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Oct 4, 2022

This week we sit down with professional gravel cyclist, Alexey Vermeulen.  Alexey is currently ranked 2nd in the Life Time Grand Prix going into the series finale at Big Sugar.  2022 has been a breakout season for this rising star with a big win at BWR San Diego.  In addition to his racing exploits, Alexey is one of the founders of the From The Ground Up Project and the excluse ride partner for the 'fastest known dog', Willie the weiner.  

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Automated Transcription, please excuse the typos:

Alexey Vermeulen

[00:00:00] Craig Dalton: Hello, and welcome to the gravel ride podcast, where we go deep on the sport of gravel cycling through in-depth interviews with product designers, event organizers and athletes. Who are pioneering the sport

I'm your host, Craig Dalton, a lifelong cyclist who discovered gravel cycling back in 2016 and made all the mistakes you don't need to make. I approach each episode as a beginner down, unlock all the knowledge you need to become a great gravel cyclist.

This week on the show. We welcome Alexi Vermilion.

Alexi is a professional off-road cyclists competing in the lifetime grand Prix series this year. With only one event left big sugar in Bentonville, Arkansas coming up this month. He is sitting in second in that competition it was a great time to check in with Alexi.

Alexia is not only a great athlete, but also a great ambassador for the sport.

He always seems to be around, to share a smile or a laugh after some of these big events. If you don't know him for his professional cycling career. You may have also seen him with a dog on his back, riding a bike. Yeah. We'll get into his relationship with Willie. And what type of terrain Willie likes to ride?

I'll give you a hint. It's the off-road kind. Before we jump in, I need to thank this week. Sponsor athletic greens and

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I often have to jump right into enjoying my son and caring for him. So I love just being able to top off and make sure I've got my recovery.

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Again, simply visit athletic gravel ride. And get your free year supply of vitamin D and five free travel packs today. Would that business behind us let's jump into my conversation with Alexi.

Alex, welcome to the show.

[00:03:06] Alexey Vermeulen: Thanks a lot. Thanks for having me.

[00:03:07] Craig Dalton: I feel like this is a long time coming, like Cody

[00:03:10] Alexey Vermeulen: Yeah. Since what, two years almost now?

[00:03:12] Craig Dalton: Yeah, exactly. I remember when we met at Rodeo, I had asked Neil Shirley about, you know, just who was gonna be there and who I might talk to, and he's like, Here's Alex. He's the fastest guy in gravel you don't know about yet.

[00:03:26] Alexey Vermeulen: Yeah. I think Neil believed in me maybe before I believed in myself. But I think that was my rodeo. Strava kms were the beginning of my success.

[00:03:33] Craig Dalton: Put you on the radar, but you'd been on the radar for a long time. So I, I always start off the podcast with just getting a little bit about your background. So why don't you tell me, tell us where you're from and how you got into cycling, and then ultimately let's talk about that journey into gravel and MTV territory.

[00:03:49] Alexey Vermeulen: Yeah. I'll try to keep this somewhat short. If we start at the beginning, I probably, I started in like kids triathlons. My mom was doing em. As with any cycles, I feel like hated this swimming portion. You just like get to the, get to the run and bike and they're like, Okay, let's go. This is fun. Ran with my helmet on my first triathlon.

That was cool. But yeah, it just kind of transitioned to my love of just going fast and pushing boundaries. Right. I think I was 1211 at that portion and my grandfather immigrated from Holland, actually grew up racing. And when he immigrated to Canada, didn't really continue. He did a lot of riding.

That kind of caught on at some point when I was doing triathlons. I remember this very vivid ride. I was on like a 24 inch wheel trek and we did a, like, supposed to be a 30 mile ride, became 60, you know, and like completely bumped 10 miles to go and like the entire last 10 miles, I would like fall back into his hand.

He'd give me a push and I'd spin as hard as I could, you know, for minute and a half. But I think like as I grew up and started doing other sports, I did a lot of things, played hockey, played soccer, cross country. It eventually in high school fell to cross country and cycling. And I was, I think, somewhat naturally gifted.

Just I enjoyed endurance and pushing myself, but it just became a, a choice between the journey, right? Like cycling took me to new places. I got to go to Vermont to scream out stage race. I got to travel. We did family weekends. Cross

[00:05:03] Craig Dalton: you live in a community? Did you live in a community that sort of embraced endurance athletics? Where were you?

[00:05:08] Alexey Vermeulen: So I grew up in Michigan. Yes, it's good. Good job. You're good at this? Yeah. No, I grew up, grew up in Michigan. Born in Memphis, Tennessee, but grew up in Michigan since I was two years old. And that's kinda like, I think just where I was. Ann Arbor about an hour south of Detroit. It's just, it's a big.

Community for the Midwest at least. This big, an AVE Club was there and definitely like, you know, had the Tuesday crib practices. Like there wasn't a, a pathway, wouldn't say there was many kids my age. But there was definitely, like, I remember I hear stories now about, Guys come up and talk to me and they're like, Oh yeah, your dad used to drop you off the local school and just say, don't let him get dropped.

I'll see you guys at the other end. But I didn't know that, you know, I was like, Oh, I'm on this alone. I'm 12 years old. Ah, look at all these guys. You know? So there definitely was, maybe not, maybe unbeknownst to me at the beginning, but I do. I. There's a lot of hard Midwest guys that come out because you don't, I realize that even when I go back, you can't stop peddling Colorado.

I'm like, Oh, I've got three hour ride. I'll climb for two hours and descend and coast down Michigan. You got a three hour ride, you're peddling for three hours.

[00:06:04] Craig Dalton: So I was talking to someone about this the other day. It's so different, like even in California on the coastal range here, I get a lot of breaks where I'm not pedaling. So when I go somewhere where I actually have to continue to turn the pedals for four hours in a row, I'm absolutely crushed.

