Smart Athlete Podcast Ep. 165 – Alexey Vermeulen

[00:00:00] That is the interesting part. I learned that so much after leaving the road because it is all of a sudden your brand and something you have to focus on. And I had never had a small business like that. You can have the negative aspects of it or the more annoying aspects where there’s taxes and expenses and receipts, or you can have the more fun part of it, which is building the brand from the outside, what the consumer “sees”. But you quickly learn, like cycling has lived in a lot of niche sports, have lived on this thought process that from the Tour de France which is sold it right that you’re a billboard. That’s what you do. It’s unquantifiable. You just got to believe it.

[00:00:44] Did you know that we each lose a different amount of electrolytes in our sweat, largely based on our genetics? That means that there’s no one size fits all perfect sports drink for everybody because we each have unique needs. That’s why we at Solpri developed the SYNC hydration system, a series of sports drinks to help match you with the personal level of electrolytes that you need. If you’d like us to help you match with your perfect sports drink, go to Solpri.com/hydration-quiz. That’s Solpri.com/hydration-quiz.

Jesse: [00:01:24] Welcome to the Smart Athlete Podcast. I’m your host Jesse Funk. My guest today, the former pro road cyclist. He’ll tell me in a minute or tell us why he thinks that doesn’t matter. Currently, a pro gravel cyclist, co-host of the show From The Ground Up. Most importantly, owner of mini dachshund, Willie. You can find him on Twitter or Instagram at @AlexeyVermeulen. Welcome to the show, Alexey Vermeulen.

Alexey: [00:01:53] Thanks for having me.

Jesse: [00:01:55] So before I get too distracted because we’re already a half hour in and we haven’t reported anything which so sorry for you, the listener, you missed out on that half hour of conversation because we probably covered some good stuff, but. So, Alexey, you were telling me before we were recording why basically everybody in their mom can say that they were a pro road cyclist and why that doesn’t matter. So let’s jump in. Let’s jump into the can of worms here and tell me why road cycling is trash, apparently.

Alexey: [00:02:30] I was gonna say, “Jesse is making me sound.” No, I wouldn’t say it doesn’t matter, but I think it’s one of those things with any sport that there is no real, real line in the sand for. When is it when you make a gas card game at a race? Is it when you make 200 bucks at a race? Is it when you’re paid $1000? Even when I was racing on BMC and I was an amateur still I didn’t consider that pro right unless you’re making a living doing something and that’s just my delineation of it.

[00:03:01] But it’s always something that like, I feel like I have to check myself because you’ll, you’ll meet someone. They’re like, “Oh, I race road for race pro road for ten years.” And I’m like, “Oh, that’s really cool.” And then I’ll go to say something that ends up coming off as inconsiderate without even realizing like, “Oh, they, you know, they raced here,” they did that. And like, it’s still big. Like you’re still risking it all for the biscuit and training really fricking hard, but probably, probably or weren’t making a living at it, which is a very different side. Right? And we all know it’s very hard to make a living at your passion.

Jesse: [00:03:35] Yeah, well, this is a conversation I’ve had a number of times over the years on the show with runners more so because there is no, like, official. I’m a pro runner. So what is the delineation versus like? Like we were talking about, you know about ITU there’s an actual license that goes along with professional triathlon racing. So even if you’re not making a living, you’ve got a little card that says, I’m a professional.

[00:04:05] You can’t just show up and be like, I’ve raised the pro race today. No, there’s procedures that have to be followed. Paperwork has to be filled out. You’ve got to have this. So I feel like that, you know, I like that delineation because it’s clear cut right? Now, I’ve met people who even if they had their pro card, they’re like, well, I didn’t make a living, so I don’t really still consider myself a pro. So it’s kind of like you.

[00:04:32] But I don’t know. I guess I’m one for like. As somebody who was chasing that pro card, I’m one for like trophies and things like that, like easy marks of delineation. So that’s my definition. And we’ll just agree to disagree, I guess maybe on that. In that regard, no hard feelings.

Alexey: [00:04:51] No one else can think it’s changing very quickly, because what if you’re like you just got your pro card and you’re making all your money through social media or through podcasting? 

Jesse: [00:04:59] Right.

Alexey: [00:04:59] You still have still making a living through your sport. So as we’ve been talking for the last 30 seconds, I might have just change my mind a little bit.

