Dexter Alum and Pro Cyclist Helps Everyday People Ride Beyond Limits
Alexey Vermeulen, a professional mountain bike rider and Dexter High School alum, recently faced the frisson of competitive spirit at the 2023 USA Cycling Gravel National Championships and the punishing Leadville Traill 100 MTB (Mountain Bike) Race. The Sun Times News caught up with Alexey to hear more about it.
Remarkably, Alexey secured second place in both races, but with a twist. “I had what felt like an offseason until Leadville,” Alexey laughs, “The funny part is that I lost to the same guy in both races. I’ve got to fix that.”
The Leadville 100 MTB Race is not just any race. Hosted in Leadville, CO, this grueling 104-mile competition drew a staggering 1,788 riders this year. The mix of professional and amateur cyclists tested their mettle against the quiescent yet challenging terrains around Leadville at an elevation of 10,152 feet.
The race is renowned for its heart-pounding climbs, with the total elevation gain reaching an astounding 13,129 feet. The event’s legendary climbs include Powerline, with an average grade of 8% over 3.3 miles for an elevation gain of 1,420. Mt. Columbine averages 8% grade for 7.9 miles, up 3,118 feet to the mine at 12,516 feet elevation, the race's high point. Sugarloaf is a 5% grade over 9.7 miles for an elevation gain of 1,283.
The Leadville 100 course is not for the faint of heart, but for those up to the challenge, it is an unforgettable experience. And it is among these elevations and the test of stamina that Alexey found an additional calling. Partnering with fellow cyclist Ryan Petry, they have initiated “From the Ground Up a project that takes everyday people and prepares and provides them with everything they need to take on the monstrous Leadville Trail 100 MTB.
It started with a conversation between Alexey and a friend on a 300-mile bike ride through the mountains during COVID. “We rode ten hours a day and had a lot of time to talk,” says Alexey. “We talked about how if there was ever a time to give back or ever a place to give back, this seemed to be it.”
With an idea to just personally help a couple of novice riders, their humble initiative struck a chord with many. When applications opened, an overwhelming 1,200 individuals expressed interest, prompting the transformation of their small project into an expansive endeavor. Sponsors, film crew, and coaches were procured.
Alexey emphasizes, “Going beyond our limits is what the series is really about. It’s not just a bike race. The bike is only the vehicle. You’ve accomplished this theoretically impossible thing. You go on in your life with this new mindset. The show is really about how you move this thing forward that is your life.”
From the Ground Up is a 6-part series going into its third year focusing on education and inclusivity. In Season 3, the project documents the journey of 5 new riders from varying backgrounds as they prepare to take on the Leadville Trail 100 Mountain Bike Race in less than 6 months. FTGU’s goal is to make the sport of cycling less intimidating and more approachable while inspiring riders of all abilities to take on a challenge of their own.
Season Three holds a name that may be familiar to many Wolverine Football fans. Retired NFL wide receiver and UM Football player Amani Toomer takes on the challenge.
The YouTube series of short episodes provides a raw glimpse into the sufferfest the riders go through as they physically and mentally prepare for the race. But Alexey points out that the heart of the training is not the technical aspects you might expect – the altitude, riding technique, and endurance. “It’s the fact that these people are taking on something that is theoretically impossible for them in the amount of time given,” he explains. “Going beyond our limits is what the series is really about.”
Throughout the rigorous six-month preparation for the race, the participants have access to a team that includes a coach, sports psychologist, nutritionist, and other vital resources. For Alexey, his role is clear. He’s not a coach but “the shoulder to cry on when sh** gets hard.”
For Alexey, the program’s rewards go far beyond competing professionally and winning.
“I keep telling people when I finished Leadville this year, it was the perfect day,” he explains. “We had people finishing the race for the first time that were part of the project. It was so emotional. You realize it’s one of those things you just don’t get to be a part of often. This has quickly turned into the coolest thing I am doing.”
Alexey describes himself as very, very competitive, but he doesn’t take himself too seriously. He knows that a professional bike racing career is relatively short, and the accolades quickly fade.
“I’m quite emotional and quite sentimental, and the things I take away from my career are going to be attached to those feelings,” he explains. “If I knew I would never win Leadville, but From the Ground Up would continue every year, that is a worthwhile cause.”
“I think the success of this project goes beyond riding bikes or anything else,” he adds. “The bike is such a special thing. It changes people's lives. The bike was our first sense of freedom until we got a driver’s license. And many who return to the bike again rediscover that freedom. They’ll never let it go.”
For more information on From the Ground Up and episodes, visit https://www.fromthegroundup.bike/
Watch Season One Episode 1 below.