[00:06:17] Alexey Vermeulen: Yeah, it's, it's a big deal. I, yeah, every time I go back I feel like I bon every third ride. Probably my issue with not eating, but another story. But yeah, so it just kind of continued. Probably, so sophomore year of high school was like that deflection point. I won nationals, which I always say somewhat lucky.

Obviously you can put in the work, but there's also 10 other guys doing it at a minimum. And that kind of gave, opened up the financial side of it for my parents, where the national team covered some of the, And I got to go to and I was 16 racing at 17 at the time, and European racing, you just fit me man.

I like, I loved it. The CME style all out. Just like if you're not in the front, you're in the back. I just like, it was everything I had dreamed. I remember I went over there with like 700 euro spending away with my parents and like came back with like 1400, like doubled it and I was like, Oh, this is great.

And just like it was the first moment I remember like not thinking this is my career, but. Like, Oh, I wanna push harder cuz this is really fricking fun. And it's also, you get to be in Europe, right? Your kids are, your friends are back at high school and you're like, you know, you skip three, three weeks, you go home.

But that trip, that was supposed to be three weeks at ces, turned into going to the World Championships in Copenhagen cause I did well. And so that kind of opened up this whole pathway to actually having a chance at something. Juniors. So that was the World Championships in Copenhagen in thousand 11.

You know, cut a race with guys that I grew up watching. Canara, KA Dish. All these guys race up the same course I day to day earlier, which is just like, there's no words for it, right? Like when you grow up dreaming of something or like watching random videos.

[00:07:40] Craig Dalton: Yeah, and unless you've observed or watched one of these things, you just cannot understand like the spectacle of having everybody racing with their country flags on their bodies. No trade teams. Like, it's just such an amazing experience. I, I love, and I've had good fortune of going to two world championships to watch, and it was just electric, both of

[00:07:58] Alexey Vermeulen: Yeah, it's, it's unbelievable. And I think it's like, it's, yeah. Something I'll never forget. That kind put me on a pathway in to fast forward this, you know, in cycling there's a couple jumps, right? There's under 23. So when you, when you're 18 years old, jumping into the next category, which is a four year category, but that also coincides with in the, pretty much everywhere, college, university.

And so I made. Little packed with my parents like, Hey, if I have offers from one of one or both of the two big teams in the US at the time, which were lived strong in bmc, it was just coming on that I could def still apply, but defer college for at least two years through that contract and see what I could do.

I was fortunate enough to have an offer from both and ended up choosing bmc. Cause I just loved the racing in Europe and they were, had to schedule it primarily there. And I just, it just kept growing. Like, I feel like this, that first year on bmc, you know, you're not making much, you're making 15 grand or something, but you're, you're 18 years old, you're living in Europe with your best friends.

And it was the first time I was like, Wow, you can make this your job. Like, that's like, where can this go? What, what can I do? And three years on, I was lucky enough to get an email from, from Lato Yobo. And you know what? Transitioned and became the job. And it was that moment where I like, had completed this USA cycling pipeline and I was like, Okay, so what's next?

You know, I signed this big contract and I was, I was stoked. You're 21 years old and it's what you've dreamed of your whole life in a sense. But also felt like I, like, okay, so am I doing this for 15 years or am I doing this for 10 years? Like, it was such a, I questioned a lot of it. Right.

[00:09:23] Craig Dalton: You a, I mean, presumably in those BMC years, you were forced to live that professional lifestyle and make start to begin to make significant sacrifices to continue progressing.

[00:09:36] Alexey Vermeulen: Yeah, I think BMC was lucky because you got to see it also, right? So we were at the development team right underneath the Pro World tour team. You know, you got to watch guys like Brent Book, Walter, who's American and Larry War Bass. Go through their version of it, right? Like, help you kind of pick, Hey, if I actually move, if I actually make this jump, where do I wanna live?

Do I wanna live in east? Do I wanna live in drone? And kind of see before you had to deal with it, see the struggles and see the positives of racing at that level. But yeah, like it, it just came down, you know, once I signed that contract, I just, I wanted more and more and more. And it was this weird feeling of like, unless you were winning, You couldn't make, you couldn't do more, You couldn't make an impact on sponsors or people or community.

[00:10:15] Craig Dalton: And this is at at the then the jumbo team at

[00:10:17] Alexey Vermeulen: yeah, yeah. Sorry. So two years on and I loved it, right? You get to race these, like, we all dream of like Lia Best and Lombardia Doe. Right?

[00:10:25] Craig Dalton: Yeah. It's probably somewhat lost. It's probably somewhat lost on a listener. I'm sorry to interrupt, but it's somewhat lost that that is. That's the big time. You're, you're on. I mean, everybody knows it now, but it's the one of the biggest and best teams in the world. You sort of made it there, obviously, like it continues to be a journey when you're a neo pro and you've got your first year in these big pro tour teams.

But I think you were just getting into sort of this idea of, okay, now what's my identity? What's my role in this big organization in the biggest league in the world?

[00:10:55] Alexey Vermeulen: yeah. And even in life, to be honest, right? You're 21 years old. I honestly, I think if I. In hindsight, probably would've given myself my last year in under 20 threes. But like when you take a chance, like you don't turn down, like at the time that I went, it had been almost three years since the American had gone to the world tour.

So it was one of those things that like when is the opportunity if going to come again? Like, you're just young, right? You learn everything. Like, I remember my first moment, I, I chose to move to J and I just, I got a, a key mailed to me and I'm like, Google translating the back of a taxi in Spanish. Like, I think is this addressed?

I'm like getting out, trying. It's like nine o'clock at night's dark. I'm like trying to find the lock, like eventually find where I'm going. And there's like life experiences at the same time. That, you know, back to not going to school. I like, kind of feel like I was educated by the bike. Like I learned a lot of like life.