Jesse: [00:05:09] That’s a tough thing, you know? I think that’s maybe the next evolution of some of the upcoming pros is figuring out how to do the social media component because they know. So when I started the journey, that was 2011 to 2012 and then on through to 2018, trying to chase that pro license. I was like, I was aware that like at least at the time you got to have a blog and trying to put out content and I’m terrible at it. Despite being here on the podcast like traditional social media, building a following. Not my strong point.

[00:05:50] I’m good at other things, but I have help from other people with that stuff nowadays. But it seems like. That’s a great opportunity because you have people that like. Say I was really good at building a following. Not a pro runner, never going to be a pro runner. That’s why I try to do triathlon, because speed’s not there.

[00:06:11] But like, if I can build a large enough people following of people who listen to me talk about running or listen to the podcast or whatever. I can be, I’ll say. I don’t even know if elite amateur is accurate anymore. I’m so out of shape, but just like not even close to pro and be making money from it. So then what? I’m like, it’s an influencer angle, but then at the pro level, like.

Alexey: [00:06:36] Arguably more. Arguably more influential.

Jesse: [00:06:39] Right.

Alexey: [00:06:40] Arguably a better-sponsored athlete.

Jesse: [00:06:42] Right. So then you have like. Well, yeah. And that’s what I think about as somebody who owns a company in the sports space. Like, I’m like. I view, at least for a lot of it. I’m not a big company, so it can’t be like Bianchi or Canyon or I can’t just be like, here’s a bike. Like, I don’t have that kind of budget, you know? So I think about like where the dollars going and where they coming back and. Otherwise, if, if there’s no following for those people, I go, “This is just like a pet project. It’s like a charity almost.”

Alexey: [00:07:26] Yeah. And that kind of leads into a tangent in itself that I was we were cautious about getting into the beginning, but it’s — That is the interesting part. I learned that so much after leaving the road because it is all of a sudden your brand and something you have to focus on. And I had never had a small business like that, right? You can have the negative aspects of it or the more annoying aspects where there’s taxes and expenses and receipts or you can have the more fun part of it, which is building the brand from the outside, what the consumer “sees”. But you quickly learn, like cycling has lived and a lot of new sports have lived on this thought process that from the Tour de France, which is sold it right that you’re a billboard. That’s what you do. It’s unquantifiable. You just got to believe it.

Jesse: [00:08:10] Right.

Alexey: [00:08:11] Not really realistic. Right. I don’t think it is true. And, you know, for the first couple of years, I believed that. But that’s how the system was. Covid kind of changed that, in my opinion. For the first time, and this is not to be offensive to any company, but for the first time, companies saw athletes as the most valuable instead of events. Events had always been this big thing, “Oh, look how many people come to this event, how many eyes we get on our stuff.”

Jesse: [00:08:40] But all of a sudden goes up there at the finish line. Everybody’s looking at the finish line.

Alexey: [00:08:44] But all of a sudden, events are a question. Right? Is this event going to happen in 2021? And it also, our sport made a lot of money. We had people come in from when their gyms closed or when they needed mental sanity from their family. And so with the influx of cash and no events, athletes benefited. But it also gave way to creativity and interesting personalities coming to the forefront. And that’s what I think is true. Right. And it quickly became when you put more money into the athlete, you have to get that money out.

[00:09:15] And I’ve really enjoyed that because I think it’s focused not only on racing, you have to validate the products you’re riding on that part we all understand as athletes, but also that you are a business, you are a part of their marketing budget, and if they put ten grand in that, they don’t always need to get it out. Maybe they get it. Maybe they get seven grand out the first year and eight grand out the next year. Right. They can lose a little bit because they’re also gaining the value of your face and being a face at events for them and being a personality.

Jesse: [00:09:40] It’s content asset that they can use over time. And yeah.

Alexey: [00:09:44] But it’s this thought process that for some reason and I’m not criticizing any one person, it always felt like. It didn’t matter. It doesn’t matter in a team because you’re one of 28 and you can kind of hide. But all these riders who get a bike from someone and Jesse, you know, like how much a fricking bike cost a company, right? It’s not all their pieces.

Jesse: [00:10:04] Right.

Alexey: [00:10:04] And then they post once on Instagram and that’s it. And the next year they ask for a little more. I don’t get it. And I want to punch someone because it devalues everything. It doesn’t grow the sport. You didn’t help anyone get into the sport. You didn’t help anyone buy a bike. You didn’t help your company that’s supporting you. And then when I go talk to that company, they’re like, “Oh, well, this is our experience with athletes.”

