Case study: ALEXEY VERMEULEN
The young American is one of the victims of the new rule on team sizes
‘I think the days of sending young riders to Grand Tours to do 10 days or two weeks for experience will be finished,’ says Alexey Vermeulen, who, at the tender age of 22, found himself on professional cycling’s scrapheap last winter.
After two years with LottonlJumbo, the American was released at the end of 2017, a casualty of the reduction in team sizes at Grand Tours and Classics, which has seen Worldtour squads shrink.
Young, unproven riders have borne the brunt. Signed by the Dutch team at 20, Vermeulen believed he was being taken on to be developed as a future star. There were signs last year of his talent. On Stage 3 of the Critérium du Dauphiné in June, he and his teammate Koen Bouwman were in the break.
‘I knew it would be difficult for me to win that day and Koen was flying,’ recalls Vermeulen. ‘It was very hard to decide to give up my chance at a top three in a Worldtour stage to make sure we get a win.’
Yet that’s precisely what he did, and Bouwman, one year older than Vermeulen, did win. Putting team loyalty before self-interest did not pay off. ‘That’s what hurts,’ says Vermeulen now. ‘They say your second contract is your first real contract, so I felt like I failed, and when Lotto released me I debated going to university,’ he continues. ‘We all know how hard cycling is and it’s difficult to push yourself if you’re not going to the biggest races.’
Vermeulen decided to carry on, stepping down a level to race in the US this season. He’s giving himself a year to get back to the Worldtour, or he’ll give up.
‘There have been difficult days,’ he says. ‘You see your friends going to the Tour Down Under – before that, I was fine training on my own, but that stings.
‘I missed the team training camp; it’s a special time, when everyone is together and you get your schedule and your suitcase full of goodies. Honestly what I love about the sport is the social side as well. Hopefully I can find that again and get back. Once you’ve raced at the highest level you want to get back there.’