Balance. I don't know, just maybe not directly academic, but I learned a lot about myself in, in that time. And it kind of just transitioned into when I was racing at the top level, what, what is next? What can I do? What do I want to do? And I remember, you know, you kind of mentioned it quickly if I wanted to go to mountain bike or not, but like, I remember thinking like, okay, I can continue doing this.

Maybe get better, right? Because that's 21, 23. But like I didn't, I wanted to be a GC rider. That's what I'd grown up doing. And I kind of felt like I wasn't good enough in a sense. Like you never know you're young, but like I was like, there's a lot of work to be done here to be able to climb like Andy sch Slack or anything that I watch growing up.

Right? So just, you know, in 2018 was like, I kind of wanna just go send it and see what happens. And I was good enough at the business side of her like connection side that I had relationships with Bianchi and kind of took a lot of the sponsors I had on Lato to back into the US and said, Hey, I wanna try this mountain bike thing.

And very quickly realized that the World Cup mountain bike is the exact same as what I was doing. Just different bikes and wider titers. But gravel was growing and so I, you know, I was trying to figure out where I belonged and my identity had kind of changed, but that was the beginning of what I'm doing now, which there's things I miss, but I don't have any regrets.

It's, it's really cool to see what's growing in the us

[00:13:04] Craig Dalton: Yeah, no doubt. So you to just unpack it a little bit, you move over, you get a, you get what maybe described as a private tier program with Bianchi. You start trying the mountain bike thing. Discover it's, it's sort of emotionally and maybe sim physically similar to what you've just been going through in the world tour and leaving the world tour.

You were looking to do something different and have a different relationship with your vocation as a professional cyclist.

[00:13:32] Alexey Vermeulen: Yeah, a little bit. I mean, I think the biggest thing was that I, I wanted to actually positively impact either the companies I worked with or. Individuals community around me, right? Like athletics of any kind are very selfish. You have to be selfish on some level to, to grow as a person, as an athlete. But on the world tour team, you know, you have 28 riders and you have these companies paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to be a part of this team.

And rightfully so, the team wants one answer, not 28 different answers. And I felt like, well, there's eight of us here who could actually make an impact on this company that's giving a lot of money to this team yet. You're blocking it. So I felt like there was kind of a, a backup or like a flaw in the system.

And not that I was the only one that ever saw that, but I was like, I actually like the portion off the bike as well. I like enjoying and talking. Like, it's not exhausting to me. I enjoy, you know, being a human and talking through things, Hey, this worked, this didn't, or like, let's figure out how to do this better.

I'm up for do that content, you know? So I saw that gap kind of existing in the US as things grew. But I don't think I ever thought it would grow into what it is now.

[00:14:36] Craig Dalton: Yeah. And was that sort of just timeline wise, was that the beginning of the pandemic that you had done your mountain bike thing and you were gonna transition into gravel that 2020 season?

[00:14:46] Alexey Vermeulen: 29. I had one full year, 2019. I did a good schedule. Mostly mountain bike, almost all mountain bike. But I did, I like Belgium, Fri, San Diego and Flatted out of, and like I was definitely that year and even with my coach, we were all just like, let's just go test events this year and see what happens, you know?

Had to convince my parents I wasn't being an idiot. But other than that it was easy. And it was just like, it was fun to. Start to build those relationships that we talk about now, right? Like, I pride myself on not ever burning a bridge and like being able to go back to anybody. And like I feel like I talk to companies I've worked with in the past, even just as a consultant nowadays which like is kind of just cool to me.

Like I enjoy, like this is doing well. This is not like, you know, it is just such an interesting space to be in.

[00:15:30] Craig Dalton: Yeah, it really is. And the, I think the athletes that can articulate feedback about the product and the experience, or even the vibe that companies are trying to create, that's gold, right? That's where you wanna be spending your money.

[00:15:42] Alexey Vermeulen: Yeah. Yeah. And it's a, it's a battle as you know, like trying to figure out advertising is such an interesting thing especially in sport, because sport is hard to quantify. And like the way I, I mean like, not to give away my secrets, but the way I kind of pitch this thing as an athlete is, It has to be at least three parts, right?

You have to validate equipment on some level, and so that doesn't mean you need to win every race, but you need to be up there validating a new bike, a new set of wheels, a new handlebar. Like does it work at the highest level? Why does it work? But I think that's, you know, 30% of it. Maybe the other part is just being a face for a brand, which to talk about vibe.

Like it means like, you know, not having some sterile company with a tent at an event, like talking through things, real life shit, having a dog, right? Like Willie's been such a. It would make jokes about it. Just such a conversation opener when you're just standing. Like, who? We all want carbon wheels. We're all buying them every day.

No. So how do you just be a person? And the last is the internal feedback, right? That it just takes time and you have to work with a company for a long time for that to actually be beneficial. Right. I think people are like, Oh, Alex had that bike a year before it launched, so he put all the feedback. Dude and I had feedback that'll affect the next generation of that bike, but it's so far in advance that to truly, positively impact a company, you have to be involved really early on.

[00:17:01] Craig Dalton: Yeah. Yeah, that makes sense.

[00:17:02] Alexey Vermeulen: So I, I think if you put all those together, that's the full athlete, you know, doing well in the US and privateer.

[00:17:07] Craig Dalton: And it seems like one of the things you recognized was this idea that, you know, you will be required to create content as an athlete in this new space, and you took a very proactive vision on what that content was gonna be and how you were gonna show up

[00:17:25] Alexey Vermeulen: Yeah, I tried to, I mean, I think it's, especially now, like you look at a race, like on band, I feel like there is almost more videographers than racers sometimes. Right? It's kind of, And content for content sake. Is the bane of my existence. Like I, I, I hate to be, and like even the way you and I just chatted before we started this podcast, like I struggle with podcasts that just jump in and say the same thing the entire time.

Because if you have an i, if you have an agenda and you asked me exact same questions I talked about last week on a different podcast, it doesn't benefit anybody, right? It's just content for content's sake. Cause not that I'm not gonna be listened to, but you could go to some other channel list and the exact same.

