The Hardest Contract to Sign
Heading into a professional career, the world is at your feet, you have finally made the category of the sport you have always dreamed of and traditionally, you are coming off a hot shot Under 23 career.
As an athlete, you are now progressing from the comfort of an Under 23 team to the professional ranks where you are now an adult. "Here's your race calendar and here's your new coach, I'll see you the Tour Down Under in January, be ready to race". All of a sudden things change from a controlled Under 23 environment to your hands steering the ship 24/7. There are many other areas that need to be established before you can even start to focus on the profession you are finally getting paid for. Where are you going to live? The relationship with your new coach, the new equipment you have, the new expectation that's on your shoulders and it's all in your hands. Yes, you could have a manager, but you are now completely in charge and within the next two years you have to work out how you are going to make your presence felt within the professional peloton.
If you signed a two-year contract in October of 2015 - you now have 1.75 seasons to impress - as, by August, September 2017, you need to have proven your value otherwise it's all becoming too late.
The challenging part is that Under 23 success does not always immediately translate to World Tour success. There are a select few that make the jump quickly - recently: Ewan, Moscon, Teuns, but for the majority it takes time. The small amount of time (two years) that Neo Pros are given is a major challenge. If you spend the first year adapting to your new environment then you don't have long before your contract is coming to a close.
Alexey Vermeulen is a professional cyclist who has found himself at the end of his Neo Pro contract with Lotto Jumbo. To discuss his current contract situation was strange, I've never heard him put a negative sentence together, so to hear Alexey so frustrated about his job scenario was a shock. The vibrant demeanour of the young American grabs you upon meeting him and his friendly nature is inescapable. But he's in a tricky situation, he has been delisted from his professional team and his cycling career is in jeopardy. – here is what he had to say.
What has been the biggest challenge of the transition?
"For me, the most difficult part of making the transition from U23s to the World Tour (WT) was not knowing what is expected when you come to signing a second contract. When you first sign with a WT team and find yourself in the whirl of new bikes, a big race schedule and the biggest races of the world, it is hard to know where to devote your time. You can no longer just do everything you want, as much as you wanted to race at this level, it is now a job and not just fun. Understanding when to race for yourself, while at the same time being a team was a challenge for me. Where is the tipping point on either side?
"I was signed at age 20 from the BMC Development team, now, as I write this I am 22. For the second year running, I have been the youngest rider on Lotto. To not resign me after Lotto paraded ‘development’ in front of my eyes two years ago is an extremely disappointing and short sighted in my opinion. The reasoning I have been given for not being resigned is that they do not think I can be the star rider that they believed I could be before….. at 22, any sensible cyclist or sports enthusiast can tell you that no one can know that.
"In the end, I am forced to see the hard side of cycling, the part that lacks romance and is run more like Wall Street. I hope Lotto will see the error in their ways I plan to prove them wrong."
What are your options?
"I fell in love with racing and the bike at an early age…I have always been told that you know in your heart when it is time to call the end of your career and find your next focus. I just don’t feel that way, I see so much more fight inside me, even though my recent interactions with Lotto have soured my view of cycling teams. I still have so much more I want to do and experience. I still want to race and I will fight until the end just to have a chance to compete for one more year. There are a couple of teams left, so only time will tell."
"When cycling is over I am excited to go to school…4 years ago when I deferred school, I wanted to study to become a doctor, thinking about that now is daunting but you never know, once again time will tell! "
How has it mentally affected you and your season?
"My conversations with Lotto Jumbo changed as the season went on. There was a major lack in communication as I look back. Mentally, I would say I have been able to focus and deal with the reality of my situation quite well, but it hasn’t been easy. Up until July, at every point that I asked, I was doing everything right. I was doing my job, I gained a couple of results too - a podium at the US nationals (2016 & 2017), represented the USA at the World Championships and ran 5th on stage 3rd of the Criterium Dauphine."
"From here, the calls turned more and more negative, eventually ending my contract renewal officially in late September. I do not think it has affected my racing season drastically, I was able to be as strong as I have ever been at the Japan Cup in late October in the torrential rain. I would say it has more affected my life overall, my career could be finished before it started."
What piece of advice would you provide Alexey at the beginning of his first contract?
"I have learned that cycling can be tough, my experience with Lotto for 1.5 years, I had only praise, but the last few months, I have seen the harsh reality of this sport."
"I would tell myself to stay as an under 23 for one more year, development is so important."
"Overall, I have only good thoughts about the way things have gone down the last two years and I am proud of the way I raced."
Alexey's story highlights the challenges of competitive sport and how hard it is to lock in a second World Tour contract. From the Stanley Street Social, we wish him all the best and hope to see him back in the professional ranks in 2018.
See you back at the social club,