At 22, Alexey Vermeulen has some big decisions to make about his future in cycling. The young American was let go by LottoNL-Jumbo after his first two-year neo-pro contract, and he's still without a team as January approaches.
Vermeulen signed on with LottoNL-Jumbo in 2016 after riding for the BMC Development Team, but he told Cyclingnews communication with the team began to deteriorate in July.
"I had to read between the lines a lot," Vermeulen said by phone from Austria, where he is visiting his girlfriend and starting his training.
"It didn't start deteriorating until the end of July, the middle of July, but until that point, it was all green-go," he said. "Every time I asked, everything on that front was looking good. There weren't any negative things, and then it just started going downhill. But you keep believing that they're waiting. The worst thing for me was the reasoning changed three or four times before the final answer."
Vermeulen had plenty of opportunities to show himself with LottoNL-Jumbo, competing in a healthy 62 race days in 2016 and 64 this year. He had a steady diet of WorldTour races both years, including Flèche Wallonne, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Tour de Romandie, Criterium du Dauphine, Il Lombardia, Tour Down Under, Abu Dhabi Tour and Strade Bianche, among others.
During those two years, Vermeulen also proved to be one the of the top American riders, finishing third in the time trial at US pro championships in 2016, and finishing third in the road race and seventh in the time trial in 2017. His best result with LottoNL-Jumbo came in the 2017 Criterium du Dauphine, where he finished fifth from a breakaway on stage 5.
"Obviously, there are different scenarios that I may not always have been privy to, but I was very happy with how it was going," Vermeulen said. "I was very happy with my two years at Lotto, and I think whether it was the Dauphine – which, even more than the fifth place I was proud of myself for, I could have maybe not won but I could have placed third on that day, and I raced for the team. I think I showed a lot of maturity for my age. That was said right afterwards with the director."
Vermeulen was immersed in WorldTour racing over the past two years, something he appreciated at the time but now believes may have led to his downfall with the team.
"The last two years I did a lot of WorldTour racing, and I had multiple conversations with the team about how I loved to be doing all that racing, but at the same time I was a couple of times worried about exactly what happened," he said, concluding that he had been judged too much on his results rather than the pace of his development.
"OK, I can get results here, but it takes a long time. I was 20 years old when I signed my contract, so it's unbelievably young. Looking back, I regret it, but I would never have not taken the chance I got.
"Looking back, I say that because I could have had one more year on the development team at BMC, and then there was a very likely chance – because I already had a stagiaire option when I broke my wrist – that I could come up and then I'd have a two-year contract starting a year later and I would still be employed by BMC at the moment."
In the end, Vermeulen said, the team told him, 'We don't know that you can be the star rider we signed you to be.'
The team's decision not to renew his contract came as a surprise to Vermeulen, who said he suffered some serious motivational setbacks after getting the news.
"When Lotto first let me go I lost a lot of motivation," he said. "I felt betrayed by cycling. I had this feeling that I didn't really want to continue. It was toxic to me. I was lucky that I had people around me, and I also had things that kept motivating me to keep going, whether that was the worlds team after Brent [Bookwalter] had to let go of his spot or going to Japan for the Japan Cup."
Vermeulen's motivation and love of cycling quickly returned, and now he's on a mission to land on a team that will provide him with an opportunity to showcase his talents and return to the WorldTour.
"Finding a team with a race schedule that fits my kind of rider and can showcase what I can do and show that I can come back, that's what I'm looking for, and that's obviously easier said then done," he said, adding that he is currently pursuing a couple of options for the 2018 season.
"I think there is a team out there, but I think it's going to be a very different year from what I've had the past five years," he said.