Unless, you know, you give me the option to talk through things and figure things out and open up what I wanna get to as well. So I think that's the same thing with what I took into content. I was like, what do I enjoy this sport and why did I change what I'm doing? It's not that I was the best world tour writer, I was very far from it, but I have a, an experience at a different level and I enjoyed the relationship.

So I was like, that's what is interesting to me. So, I've just focused a lot on any content I can. I want to be about relationships and how this works. You know, like my relationship with Neil and Envy, like that's what's interesting to me. And then the humanity of the sport is what actually draws people in or inspires and motivates more than the next, Hey, the widest wheel set, cuz that's, You can find that on the web.

[00:18:46] Craig Dalton: quick, quick follow up on your dog since not everyone is familiar with Willie, although they should be. Just describe Willie and why he's got a little bit of notoriety in the cycling world these days.

[00:18:58] Alexey Vermeulen: Yeah, Willie's probably the fastest, fastest known dog in the cycling world. No, but he's a long haired miniature din, looks like a mini golden retriever if you trying to picture it. And early on in the pandemic, I started riding with him when my girlfriend did runs and he just loved it. And it's kind of just grown, I mean, He's done rides as long as seven hours.

He gets out, goes to the bathroom, goes back in the backpack, and we just ride. But he is like, you know, you got his shoulder over his head, over one of your shoulders and it's kind of like, it's great as a training partner also. Like, I'll go ride three hours and come pick him up for an hour at the end.

And I don't have to talk to anybody, but I kind have someone they are with me, like a little training partner and no one yells at you on the bike path. So it's a win, win, win.

[00:19:38] Craig Dalton: does Willie have a preference between road riding and gravel riding?

[00:19:41] Alexey Vermeulen: He probably likes gravel more in Colorado cause he loves prairie dogs. He loves like, you know, hunting from, from up high. He's actually most into mountain biking, which I try to like ride trails before I take him there. But like, he knows when the goggle, he hates the goggles, but he knows when the goggles go on, it's like it's, there's gonna be branches in this face.

It's gonna be time to focus. And he just like, he gets all four legs up on my shoulder, like a par. Just kinda like if there's someone in front of me, he is just like, his head is probably three or four inches in front of my face and just like, he's trying to just like, we have to get back to them. He just, I think he just loves the interactive nature of it.

So I don't take him mountain biking that off and it's probably his favorite.

[00:20:19] Craig Dalton: So podcasting is not the medium to really enjoy Willian, but I encourage the listener to follow you on Instagram cuz I I love it. Everybody loves it. Willie's a hero.

[00:20:28] Alexey Vermeulen: Yeah. He makes everyone smile, which is a goal in life, so it's.

[00:20:32] Craig Dalton: you also seem to have linked up with someone who is your, is your frequent video videographer partner, and that seems like be like a really interesting relationship to give us insight into your, your comings and goings and your career and your successes and your failure.

[00:20:47] Alexey Vermeulen: Yeah, so that's, that's funny. So like, this is, that was something I started last year. So Avery stu, like he does all my, almost all my photo and video that's not through another company and even if it is but we just started, he DMed me when I was back racing Iceman one year, which is a big mountain bike racing in northern Michigan where I grew up.

And we've just kind of weirdly just been on the same path. He moved out to, to Boulder about three months after I did. And I think we both have an understanding of what the other's job is to get done, right? I think there's a lot of cyclists who just expect, Hey, this car and video, this photographer will follow me and just take pictures.

But like, that's not, it's not that easy, right? It's back and forth and, hey, this is the great, this is the gap. And it's annoying at times. And then the same as he understands I have to get work done right. So he'll just come, Hey, I'm gonna go out in the car with you for four hours. I'm gonna ask you to turn around six or seven times.

But like, so we're able to create really cool content because we both are just in it cuz of our friendship less than money. If I were to like, like I've had people ask me this year, like, Oh, what do you pay? YouPay him hourly. I was like, Are you kidding me? That guy works more hourly with me than I think I could ever pay him in my entire life.

But it's more, Cause it's friendship, right? It's something that just, it, the relationship is the reason that we work together, not anything else. And so this year going in, I was, that was kind of the goal. I was like, I went to companies and I was like, Hey, I, I want to try to bring Avery to all of the races because to me, First off, you'll get pictures after the race, which every company wants if you go do well, but more importantly, I want to show the relationship side of this.

Right? And a really good example of that is if anyone's who made a video at Belgium Welfare Ride that I won this year in San Diego, but there's a moment in there about two thirds the way through where the person I had feeding me just it's kind of shit the bad that day. It's kind of struggling sometimes you just aren't on the same wavelength.

They keep missing you. They don't see your jersey, whatever it is. And Avery literally just stopped filming and handed up two bottles, which was like, ch I would've dropped outta the race, very honestly. And that kind of like moment, that's a relationship thing, right? If I'm paying someone to take pictures and videos, they're gonna do that till the end of the day.

But the relationship side of him knew, Hey, my friend is struggling. Feeding is more important than filming right now. And I will always cherish that because that's what matters more and that's what moves the the world go, not what makes the world go.

[00:22:56] Craig Dalton: yeah. When you, when you were structuring your sponsorship agreements for this year, were you, did you specifically carve out like a dollar amount for him and. This is going to him to make sure he can get everywhere with me.

[00:23:08] Alexey Vermeulen: it was hard. Concepts proven are easier to sell, right? So this year I would say I spent, I spent a good amount of my own money getting in places cuz I, I believe in it, right? And so if anyone's interested, like we have a YouTube channel just like Alexian Avery Which I think we've had, I think it'll be at the end, like 18 videos this year.

But so I had, you know, a couple companies that I think believed in what I was doing, sign on, you know, like Envy for example. Neil was like, that's great that we need this, this is perfect. We want to add humanity to what we do already. And there's other companies that were less excited about it because the thought process and cycling has always been, we wanna pay for this direct photo shoot, not for this like big ambiguous season.