[00:10:29] And it’s less of an athlete’s I mean, it’s an athlete’s fault, but there’s no education to it. We’ve all watched the Tour de France. We grow up, we’re like, “That’s the way I need to put as many sponsors on the jersey as I can. I want the biggest sponsor to pay the most,” you know, “And once I fill it up, I can raise the price.”

Jesse: [00:10:46] Yeah.

Alexey: [00:10:48] And though it’s the next step, what, about ten years from now? Because then you’re going to be charging 100 grand for every sponsor. I promise you, that’s not the case.

Jesse: [00:10:57] Yeah.

Alexey: [00:10:58] So it’s interesting, right? It’s this ever growing, but you have to create this loyalty with people.

Jesse: [00:11:05] Yeah, well, I think for me, it’s like. You know, watching the tour, there’s all the teams and the teams in the tour obviously like change. I mean, there’s this I’ll say the kind of the staples that are almost always there and then some of those that’s going to cycle through.

[00:11:23] So it’s like you see that and then amateur events there are, since I did triathlon, there are teams that show up to that. Some of them are like charity based, some are a few are company based. And so like for me, I go pet project. Like, I’d love to have my own racing team and help people grow in the sport and get better and do all those things.

[00:11:46] But I’m also like. If you approach it from that old school standpoint, there’s just a billboard like the amount you spend on a billboard, like the hierarchy of marketing. Billboards are like one of the last things you do because they’re expensive and they’re only effective if people already know what your brand does. Nobody, nobody knows about you. It doesn’t matter, because it’s only to keep the brand top of mind.

[00:12:12] That’s why, like, Nike can do these weird, crazy, like, branding, advertising things where they don’t mention a product, they never show a product. You don’t even know that they make products. It’s just like, inspirational. But you’re like, everybody knows Nike makes shoes in apparel and all. Like, you don’t need to be told what Nike does, but a small brand can’t do that. Because if I just say Solpri. Nobody knows what Solpri — not not nobody knows this. But a lot of people have no idea.

Alexey: [00:12:43] I get what you’re saying. But I also think that’s on the athlete, right? This is how we are grown, but it’s on the athlete because I’ve had a couple companies that and your exact example for what you do is a little more difficult because there’s also not a sale point on the back end that I could point out as an athlete.

[00:12:57] But I do think as an athlete you have to — if you’re out there and I spend like if I go to court and there’s five days, four days of Expo, right? The time I’m not racing, I am on my feet walking around because that is where the non-endemic companies gain value. Right? Having those conversations, just talking about it like, “Oh yeah, you need a mortgage, oh, I had a friend” or “Hey, you need advertising? Hey, my friend runs it” like just constant conversation.

[00:13:25] Cycling is by nature. More well-off people because it’s cost a lot of money to be in the sport. Triathlon is the same. Yes. And we are trying to change that and make a lower value. And I think COVID helped that right there started being competed like, “oh, we can make as much money off a $10,000 bike, probably more off replaceable parts on a $1,000 bike.” And I hope that continues.

[00:13:47] But for the most part, anyone you talk to has money or has a business that they need the services that I have or that I have friends with or connections with, and they want to support cycling because it’s grown their passion in it, or they want to support triathlon because it’s what they do on the weekends.

[00:14:02] So I agree with you, but also disagree that I think an athlete can change that. An athlete can change things and say, “Hey, yeah, my really good friend Jesse runs Solpri. It’s a super cool podcast” and like all of these guys drive, all of them go ride their bike, all of them go run. They all listen to shit all day long. Right? 

[00:14:19] And they’re going to tell their friends they all have their writing groups or their running groups or their swimming group. And they. That’s how it goes, right? The trickle of information is always going to be like that’s why bad information goes so quickly. The interesting drama stuff.

[00:14:31] But the good stuff can too, like, “hey man, I had this I just heard this podcast was super interesting to hear what, you know, Jesse and Alexey went back and forth on about advertising.” Right? And they own an advertising company or something like that, right? Because I think there’s value there, but it’s the human value and that’s what is unquantifiable and really hard. But honestly, we all care about the most.

[00:14:51] I want to be here because I listen to you and I like that you are interesting to talk to, in my opinion, right? And I was like, That’s cool for me. I’m building a brand. I’d love to talk to Jesse because we’re going to have a cool conversation. And that’s the human side of it, is what I think actually matters and what’s growing, especially with social media, you can see more of the human side and I don’t think it’s falling off. It’s going to exist in the tour when you have these big viewerships.

