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ADELAIDE, Australia (VN) — What a difference a year makes. Twelve months ago, American Alexey Vermeulen was lining up for the Santos Tour Down Under for what was the start of his second professional season.
Instead of returning to Australia this week for the WorldTour’s 2018 start, Vermeulen is now back home wondering if he’ll race professionally again.
“I don’t know yet what I am doing next year,” Vermeulen said in a telephone interview. “I have a couple of options. I am trying to figure it out. It’s been hard. I thought it would be a transitional year, and it hasn’t become that. It’s been hard.”
The 23-year-old is still holding out hope of signing with a U.S. team for this season, but he admits it’s been some rough classes in the school of hard knocks.
Instead of entering his third year at the WorldTour, he’s contemplating returning to college. He’s hoping to hold out one more year and try to bounce back onto a WorldTour team in 2019.
In the meantime, Vermeulen is still training hard and trying to retain a positive mindset.
“It was quite surprising the way that it happened. We were talking about [extending], but I never could get a straight answer,” he said. “It turned into a shitty situation, and now I am trying to make the best of it.”
In 2016, Vermeulen left the BMC Development Team a year early at the ripe age of 20 to join LottoNL-Jumbo on a two-year deal. He raced his fair share of WorldTour races with the team and was planning on a grand tour debut at last year’s Vuelta a España.
He raced a full calendar of 64 days in 2017, including a fifth-place finish out of a winning breakaway group in stage 3 at the Critérium du Dauphiné and a third at the U.S. national road racing championships. But that wasn’t good enough for LottoNL-Jumbo.
When it came time to talk about a new contract, Vermeulen said the team was sending mixed messages. Many teams across the peloton cut back their rosters, in larger part due to new rules that trim grand tour squads from nine to eight.
By the time the door was closed at LottoNL-Jumbo, Vermeulen was discovering that other teams had already filled their rosters.
“I don’t blame anyone. I blame myself more for not opening my eyes sooner,” he said. “I got screwed on this deal, but I don’t want to back-stab Lotto. I had a good time there, and I learned a lot. The communication could have been better.”
Vermeulen said he’ll keep training like a pro throughout 2018 and isn’t losing hope of joining a Continental or Pro Continental team.
He once pondered medical school before following his passions on the road. If the pavement runs out on a possible professional road racing career, school might be back in his future.
He’s not giving up yet. By returning to his roots back on U.S. soil, he said he’s posting the best power numbers of his career. He’s also rediscovering the joy of training. All that gives him inspiration that he might be able to land back with a WorldTour team.
“This is the first time I am really fighting for a contract, so we’ll see how it all turns out,” he said. “I may have to take a year off and try to come back. I want to race again in the WorldTour. If that doesn’t happen, then school is the next best option.”
Vermeulen harbors no regrets, especially when asked if it would have been wiser to have raced another full season in the U23 ranks before leaping into the treacherous WorldTour waters.
“I think any 20-year-old is going to sign that [WorldTour] contract,” he said. “I think looking back, maybe someday I might regret not staying one more year at the U23 level, but I would never not sign that contract. It’s very hard to get a WorldTour contract, so there’s no way you’re going to pass up that opportunity.
“I am 23, there are still a lot of places to go,” he continued. “It’s going to be hard [to miss the Tour Down Under]. Everyone is starting to race, and I am not going to be there. I am already a little bit sad. I don’t know if I am more sad about missing the racing or the photos with the baby kangaroos!”