But I think also everyone this year has come back and now, next year I've kind of stipulated it for everybody. Like, Hey, if we're working together, I really need to ask you to put a percentage of, like, I've pretty much said a percentage of my paycheck you need to add in on top of to pay for bravery to come to races cuz you've all benefited from it this year.

And if you haven't then you need to show me where you didn't. Cuz it's just such a organic way of doing things, right? When it's more about the relationship of it and everyone's include. It's just fun. Like I took, I took Avery and our friend tra, we had two videographers at Sea Oder, and it was a blast, right?

It was the three, two of us and Willie hanging out the biggest event all year, right? Like just, I don't know, like the bike race is the smallest portion of it, and that is, it's the biggest portion of my life, but it's, it matters least it's just the vehicles. All of us to go hang out at events and the community of it is what has growing, what I'm a part of.


[00:24:43] Craig Dalton: Yeah, that's a good point. I think for the outsider, just to understand gravel, it's not about who every section of the race and who's winning. It's about the overall experience. It's the pre rise, the shake down rides. The post ride hang out. That's what makes it so magic.

[00:24:57] Alexey Vermeulen: Yeah. And like it's intoxicating, right? Like I think that is the coolest thing. I had a. I had a quote the other day about, you know, at some point in every race, the winner of the pro race is gonna struggle as much as the person finishing lasts. And I think that's beautiful, right? Like we're all riding on the same course and taking on these things and it's just, it's just about the different journey, right?

The struggle is going to be different whether it's mental or physical or mechanical, but in the end, we're all gonna send up, end up sitting the same place, and that is something that never existed where I was at the road.

[00:25:27] Craig Dalton: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I wanna get a little bit into the Grand Prix, but along those lines, the Grand Prix, I mean, I think people, listener's gonna know it's Park Mountain, bike Park gravel racing. As we think about it, when you, just to follow up on the sponsorship thread as you designed your season. Being aware of the Grand Prix and the requirements of having both a, a gravel bike and a proper mountain bike to race these races, how did you kind of figure that all out?

Because I think you had alignment maybe with a gravel bike set up, and maybe the mountain bike was like, Oh shit, where am I gonna get one of those?

[00:25:58] Alexey Vermeulen: Yeah, no, I think it's also, again, to start relationships, right? It's easy to, to leave the sponsorship thing and say, Oh, look at this. This company has all, all the bikes I need and this company doesn't. But to me, longevity of the company matters more than getting what you need. If I have to go buy a bike, I'm willing to but I was lucky enough to structure it, so, I ride road and gravel bikes from Envy, which is cool cause it's just a past relationship I've had since I left the road.

And I signed on with Factor for Mountain Bikes, which it's funny cuz both of those companies launched their bikes for the first time this year. So it's been a chaotic year. But it's cool. I mean that's the, also the beauty of this is I feel like both companies in a weird way gain from knowledge that I learned of launching bike.

Simple sides, right? And even if they're not the exact same discipline and it's a weird defined space there cause it doesn't really exist sometimes. , I think. I love that people can understand that and as long as it's like written down and talked about, nobody feels like they're losing out because it's just a, it's about growing the sport more than selling bikes all the time.

[00:26:52] Craig Dalton: And how does the jukebox team fit into all this

[00:26:57] Alexey Vermeulen: yeah. So I got a complicated setup this year. Yeah, so Jukebox is printing company in Vancouver. You know, stickers, business cards, you name it, posters we'll have many willy stickers to. If you're wondering but no, they, Loredo whos the company kind of wanted, he has an image entertainment in Canada and he wanted to grow this, like the community side of it.

He supports Israel Cycling Academy on the world tour stage, but. He had this idea of, Hey, how can you tie athletes together with a title sponsor? Right? So we all have, if you look at someone like Phil Guyman is quote unquote on this team. Pretty much the only sponsor, Phil and I have the same is Jukebox and Phil's not racing, and I'm very ous racing focused right now.

But the goal is that you kind of have this traveling community that fits into all disciplines that you couldn't find the corners of without. Alienating anybody. So I think there's five or six people now. All from different backgrounds.

[00:27:48] Craig Dalton: And is there any sort of I mean, are you guys connected in any meaningful way? Like do you, do you train with Dylan Johnson here and there?

[00:27:56] Alexey Vermeulen: Not really train cause we all live in different places, but like, even like big sugar, we're all gonna be in the same house. Just doing photo stuff and hanging out and I think it's been hard to, with co like as Covid was still tailing off, like, get everyone together. Cause I think that's the goal.

Like there's a lot of talk of getting everyone together in, in Canada and, you know, doing a training camp and things like that. Which I hope happens next year, but this year it was very much focused on. These guys are racing. You know, I've seen Dylan and Ashton and Adam at every race because we're all doing the Grand Prix and that's how it goes.

And then I've seen, I haven't seen Phil once this year, but hopefully that changes, you know? And then there's also people like you know, there's downhill cycle cross racers that I will probably never see cuz I don't do those things.

[00:28:34] Craig Dalton: May, maybe Sea Otter, you

[00:28:36] Alexey Vermeulen: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. See Otter hopefully. But yeah, it's been weird, but I've actually enjoyed it cuz you, the non-endemic side of the sport is like, when I talk about enjoying the business side and figuring out relationships, it's where it becomes more fun because it takes work and homework to actually figure out how to actually benefit that company.

[00:28:53] Craig Dalton: Yeah, yeah, yeah, for sure. So onto the Grand Prix, I mean, presumably you found out about this short towards the tail end of last year and. Getting an invite to participate in the series was a big commitment. Obviously, there's six races on the calendar, half mountain bike, half gravel bike. It was really gonna have to take the sort of cornerstone position in your calendar, I presume, for the year if you were gonna intend on being successful.

