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Kevin Vermaerke signs with Team Sunweb

Hagens Berman Axeon's Kevin Vermaerke climbs during stage 6 of the 2019 Tour of Utah
(Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Kevin Vermaerke, 19, is the latest of Axel Merckx's Hagens Berman Axeon U23 riders to graduate straight to the WorldTour, signing a three-year contract with Team Sunweb, the team announced on Friday.

After winning the 2019 U23 Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Vermaerke was already on Sunweb's radar and they invited the American to attend the team's off-season training camp in south-east Spain last December.

"Taking the step up to the WorldTour is something I have been dreaming about and working towards since I first started cycling," Vermaerke said. "Team Sunweb invited me out to their December training camp in Calpe last year and I really liked the impressions I got from the team. I felt welcomed at the camp and could see how organised and professional the team is."

"Team Sunweb has really invested in young talent in the past few years and I am really looking forward to joining this group and seeing what we can do together over the coming seasons. I think Team Sunweb will be the perfect place to continue my development and discover what type of rider I can become," Vermaerke added.

The move comes at a time when U23 riders are struggling to find races on which to perform, with the Tour de l'Avenir cancelled and the UCI Road World Championships a question mark after the Swiss organisers opted not to host the event over coronavirus concerns.

Vermaerke's second year in the espoirs has been hampered by the coronavirus pandemic but had a solid ride at the Tour de l'Ain to start August and demonstrated his climbing abilities with an attempt at the Everesting record near his home in California.

Three riders from the 2019 Axeon team moved to WorldTour squads this year - Ian Garrison and João Almeida (Deceuninck-Quickstep) and Mikkel Bjerg (UAE Team Emirates). This year has been a challenge for the team since they have had only four days of racing.

Luckily, Vermaerke had already impressed Team Sunweb with his results and behaviour during the team's camp.

"As a first-year U23 rider he took an extraordinary win at Liège-Bastogne-Liége, highlighting his abilities as a puncheur and capability in the hilly Ardennes," said Sunweb Coach Rudi Kemna. "Those are the types of races we believe he can excel at in the future and with our team of experts, trainers and coaches, we'll work towards those goals. At the recent Tour de l'Ain, he proved he can go well on the longer climbs so we'll also aim to improve his all-around abilities and identify where his real potential is."