Alexey Vermeulen (Team LottoNL-Jumbo) looked calm and rested as he quietly got himself ready before the start of the third stage in Thousand Oaks at the Amgen Tour of California. Vermeulen's camper didn't have the crowds that surrounded other team busses like Cannondale Pro Cycling, BMC Racing and Tinkoff.
His current anonymity doesn't bother him, though; he knows that he's here to gain experience and fitness. Vermeulen thought the stage finish on Gibraltar Road might suit him and teammate George Bennett.
"Half the team is more of a sprinter squad, so they are going to be surviving today," Vermeulen said with a smile. "But George Bennett and I have some aspirations for the climbs."
Bennett placed third at the top of Gibraltar behind winner Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-Quickstep) and Peter Stetina (Trek-Segafredo.) Bennet's effort put him in third in the GC, while Vermeulen finished 4:52 behind the leaders in 33rd place.
Vermeulen is soaking in everything a WorldTour team has to offer and was happy to get a ticket to California.
"I could have thrown a tantrum if I didn't, but it was nice to see it on my schedule and something I looked forward to," Vermeulen said.
Vermeulen signed with Team LottoNL-Jumbo last fall after a stint with the BMC development team. Things moved quickly after Vermeulen showed his potential at European races like Ronde de l'Isard, Valle d'Aosta and the US under-23 nationals. Despite a July crash, which forced him to miss the Tour de l'Avenier and the World Championships in Richmond, Vermeulen had made a good impression on the European peloton.
"It's a whirlwind of events, but [LottoNL-Jumbo] contacted me after a couple of big events last season," Vermeulen said. "I had to talk through the logistics, but it ended up working out and it's been a great fit so far."
The 23-year-old grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and cites his Dutch grandfather as one of his racing inspirations. Vermeulen's path is reminiscent of the path Tejay van Garderen took to the WorldTour through the Rabobank system. Vermeulen lives in Girona with Pete Stetina, who has helped him acclimate to Spain and the European racing scene. n
His early season was filled with the prototypical calendar of an Ardennes classics racer. Vermeulen found himself racing the Volta a Catalunya, Fleche Wallone, Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the Tour of Romandie, where he finished ninth in the Best Young Rider classification. Though it has been a learning experience, Vermeulen remains positive.
"I did Volta a Catalunya, which was one of the first big WorldTour races," Vermeulen said. "It was seven days and was definitely one of the hardest races on paper for me. There were moments in that race where I was like, 'I have the same gear as these guys? How are they turning it that much quicker than me?' I was just kind of an eye opener how big of a jump it really is from U23s."
After California, Vermeulen will be racing the US pro championships in Winston-Salem and then will head directly to Europe to race Dauphine. He hopes to get a Grand Tour call up to the Vuelta a Espana but knows cycling requires patience and persistence.
"It's been tough, a lot of surviving and not much racing per se," Vermeulen said. "It's been a lot of fun trying to learn Dutch and hanging out with the big names. It's living the dream."