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Monuments of Gravel

Former WorldTour racer trains for Unbound Gravel with his dog

Alexey Vermeulen has ridden up to 20 hours a week with his girlfriend's dog Willie in a backpack.

Alexey Vermeulen is no newbie at preparing for bike races. Having raced internationally since 2011 as a junior, Vermeulen has pinned on numbers at everything from Liège-Bastogne-Liège to the road world championships. This year, the former LottoNL-Jumbo racer is tackling Unbound Gravel for the first time. His secret weapon for Unbound training? Sir Willie the Weiner.

Willie belongs to Vermeulen’s girlfriend, Sophie Linn. In recent weeks Willie and Vermeulen have become a common sight on the roads and trails around Boulder, Colorado.

“He is the star of the show!” Vermeulen says of his dog. “I ride with him about five days a week. Usually I will pick him up for the last hour of a ride.”

During Covid quarantine in 2020, the 26-year-old began riding more with Linn, and started bringing the dog along, too.

“It was nice to avoid leaving him alone for long periods of time and most of all, he loves it!” Vermeulen said.

As a mountain bike pro these days, Vermeulen still logs plenty of hours on the bike. Vermeulen partnered with Ryan Petry and Canyon for From the Ground Up, a project that is taking three new riders to the Leadville Trail 100.

But Willie himself has been logging some pro hours, too. Willie’s longest ride to date is just over five hours. His longest week in the backpack has been 20 hours.

“I let him out to go to the bathroom when refilling bottles, but otherwise he’s just a great training buddy,” Vermeulen said.

Unbound will be the longest race Vermeulen has ever done. Currently that title for him goes to Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the Ardennes classic that only a handful of other Unbound starters can claim to have started.

Last fall, Vermeulen placed third at Belgian Waffle Ride Cedar City behind Keegan Swenson and Pete Stetina.

Vermeulen said he’s a bit nervous and anxious for Unbound Gravel. “I feel like I am in a good place fitness wise,” he said. “I am more focused on figuring out how best to prepare for what can happen out in the Flint Hills.”

On this ride, Willie won’t be there for company; he’l be staying with a friend, and Vermeulen will have to make do with a CamelBak filled with hydration instead.

Check VeloNews.com all this week for complete coverage of Unbound Gravel.