By Doug Marrin, STN Reporter
One of Dexter’s own, Alexey Vermeulen, is following a rocky path less traveled in his career as a professional mountain bike racer. And while his road less traveled takes him all over the country, Alexey enjoys coming to what he considers some of the best biking in the country.
At age 26, the Dexter graduate travels the country, earning his keep in the adrenaline-charged, sand-in-your-gears world of mountain bike racing. And like the races in which he competes, he knows someday the finish line will come, but he is enjoying it while it lasts.
“Cycling or any sport has its time limits,” he says. “But at this point, I am lucky enough to call this my job.”
Recently, Alexey took second place in the 38th annual Chequamegon MTB Festival held in the wilds of Wisconsin. His time for the 40-mile race through ski country (think very big hills) was 2:15:27, one second (ONE) out of first place. His average pace for the race was 17.72 mph. Alexey was the event’s defending champion.
“This year was a little insane,” says Alexey in a phone call. “I won the race in 2019, so I carried some pressure for that.”
Two cyclists, Alexey and Cole Paton, broke away from the pack with twelve miles left to go. “It’s a relatively short race, so we pretty much ride as hard as I can, above heart rate threshold for two hours,” says Alexey. “After Cole and I broke away, it was pretty much a cat and mouse chase. In the end, he was on my wheel and got the jump for the final sprint when we opened up for the finish line.”
Alexey travels the country doing 20 races a year. But as much as he’s seen and experienced in his land of Oz, there’s still no place like home.
“Sure, there are trails around the country that have certain advantages to them, certain unique features, but there is such a great variety of trails clustered around us here,” he says. “From my parents’ house, I can get on the trails right out the door and ride a hundred miles in an assortment of ways.”
He points to the DTE Energy Foundation Trail system, the Potowatomi, Brighton Rec, and Island Lake Rec as major trail systems only minutes away with various features and challenges. “The entire area around us here is underrated for quality that it actually offers, and it’s growing,” he adds.
The growth is not just in top-rated mountain biking trails such as DTE but also in the explosion of shared pathways being developed. This is exciting for Alexey to see.
“Making the trails so accessible and close really encourages people to use them,” he says. “Nobody wants to drive too far with their bike to get on a trail. If a trail is close by, so much the better. I think that’s what the trail planners are looking to achieve for people.”
Alexey has been racing since he was 13. Surprisingly, not the adrenaline of competition drew him into biking, but his love for exploration.
“Riding, I could go see fifty miles worth of stuff instead of ten miles in a run,” he explains. “The biggest thing was that I loved seeing new places and riding my bike there.”
He was able to travel with his family and competed around the country, earning a national championship as a junior. He moved on to Europe, attending Dexter HS remotely. He missed his graduation ceremony because he was competing in Italy.
This past August, Alexey competed in the grueling Leadville 100 MTB Race. The event is a 104-mile mountain bike race that begins in Leadville, CO, at an elevation of 10,114 feet. The 2022 event drew 1,418 riders, a mix of professional and amateur.
Not only known for its high altitude, the punishing event is famous for its climbs. The total elevation gain for the race is 13,129 feet. Notable climbs on the route 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 peak at 12,540 feet elevation, the high-point of the race. Sugarloaf is a 5% grade over 9.7 miles for an elevation gain of 1,283.
“Leadville is the biggest, most well-known race for mountain bikers in the U.S.,” says Alexey. “Because of the high altitude, it’s a really intimidating event. And it’s hard for me to get excited about going someplace that I know I could get my ass kicked.
This was Alexey’s first year in the race, and the Dexter native finished ninth. Pretty darn good. His time was 6:41:26, with an average pace of 14.95 mph.
“That race is insane,” he says, blowing out a breath.
When it comes to the mental fortitude for such an arduous task, Alexey says he has no secrets or special abilities. He believes we all already have what it takes within us.
“I think everyone already has the ability,” he explains. “It’s how you do things in your daily life by breaking a day down into compartments—what has to be done this hour, the next hour, this morning, this afternoon. I do the same thing for a race. I break it down into what I have to do in the next hour—how hard I should ride, what I should eat and drink, what I have to do in the next 50 miles. It’s the same as anyone filling out their daily work schedule. It’s taking it one bite-sized chunk at a time.”
“Looking at the whole thing is daunting,” he continues. “But doing it in small pieces, one at a time accomplishes a lot.”
“And as intense and rigorous as the Leadville sounds, you also have to relax,” adds Alexey. “No matter your level, you have to relax. You have to chill. I have to know my limit, and not over ride it. Sometimes you just have to accept someone might be better than you today.”
That’s a good metaphor for many things in life.
Alexey now lives in Boulder, Colorado, but enjoys his visits back home to the Dexter area. When asked if he had any last words for his hometown, he wanted folks to know something he felt was important.
“I’d like to reiterate how great the riding is around here, whether you ride trails, dirt roads, or asphalt. I went out yesterday and rode some of my favorite gravel roads. It’s pretty cool what we have in and around the Dexter and Ann Arbor area. I’m able to travel, but I still really enjoy coming back here for family and the rides.”
For gearheads interested in what Alexey uses to shred the trail, he rides either a Canyon Exceed hardtail or the full-suspension Canyon Lux, depending on the race. His components are Shimano XTR. He uses a 36 front chainring with a 10/52 cassette to provide a wide range of power and speed in the high gear.