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LottoNL has high hopes for young American

Alexey Vermeulen, 21, is a neo-pro with hopes of being a GC contender someday — and his team supports that goal.

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SACRAMENTO, California (VN) — The TV camera stayed on Alexey Vermeulen for almost two minutes, following along as he drifted back to the team car, filled his green and white LottoNL – Jumbo jersey with water bottles, and then rode forward to dole out his bounty. It was a snapshot of the domestique duties the young American lives each race day, duties he enjoys now but wants to someday leave behind.

The 21-year-old from Michigan is in his first year with the Dutch WorldTour outfit, which is grooming him to be a stage race contender. But grooming takes time. This Amgen Tour of California, like every race this season, was for fetching bottles, ferrying a team leader, and learning the lessons only top-level racing can teach.

“Everyone told me the jump would be hard, I couldn’t have comprehended it,” Vermeulen said of his first months in the WorldTour. “It’s been survival more than a race for me. But I went in with that mentality. I knew I was going to have to survive a tough year, and hopefully next year I’ll see the benefits.”

Vermeulen slipped into the WorldTour mostly under the radar. He signed a two-year deal with LottoNL last fall on the back of solid results as a junior and a podium in the U23 national time trial last year. Prior to the WorldTour jump, he spent two years on BMC’s development team. Vermeulen is a 5-foot-10, 138-pound climber who can pull a good time trial as well — he placed 16th in the Tour of California’s stage 6 race against the clock.

The young American came to California as a backup for team leader George Bennett, who finished seventh overall. In working for Bennett, Vermeulen rode to 22nd, just over eight minutes down on overall winner Julian Alaphilippe of Etixx – Quick-Step.

Vermeulen had some good days, but also a few where the work of a domestique prevented him from gaining a better result.

“I also saw days where I struggled,” he said. “I missed that final punch before Gibraltar, which you really need. It’s not just about the climb, it’s about getting onto the climb successfully, in good position.”

Lotto has high hopes for its lone American, and has already provided him with a solid calendar of stage racing. He was at the Tour de Romandie a month ago, Volta Catalunya before that, and even got a start at Liège-Bastogne-Liège. All are tough races, particularly for a neo-pro. Vermeulen was in California to build for the Criterium du Dauphiné, and is targeting his first grand tour with the Vuelta a Espana.

It was the promise of such a calendar that sent Vermeulen to LottoNL, far from the conglomerations of Americans and teams like BMC Racing and Cannondale. His Dutch team sees potential in him as a stage race contender and is preparing him as such.

“I was hired to be a future GC guy, which is what I want to do,” he said. “You don’t really know until you try, honestly.

“The goal is to keep making these steps. I think another year of building, and hopefully I’ll be able to start going for some goals in the weeklong races.”