[00:29:19] Alexey Vermeulen: Yeah. In a lifetime, Grand prs been kind of, I probably went into it a little more relaxed than I should have. I. Was excited about racing it, but also cognizant of how it can kind of, it's a long season and mentally it can really drain, drain you. So, you know, going into c was probably a little undercooked and like kind of focused on just building throughout the season and being as consistent as I could.

Back then in April I was like, Oh, I think you can finish top 10 in every race and finish in the podium. I don't think that's true. I think it'd be more consistent than that. And I also don't think I, anyone ever thought Kegan was gonna be as dominant as he has been. If in hindsight I probably would've tried to peak a little more for different races, but I've had this thought process of just being very consistent throughout the year.

Not really peaking for anything, just trying to be fit and be mentally have a lot of mental freedom to, to not feel like I'm ever pressured. And so from, I didn't start racing until April cause that was kind of the goal. I did one race in Michigan, very rbe before Sea Otter, but otherwise was pretty much.

Very fresh. And then throughout the year, I've probably taken almost a month off the bike throughout the year, just finding that balance between things, right? Maybe it's not always off the bike, but not worrying about training. You know? 10 days before Leadville went to watch my girlfriend compete in the Commonwealth Games, which was incredible and.

Maybe lost me half a percent, but like mentally, I had this space to go from Leadville straight into like this very different block to get ready for the final races. I think that's the biggest thing about this is I've, throughout the last six months or seven months said, Okay, here's my calendar, here's the races, and if it's a mountain bike race, I'm gonna spend per most of my time on that bike before the event and do.

Workouts that affect that, but hopefully hold this fitness and just kind of changed little bits to be ready for different things. Got a big climbing race in Utah. Okay. Do some longer threshold efforts. And then the minute Leadville, like in Leadville is obviously a big training camp just to be ready for altitude.

And the minute Leadville finish it was like, okay, full on three to five minute efforts, Endurance Doesn't matter anymore. And that's, that is somewhat the beautiful thing is once you get through unbound, If you have like cycling such a build sport year after year that you can kind of hold endurance most of the year.

I don't have to really focus on that during the week and I can turn a lot of my rides into like, Hey, how hard can I go? Because that's what these races become. Like if we wanna talk numbers like Schwam again, the two hour mountain bike sprint we just did was like 330 normalized for two hours, just like it was, it just on the whole day.

And it's like something I dreamed of, but we haven't done it all year.

[00:31:45] Craig Dalton: It was such a gear shift just as a fan of the sport. To see everybody now have to do like a two hour event, like what the hell?

[00:31:51] Alexey Vermeulen: I loved it. Yeah, and then just like, not to jump away from the grand pretty quickly, but I think that was something that's interesting about my background is there's a lot of really strong guys in the Grand Prix. Guys that I thought were gonna stick out and are probably, are, are coming around like Locklin.

Alex have had some, both of 'em have had some bad luck, but Rob and even Dark Horse, in my opinion, Pete Stat, you have a lot of guys that come from a road background and have the. To do well at all these events. But I think moving two years earlier than a lot of those guys has made a difference for me.

Cuz dude, I struggle a lot with the technical side of the sport on the dirt because it's just different on the road. You just expect you, you find lines and that's it. And, There's a flow to it. Mountain biking and gravel riding's a lot more. Like, you kind of like, Hey, you're gonna slide sideways and you're gonna find your edge and then you're gonna keep moving.

And it's so foreign. And I felt like I really struggled for the two years before this and kind of found my feet at the right time with the Grand Prix. People always act like, like for example, Leadville as a road race, mountain bike, race. Dude, I disagree. Like if when you're going 35 down power line on a hard tail with the, with guys that are pure mountain bike, You have to be able to handle your bike.

[00:32:58] Craig Dalton: sure. Yeah. It, I mean, I, and it depends on the, the weather that particular year, the year I did it, it was pouring with rain, which took another different skill set. I mean, people were just absolutely falling apart during that event. Yeah. Speaking of, I mean, I guess since this is gonna publish in early October, we've got one race remaining.

You're in second place in the Grand Prix. Keegan's obviously been crushing it all year, but I think there are, A couple people within range that if he had a horrible day, like something drastic could happen in the results.

[00:33:33] Alexey Vermeulen: Kegan's theoretically safe now because he can drop a race and he's done so well. So Ke Kegan has won the, won the Grand Prix now but second through, Well, it's just because, it's just because he can drop a race. So theoretically he could not, he has to show up, but he. He can have his worst result and his worst result right now is fourth, which is insane.

His worst result is fourth at Schwam again after he crashed. So if he drops big sugar and finishes 45th, it still doesn't matter cause he has more points than I do right now. But yeah, it'll be interesting. I mean, big sugar being in Batonville is like, it's known for sharp rocks, right? It's a, it's gonna be kind of a race of attrition, Put it all out there, but also be intelligent about it.

For me, I'm definitely gonna err on the side of insurance, you know, like we talked about, inserts a little bit, little extra sealant. But I've never, I've tried to never go into any of these races thinking about the Grand Prix because if, like, if you race to win, you'll be up there. I can't think about where Cole is or Pete or Russell like doesn't help.

I enjoy racing my bike too, so I think, yeah, I mean theoretically all of them I think up to seventh could theoretically pass me. I guess I haven't really done math cause it's kind of hard, like Cole didn't race unbound, so he doesn't have a drop race. So like if he does worse than my tent at Crusher.

He can't beat me. But, you know, it's, it's so, it's really up in the air until you finish. And that's been cool about the point system in a way for me. Yeah, it's hard to say. I'm like, for the first time this year, nervous. Cause I've really tried to not think about the Grand Prix until this point because it's just, it's so up in the air and you have one bad day.

Like, I pulled my front trailer cable out at Crusher. Like, so weird things can happen to anybody. Right.

[00:35:09] Craig Dalton: Yeah.

