was Under 23. The other nice thing was that the National team was over there, so we would mix and match my schedule, so I could have the best schedule. I started the season in Portugal with the National team then the next block with BMC and so it worked out that I had a complete schedule; one team would get into one race and then the other would be in a different race. That kept me from doing a bunch of kermess races, than doing races that actually profit my career.
PEZ: Where were you based in Europe last year?
Most of the year I was in Sittard in Holland, on the border with Germany. It was good, it’s hard, it’s different. When I moved here, to Girona, on January 5th, I thought “I’m ready for this”, like I’ve lived in Europe for three months… But it was different. With the national team it didn’t matter how much you thought you were on your own and in Europe by yourself, flying over: You got to the airport and someone was there to pick you up, you got driven to your house, they knew where it was and when they got there your dinner was made. Those little things, they seem like little things, like I could make dinner. I arrived in Barcelona and I had to find a taxi and I don’t speak Spanish, so I found a taxi and showed him the address, it was like, which building? “I don’t know man!” So I got in and it was 9 o’clock at night and I’m like; dinner, I’m hungry. I had some muffins in my back-pack and that was about all. It has been a learning experience, I’ve enjoyed it a lot, I’m happy and I have slowly settled in.
PEZ: There is a big group in Girona.
It’s a good group and I’m happy there is a diverse group. I have some teammates, which is great, Robert (Gesink) has been so awesome with me, especially for me as when I came over I didn’t have friends and I was looking for someone, if I needed something I could call him and he’s been great. That’s been really awesome to have. I grew up watching him race and for him to be there, at the team presentation, I realized how big he is, he’s what I remembered he was.
There are a lot of Americans and Australians there also and I’m living with Peter Stetina, so that’s good. He’s a guy who can show you around and tell you to buy this or that or go on this training ride. Someone who has been there for years and in the pro peloton. It’s great to have him there, I’d been there a day and I texted him to find-out where things are and he was straight back with the answer and he’s lived in the same place.
PEZ: But it’s not like you have come straight from the US, you have lived in Europe before.
Yeah and it’s not been a shock, like living alone and more people arrived after March, most of the Cannondale team turned up then. Yes, it’s different, but the team have given me a lot of things I otherwise wouldn’t have had. My first two years with BMC we lived in the Ardennes in Belgium, that was a little bit more solo, so I definitely learned a lot before I came over here this time or it would have been a real culture shock.
PEZ: Girona seems to be the place though?
I thought about Nice for a while, because I speak a little bit of French, but after getting to Girona and seeing the guys and the team… this is much cheaper, much easier and Girona has the best of everything man. My apartment is directly across from a market, I got up the first morning and looked out the balcony and there it was, a huge market; vegetables, meat, everything, so that makes it all really easy. That’s what you want as a cyclist when you come home, recover and relax and have it easy.
PEZ: With a name like Vermeulen, do you speak any Dutch?
I’m trying, the guys give me quizzes every night. I know my name makes it even worse because everyone immediately thinks I’ll speak Dutch. My grandfather on my fathers side was born and lived in Ravenstein, in Holland. He moved to Canada after the war, he was a watchmaker but there was no work. He always said he would move back, but he never had the money. So he set up his life there and eventually he moved to the US and met my mom and now live in Michigan, I was born in Tennessee, but live in Michigan, have done since I was four. Anyway, when I was growing up my grandfather never pushed me into cycling, I sort of fell into it. He raced a lot in Holland and he started the London Cycling Club in Ontario, but he never raced in the US as he concentrated on his jewelry store. He used to take me on rides, the one ride I remember most of all was when I was completely bonking, to the point of pedaling a little bit and I had nothing, then I’d fall back and his hand would catch me and push me back up and I would pedal a bit. I think it was about 50K or something, I was about 10 or 12 years old, I was completely smashed at the end. I got into kids triathlon for a while, my mom was doing triathlon at that time, and that’s how I got into racing.
PEZ: Sounds like it’s in your blood.
Yeah and it is something special to be on a Dutch team as my first team with my grandfather and his racing in Holland; he passed away with cancer. It’s special to have the name and to support it and hopefully start a good career.
PEZ: When you are at a race in Holland do people just come up to you and talk Dutch?
Yeah, that happens a lot. At the first kermess I won, it said in a newspaper article ‘we claim him as our own.’ I think of it as a blessing, people see my name and think it’s a bit more unique and character is a big thing in this sport.
PEZ: Tejay van Garderen had the same problem, I think he speaks a little Dutch?
