Vermeulen signs with Japanese Continental team Interpro Stradalli

After a long winter without a team for the 2018 season, Alexey Vermeulen has signed a contract with Japanese Continental team Interpro Stradalli.

The 23-year-old American was left without a ride for 2018 after LottoNL-Jumbo decided not to extend the initial two-year neo-pro contract he signed in 2016. Vermeulen previously told Cyclingnews the team's decision to set him loose after the 2017 season caught him off-guard because of a lack of communication toward the end of the season.

Vermeulen initially questioned whether he wanted to continue in cycling, but he ultimately decided he had more to accomplish in the sport. Vermeulen started searching for a new team late in the process, looking for a squad with a race calendar that would give him a chance to make it back to cycling's top division. His search officially ended this week when he put pen to paper with Interpro Stradalli.

"By December I realised I probably wasn't going to be able to race at the level I wanted to be at, but I also realised at that time that I did still want to race really badly, so it motivated me to keep going," Vermeulen told Cyclingnews. "I had a couple of Continental options, but this didn't come along until pretty late, maybe middle of January this came along."

The Japanese-registered team, which evolved from a Japanese amateur club and registered on the Continental level for the first time last year as Interpro Cycling Academy, has a French connection that enables a program of European races to compliment the Asian campaign.

"With this team, I think the race schedule is really good for a Continental team," Vermeulen said. "It provides opportunities, whereas I had a lot of opportunities here in America, but if you're just banking on doing well in Colorado or Utah, that's quite a lot of pressure and altitude camps. I wanted to be able to race in Europe and have a couple chances to show myself to the WorldTour and Pro Conti directors over there, because I still think that's where the racing is. This gave me that option."

While the team's 11-man 2017 roster was mostly made up of French and Japanese riders, the expanded 15-man 2018 roster includes riders from seven countries, including Japan, France, Norway, Spain, Eritrea, the United States and Great Britain. The team started the season at the Sharjah Tour in the United Arab Emirates, the Tour of Indonesia and the Herald Sun Tour in Australia.

Vermeulen will waste little time getting underway with the team, taking his first start in the blue-and-white Interpro Stradalli jersey on March 23 at the Classic Loire Atlantique, a one-day race in France. He'll travel from his home base in Michigan to Europe next week to get set up with a bike, kit and a host of brand-new teammates.

"I'm excited to get over to meet the team," he said. "I haven't met anybody yet except for phone calls with sponsors, directors and managers on Skype. So it's hard to get a feel for what it is, but overall I'm very excited."

After a winter of some solo training camps without a team, Vermeulen is most looking forward to pinning on a number and jumping into competition.

"I had no problem doing the training camps alone," he said. "I was in Florida over December and the new year, then my girlfriend came to America and I did a training camp with her, then I've been in Tucson the last two weeks and got lots of training in, so I have no problem doing the training camps alone.

"But it started getting really difficult when I saw people I consider peers starting to race, and I was missing out," he said. "That's when I really knew that I really did want to keep racing."

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Growing up in Missoula, Montana, Pat competed in his first bike race in 1985 at Flathead Lake. He studied English and journalism at the University of Oregon and has covered North American cycling extensively since 2009, as well as racing and teams in Europe and South America. Pat currently lives in the US outside of Portland, Oregon, with his imaginary dog Rusty.