[00:35:10] Alexey Vermeulen: But yeah, I, I will say that I'm happy. That I was somewhat a mountain biker's, turf in the mud for two hours in Wisconsin. And I, I fared. And so I think we're a little bit more to my benefit in Bentonville.

[00:35:24] Craig Dalton: Yeah, it's, it's, it's got so many punchy climbs in addition to kind of the, the big potential rock hazards there. It will be interesting from a racing perspective, like who's gonna go all in early? Does it stay together? Like, how are you gonna turn the screws to each other? I'm excited.

[00:35:41] Alexey Vermeulen: I'm stoked. I mean, I think it's, you're mainly gonna see guys like Pete that is in fourth and Russell is in fifth, try to make moves because like, at least until we get to the end, like racing wise to win the race, I have no reason to do much before then. But it's also easy to say till you get it in that moment and it's pissing rain or something, weird's happening and just becomes full on chaos for five hours. So, yeah, I don't know. It's, it's kind of, it's weird and everyone's taking different paths to get there too. You know, some guys are still on mountain bikes. I kind of came back and immediately started doing, you know, hard, harder efforts to kind of get ready for a sprint finish. And but yeah, I mean, I, like in the end, yes, I wanna finish on the, putting the gram pretty, but I, I kind of wanna win big sugar, like love kicking to death.

I would like him to not win another fricking race. So that, that would be the, the real goal on top. Cherry on top, like finishing on the podium. Grand PR is great, but de that kid's been dominant this year, so that's probably the biggest goal for me.

[00:36:33] Craig Dalton: and, and best of luck to him this coming weekend in the world. So that's just insane that he's on that team right now.

[00:36:39] Alexey Vermeulen: I just, yeah, I just, I love that there is a transfer between gravel and road because you, you do have a lot of guys come over here that I think think they, because they're really strong on the road, they could just jump in.

Like you look at Nick Tetra at Leadville, obviously he is, that altitude's not used to it, but it's not the same. You gotta be able to put the whole package together to do a lot of these races and to get through a whole season of it. I think the Grand Prix has been the hardest in that sense, right?

That it's pretty much one race a month and that. to peak for six races every month. You kind of have to pick and choose or just be consistent. Yeah, and I think the only person do it perfectly this year is been Kegan and I guess perfection was lost at Swan again, but still, I, I would still say he was perfect.

[00:37:16] Craig Dalton: We'll see. We'll see after big sugar.

[00:37:18] Alexey Vermeulen: Yeah.

[00:37:19] Craig Dalton: That's exciting. Well, I'm super excited to ra watch that race, as I said, and hopefully I'm gonna be there myself to watch the action first hand, or at least from way, way behind you guys.

[00:37:29] Alexey Vermeulen: Yeah. It, it, it'll be fun. And Bentonville puts on a p puts on a party every time too, which I love. Right. They so much. It's all about cycling in that community right now. And I every, it's intoxicating every time you go there.

[00:37:42] Craig Dalton: A hundred percent. I wanted to take a step back and talk about your other sort of big, I don't know if you call it your personal project, but it's, I think it's just been a big part of your journey the last couple years to Leadville and the from, from the ground up project. Can you talk a little bit about that?

[00:37:55] Alexey Vermeulen: Yeah, I think I'm really bad about just giving you a quick synopsis. So I'll start. There is, so from the ground up is we take three riders who haven't been on a bike or haven't raced before to Leadville the hardest mountain of race in the nation, in my opinion. And the goal is just to make the sport less intimidating, more accessible through showing.

The questions and vulnerabilities of people who are going to struggle at the event, let alone the pros. Cuz pros are stupid and don't show it even though we all struggle. So it started in 2021 was the first season we did, the second season this year. And I say season cuz it's a TV series on the back end.

But it's really, it's this pathway just learning how. How hard cycling can be, whether it's lingo or training or getting into this sport financially. And it's, it's been something I've been super passionate about and takes a lot of my time from January to August. But it validates everything.

And the reason I left the road, it's something that like, it's easy to talk about making positive impacts on people, but also very, very difficult to do it while racing as a professional. And I, for the first two years, for 20 18, 20 19, I struggled with that. Like I would say it to companies and then you get to racist and you're like, Dude, I'm getting flogged as it is, like let alone trying to stand out here on my feet all day in the sun talking to people.

And so it's been really cool to see like Covid brought this whole new way of people into the sport and it allowed this access to. People that, you know, literally didn't get on their bike because of Lance or Greg. They got on their bike because they're gym closed. The need of mental sanity. And that is a very different pathway than anything we'd ever seen before.

You know, all of a sudden cycling was like a marathon, you know, It was, it was just to do it. It was just to accomplish something. And I think there was a little bit of a disconnect because of how elitist cycling can. that we struggled to inform people that, hey, maybe Unbound isn't the best first race, you know, Or, Hey, maybe you should figure out how to change a tube before you take on this gravel race.

But in all reality, it still became this big question of how do we keep these people in the sport and make it exciting? And that's what from the ground up has kind of been, you know, it's trying to show that normal everyday people can take on the hardest thing in the world or the hardest thing in the cycling world, in my opinion.

Then go on and you know, even if they don't finish, they can go on and take on normal races and it's never gonna feel very hard. Right. Cuz yeah, you do the 100 at Unbound, it's hard, but it's not at 10,000 feet, it doesn't have 11,000 feet of climbing. It's not with the sense there's so much that that grows and I would equate finishing the Leadville 100 to, to doing an Ironman and we have multiple on film being like, Oh, I finished two Ironmans and this was way harder.

Cuz it's just, it's so mentally taxing, you know. A lot of it is mental, more than physical, and that's really hard.

[00:40:28] Craig Dalton: A hundred percent. Like my personal experience there was I was, I was about ready to quit and honestly, like, I think had my wife been at the feed station before Columbine, I might have quit, but I was like, Well, I don't have a ride home so I might as well continue going. Unfortunately, and miraculously, by the time I came back down, I was feeling good and I was like, I can make it.