Yeah, he learnt the same way, he was fluent when he left Rabobank. That’s my goal before the end of this year, the first step is understanding. The guys are quizzing me every night and giving me different words, some that are appropriate and some that are not.
PEZ: Those are always the first words you learn.
Exactly, that’s how you remember everything, but it’s been good.
PEZ: What about this season?
I started in Valencia, that was big. The race has returned to the calendar after a break for a few seasons. It was the perfect race to start the season, it was hard and also it had everything: a 15k TT, some climbing stages, some mountain top finishes and some sprint stages, it was a great place to start. That is my goal this season, to do a lot of those stage races. California was also great race for me and the National championships too. But mostly week long stage races, we are ruling out a Grand Tour this year, I’m young and there is no rush to it. Knowing myself, there’s a lot of pressure to view it coming from the start of the season and seeing it coming at you, so honestly if I was to ride one, I’d rather be thrown into it in the last week.
PEZ: That’s what Steven Kruijswijk said about his first GT, he only knew two days before that he would be riding the Giro.
I’d rather it be like that because you are stressing out about it. Everyone on the team, this year, has said there is no pressure, don’t stress, but the pressure comes form yourself and I don’t want to built too much onto it.
PEZ: Do you think you are a Grand Tour rider? Is that the big aim?
That’s what I believe right now, that’s the goal for me. I think what I find most appealing about Grand Tours, more than the time trialling and the climbing is the recovery aspect of it. I love that there is more than just the ‘on the bike’ part of it. Mentally and physically recovering and everything you do is to be ready to race the next day. I love a good time trial, I love a hill top finish, I’m not the best climber in the World and I’m not the best time trialler in the World, but I’m good at both and so I can do well in stage races. So the goal is going to be moving that forward a step and just getting used to racing at the WorldTour level also. But the Grand Tours are the goal.
PEZ: As they have changed the rules, you can ride the U23 Worlds, will you ride them?
It’s available. As much as part of me wanted to with a broken wrist last year, I’m not a big fan of those changes. L’Avenir also and the World championships, for me it’s a question of ‘why are you going back?’ or why is a pro winning l’Avenir, the biggest development race. Not that I’m better than anyone over there, it’s just that I’ve made the step and that would be going backwards. I’d rather someone else in America had the chance to race over here. Even if it was in America again and as much as I would want to, I wouldn’t ride the Under 23 race. I think the National team agree with me. The US has worked very hard to develop its riders and so if you start taking pros, that’s going away from their vision. I like to believe I was good promotion for that system, I went through that whole pipeline. From a junior, winning what used to be the George races, the Lance Armstrong series, to winning Nationals and getting to Europe and kermesses and going to the Worlds in the first year and then doing it all over again in the second year and then jumping into the Under 23’s, its been a progression. A pipeline can’t go backwards, only forwards. Although I would like to, because I missed out last year, maybe I can go to the pro Worlds, but maybe not Qatar.
PEZ: Have you noticed anything that you didn’t see at the BMC Development team or the National team?
Not really. Probably it’s the things they do without thinking, the routine of doing things. Like taking your supplements, like taking your fish oil in the morning which I hate, they down it like it’s just their job. Getting the stretching done, no matter when you get back, 3 or 4 o’clock, you get the stretching done before lunch. It’s just down to science for them, they don’t have to make a list to do it, it’s a routine of doing it. That’s what makes you great, continuing to push the envelope every day and they do. Going out on the bike is the fun part. I’ve learnt to relax, maybe you have a bad day here and there, but you can’t get stressed about. I feed off the other guys, I see they are not stressed and I ask myself if I am stressed and think why should I be if they are not.
PEZ: What do you want from this year?
I want to make it through this year without feeling like I was drowning in every race, I want to feel like I can find myself in the peloton and work towards that goal of being a Grand Tour contender. Although I think that is easier said than done actually. I want to find my place in the team, learn Dutch, find my way around the WorldTour and if the results can come from that, then that’s awesome. From what the coaches and guys have been telling me; “you do the work and it’s going to come, don’t worry and stress about getting the results” and that’s nice. I have two years here, so there is no stress right now, so I can focus.
PEZ: What about growing a beard and getting tattoos?
My beard grows in patchy, so… not even close. I don’t need a beard, there are times training in Michigan and its blizzard weather, its cold and I’d have icicles hanging off it. Some of those guys wear it well, man. But beards are not on my horizon and don’t start me on socks.
We wish Alexey the best of luck, he won’t lose a race due to the lack of enthusiasm.