The young Amer­i­can is one of the vic­tims of the new rule on team sizes

Cyclist - - Team Sizes | Pro Racing -

‘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.’

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