[00:40:50] Alexey Vermeulen: But that's how life is too, right? Like that's the coolest part of this is at the same time I go and race my race, I don't know how they're doing. And at the some point on Leadville, if you don't know it's out and back course. So I end up hopefully crossing them if their days are going all right. And that's just so cool to me, right?

That you could have these people taking on something the first time very much in the understanding of how impossible it is and still towing the. That's motivating and inspiring. Right? And like cycling is made for everybody of all sizes, of all shapes, of all anything you want to name it, right? But we don't show that.

We don't say it. It's very hard to talk about because it is primarily white is primarily male and you have to have money to be into it. And I think as that changes, we all. Gain value, like the sport is more important and it doesn't have to be about racing. You can be any type of rider, right? We have, in our first season, Shauna, you know, she finished, she stopped Leadville, I think at the Twin Lakes aid station was like, that's it.

But no, went and took on like fat bike nationals in northern Wisconsin and like a different side of the sport. She's never wanna race laville again, but bikes can be anything. You can go become fricking bike commuter if you want. That's still, that vehicle of the bicycle is the cool part of the project.

[00:42:01] Craig Dalton: Where can people watch the project?

[00:42:04] Alexey Vermeulen: First season was on YouTube the second season I was on outside. But it's not behind a pay wall, so,

[00:42:09] Craig Dalton: Yep,

[00:42:09] Alexey Vermeulen: And there will be a third season. I just, first you heard it first here. But no, the hard part is not to cut you off. Like the hard part is figuring out how do you make it less overwhelming? Cause every year you're like, Wow, this is really sadistic.

Why are we doing this to people?

[00:42:23] Craig Dalton: Yeah, it's hard to imagine like someone not just off the couch, but just off the couch wanting to do Leadville. I mean, there's, when they're submitting their application to you, they're submitting it to do Leadville, so at some level they've decided they're willing to do it.

[00:42:38] Alexey Vermeulen: but they don't understand. That's the beautiful part of it, right? They don't have any idea. And there's this process of like growing up and six weeks out we go to like a Leadville training camp, and they get to feel the altitude for their first time and ride the course over three days.

[00:42:50] Craig Dalton: Yeah.

[00:42:51] Alexey Vermeulen: And it is, I cannot tell you how like just wide-eyed, like what the did I sign up for?

And, but none of them quit cuz they're, they've invested so much of their life for the last five months into it. They're like, Shit, I'm here. May as well.

[00:43:06] Craig Dalton: The cards fall.

[00:43:07] Alexey Vermeulen: yeah, I mean that's definitely the balance side of it that I've enjoyed is being able to do something like that. Cause you could never do that when you're racing on the road.

[00:43:13] Craig Dalton: Yeah, it's a great, it's a great, I don't know, series I think was the right word that you used. It's a great series. I watched it on outside tv. Super powerful to, I mean, I'm, I'm always impressed when anybody takes on a journey that's bigger than themselves, whether it's a marathon or a gravel race or whatever it is.

There's something absolutely admirable about someone who's willing to tackle something like that, knowing that, like, we may finish, we may not, but I'm gonna do something huge.

[00:43:41] Alexey Vermeulen: Yeah, and I think that's the takeaway, right? Is that hopefully like there is a connection between cycling and life and. We have those rolling hills, You come down Columbine and all of a sudden you feel okay again. And that's the reality of all of this. Like most of the days you train, you feel like shit.

That is the majority of cycling. Like even a professional athlete, 99.9% of the time is just bullshit. Get out the door, maybe convince yourself to get a coffee and stop for a couple minutes, but like get the work done and move on cuz you don't feel great every day. And I

[00:44:07] Craig Dalton: I think someone said, said like, if you're not, if you're, if you're feeling good, better than 30% of the time, you're probably not training well.

[00:44:15] Alexey Vermeulen: Yeah, it's true and that, but I think that's not, because that's not what we, that's not what anyone shows on social media or anything else. Right. It's always the good time. So yeah, my advice Could yourself, a wiener dog and ride your bike?

[00:44:26] Craig Dalton: I love it, which is the perfect note to end on. Wiener dog promotion, which by the way, I will have another one if I didn't already have two dogs, and that's a long story. We would have a wiener dog cuz that's my wife's jam right

[00:44:38] Alexey Vermeulen: yeah. They're perfect. The right at the right size. That's the, that's the true goal.

[00:44:43] Craig Dalton: Yeah, my actual golden retriever does not fit well on my back and in a backpack,

[00:44:48] Alexey Vermeulen: See, but that is like my goal after my, after my career is I've told my girlfriend I wanna get a golden retriever, not another wiener. So I could just be like, Oh, this one didn't grow.

[00:44:55] Craig Dalton: I love it. I love it. Thanks so much for the time, man. It's great to catch up. Good luck at Big Sugar. Hopefully I see you there and good luck at Belgium Waffle Ride Michigan. I know that will be a, a great one for you being a Michigan.

[00:45:07] Alexey Vermeulen: No, thank you so much. It's, it's exciting. And Yeah, just hope the sport keeps growing and thanks for talking through it.

[00:45:12] Craig Dalton: Of course we'll see you, my man.

[00:45:14] Alexey Vermeulen: See ya.

[00:45:16] Craig Dalton: That's going to do it for this week's edition of the gravel ride podcast. Huge. Thanks to Alexi for joining us and big, thanks to athletic greens and ag one for sponsoring this week's episode. If you're interested in connecting with me, I encourage you to join the ridership. Simply visit That's a free global cycling community where you can connect with gravel athletes from around the world. It's also your straight line to having a conversation with me, making episodes, suggestions, et cetera.

If you're able to support the show, please visit buy me a gravel ride. Or ratings and reviews are hugely appreciated. It really helps in me connecting with additional gravel cyclist. Until next time here's to finding some dirt under your wheels