For young Americans, embarking on a career in professional cycling has always been a challenging one. But as American road cycling struggles with dwindling participation numbers and a lack of events in the U.S. the previous stepping stones and showcasing opportunities have also gone. What's more, gravel is fast emerging as the biggest cycling sport in America, yet in this sector of privateers and individuals, development programs are non-existent. Former WorldTour-rider-turned-gravel privateer Alexey Vermeulen hopes to change that.
Vermeulen today launched a first-of-its-kind initiative called Phase II, which aims to open the doors for talented young cyclists by offering them the education, industry connections, and equipment support to realize their dreams.
The Phase II project, driven by Vermeulen's passion for nurturing talent and providing opportunities, seeks to address the daunting transition athletes face from high school racing to the professional circuit.
"I grew up with the entire USA Cycling pipeline plastered on the wall," Vermeulen tells Cycling Weekly. "It started with local results and then went on to race series results, nationals, maybe race in Europe and then from there, maybe an under-23 team or collegiate career and then domestic professional racing to WorldTour. I probably crossed every part of that off as I hit them."
For kids these days, the pathways are far less clear.
"I often get asked about the next step after NICA or a collegiate career and for the last two years, I haven't had a great answer," he says.
With Phase II, Vermeulen aims to fill this void by offering tangible support and mentorship for two hand-selected athletes. Additionally, he hopes to create a blueprint, if you will, one that he encourages other brands and entities to copy in an industry-wide effort to foster and develop young American talent.
"I see Phase II as an open-source program that I hope a bunch of my peers and the companies they work with will pick up next year," Vermeulen says.
The project's core involves providing promising talent with the top-tier equipment, logistical backing and mentorship to compete in three Life Time Grand Prix events across the United States.
These events include the 100-mile races at Unbound Gravel, the hilly Crusher In The Tushar and the season-finale at Big Sugar.
Vermeulen picked the shorter versions of these celebrated gravel events to set the racers up for success and bring 'validation around these shorter privateer races.'
"I've no question they can go ride 200 miles and be strong, but I don't think they're going to be able to get through eight months of Grand Prix racing. The three shorter gravel races are not easy by any means, but they are the type of races that I think someone coming into the sport at that age should be racing. Here, they get to be competitive while also providing a chance to grow and learn," explains Vermeulen.
Vermeulen stresses the importance of not just racing but also cultivating well-rounded individuals and fostering meaningful relationships within the cycling community.
"Where I exist in this world right now is as a professional racer, but also in education – education of the companies I work with, but also education of athletes," he says.
"I view Phase II as a chance to not only show two amazing athletes what it takes to be a professional cyclist but also to allow them to meet the people working at companies who can make that dream a reality. Bike racing is about training hard, but it is also about cultivating relationships and learning how to balance everything going on in your life."
Phase II is currently accepting applications for the two rider slots they have open.
Phase II athletes will receive a comprehensive package that includes a fully paid trip to the Enve headquarters in Utah for a training camp, as well as paid entries and expenses and mechanic support for the three Grand Prix races. They'll also receive an Enve Mog gravel bike equipped with a Shimano GRX 12-speed drivetrain and Enve wheelset of choice. Additional support includes custom kits by Pearl Izumi, tires by Kenda, indoor training setups by Wahoo Fitness, and footwear and helmets from Shimano and Lazer, respectively.
Phase II represents a year-long commitment to nurturing talent, forging lasting relationships, and reshaping the pathways into professional cycling. Through Phase II, Vermeulen hopes to inspire a new generation of cyclists and foster a culture of support and collaboration within the cycling community.
More details and the rider application can be found here.
Thank you for reading 20 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access
Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription
Join now for unlimited access
Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1