Alexey Vermeulen has raced on all surfaces and in multiple disciplines and knows it can be gruelling to earn income as a professional cyclist. The ‘Ice King’ in the world of endurance mountain biking and second overall in the 2023 Life Time Grand Prix series, Vermeulen wants to help up-and-coming riders find a less slippery slope than he did to making the bike a vehicle for earning a living.
As an elite athlete and thriving entrepreneur, the US rider wants to share his formula for success, and with the help of ENVE, he launched the Phase II programme, a paid scholarship, of sorts, for two under-23, US-based athletes, one male and one female, for independent learning into pro cycling.
The two selected athletes, chosen from an application process that ends later this month, will receive entries into three major off-road events – Unbound Gravel 100, Crusher in the Tushar and Big Sugar Gravel. Along with a training camp at ENVE headquarters in Ogden, Utah, they will also be provided with pro-level equipment, mechanic support and mentorship to “create a sustainable pathway from high school leagues to the next step in a potential cycling career”.
“If you are a part of this, you’re learning how to become a professional athlete – mentally and physically. I think we’re cognizant that taking two people is not going to change the world at all, but the goal of Phase II will be copied by others to create a collective development pathway for racing professionally,” Vermeulen explained in an interview with Cyclingnews. “What I hope this project instills is that all of us who have learned from our mistakes are able to teach that to athletes coming through next.”
Vermeulen wants to teach others how to create a personality and build a brand, not just try to earn results. Bike racing is a lot about balance, not just in the race but life itself.
“I grew up with a development pathway. USA Cycling had a great pipeline, and I literally crossed everything off, whether it was local results, national results, racing in Europe, and then racing professionally. And the last two years, I’ve had a bunch of people ask me, as I’ve kind of become more well known in the US, ‘what should I do’ about a privateer offer or going to college. And I haven’t had a great answer,” he added.
“I think my mentorship comes down to helping people at the end of the day, be the best version of themselves at these races – being able to talk to people and find where they can help a certain company and how to balance where all these things fit. Privateer racing is not about winning, only. Not everyone can do that.”
The Michigan native moved from the team environment of the WorldTour in 2017 and set off with solo efforts in the world of gravel in 2019, where he took on his first Belgian Waffle Ride. While he was 79th that season, he would turn that into a victory by 2022, and was third last year. His 2023 season was solid, with wins in Life Time’s Chequamegon MTB and Rad Dirt Fest, as well as second place at Leadville Trail 100 MTB, third at Big Sugar and third at SBT GRVL.
His efforts to make a living at bike racing followed a similar pattern, going from an annual salary at LottoNL-Jumbo of 65,000 Euro with all his equipment provided and travel planned to big question marks with solo pursuit on gravel. But he recently disclosed to Cycling Weekly that he was comfortable, now earning more than ‘six figures’ with his endeavours with racing, sponsor obligations and ‘side projects’.
Does the 29-year-old reflect his time away from road racing and maybe he should have remained on the WorldTour? After all, he had top 10s at UCI events, like Tour de Beauce, Ronde de l’Isard and Critérium du Dauphiné as a U23 rider. He also earned bronze medals at US Pro National Championships, 2016 in the ITT and 2017 in the road race.
“100%, every day,” Vermeulen said about missing the road. “it’s just different. You know, racing on the road you’re racing at the highest level every single day. Gravel is hard. I want to go where I can race the best guys. This is growing and you can kind of point to Unbound and Leadville and a couple other races in the Grand Prix as validation, which is why I love it.”
Opening his 2024 off-road season with third at Sunday’s Old Man Winter Rally in Colorado, Phase II allows Vermeulen to do more than just race this year.
In addition to ENVE, Shimano, Pearl Izumi, Kenda, Orange Seal, Wahoo Fitness, Lazer and Up.Bike are all providing material support. All equipment provided becomes the property of the two athletes once they have fulfilled their obligations of competing at the three events.
The application process runs from February 5-16, which allows individuals to not only share cycling strengths and goals but define a business proposition beyond racing results, like social media creativity and reach. The application asks for written information and video responses. The selection will be announced February 23.