[00:15:17] But the billboard side of it for small racing, yes, I need non-endemic brands to be on my jersey because otherwise how do they get any knowledge? How does someone ask me about Solpri?

Jesse: [00:15:27] Right.

Alexey: [00:15:27] But otherwise, it’s, you know, I think that’s the way forward in the US is this like the billboard is not the goal. It might be the last thing like if you’re on a podium or if you’re talking to someone. But it’s the human facing consumer facing conversations that are going to move the needle.

Jesse: [00:15:45] Yeah — we will move on. So if you’re tired of advertising, we will move on to just it’s the one thing I want to touch on is like. You’re mentioning, the human element is the most important, which I think it is. I think what’s tough for like I was talking about billboards the last because it’s just top of mind, like, “hey, think about this again.” 

[00:16:12] So for you, the listener. If you’ve never run a business, the bottom of the funnel or the bottom of advertising is like picking up the low hanging fruit, which is some people start by selling to friends and family, which I think is a bad idea because it’s a terrible sample size they’re going to buy because of your friends and family. They don’t want to make you feel bad.

[00:16:30] But ignoring that the bottom is basically like direct response marketing, which is like, I show you this thing and I want you to buy now. Like that’s where you start. And then you work your way through this whole channel up to buy branding at the top. So. Even like what I have trouble with is because I’m near the bottom. We’re so small brand is like, I’m very focused on like those quantifiable metrics, like how much money did I put put out, how much money came back in? Is it sustainable? Like, what’s the lifetime value of a customer?

[00:17:08] All those things are important to stay alive as a business. I haven’t been in business for seven years now because I just throw money at the wind and hope it works. So like I want to quantify things, but some of the stuff like that you’re talking about, just like I’m sponsoring Alexey now, not actually, this is an example, like I’m sponsoring Alexey now. He’s just going around expos talking about Solpri.

[00:17:31] It’s very difficult to quantify that because unless I go, unless you’re like, go to Solpri.com/Alexey like, like I could do that. But other than that, it’s very hard. And even even if you do that, some people might go, “What was that thing? I don’t know. I’ll just Google it.” And then you don’t know where they came from. And that’s very difficult.

Alexey: [00:17:49] Yeah. And I tell every so this is interesting and I enjoy talking about this because I didn’t go to school and my education has been bike racing. Right. And it’s at a street level like that’s been great. Like you just learn how to survive. And also at a personal business level, like when I left the World Tour, you have to have these conversations.

[00:18:06] I had conversations with people like you who run small businesses constantly and had probably 200 pitches before. I was like, you know, I literally had someone just be like, “Oh, honey, that was really bad,” you know, like on a pitch. And then you’re like […] Like, it’s embarrassing, but you learn so much in those moments.

[00:18:22] But that’s something I tell non-endemic companies now. If you’re going to sign with an athlete, there’s a company that I talked to recently. They probably have the money if they’re thinking about that, right, first off. Secondly, it has to be longer term. You have to do more than a year because you’re never going to figure out if you can quantify it in that year because you need people to come back to you and talk to you about it. “Hey, I heard you talking, I heard Alexey was talking about your brand” or “Hey, I heard someone else talking about your brand.”

Jesse: [00:18:47] Yeah.

Alexey: [00:18:48] 12 Months. And it’s even less than that, because I wouldn’t say any racing really starts until March and we start negotiating again in August. It’s pretty frickin short, right? So if you look at a two-year contract, at a minimum, in my opinion for non-endemics, which is a long, you have to really dedicate yourself to one person, in my opinion for a small company.

[00:19:08] But that’s where you start seeing value, right. And there’s yeah, it’s, it’s hard but that’s where it there’s Q and M not to throw out a plug, but it’s an advertising agency in Ann Arbor where I grew up in Michigan. They work with a lot of big cycling companies, 3T and such.

[00:19:23] And when I first came back from the world tour, he’s a friend, right? He supported like we never had a contract. It was just he’s he was more helping as a friend and that’s still exists on my jersey today partly because of the relationship we have but also because it’s grown with me. Right?

[00:19:38] The last five years, maybe he’s only had three different customers come from me, but hopefully that pays for the money over each year in those three different instances. Right. So you have a five-year term and only three customers. If you were to just take one year, you’d be like, “Oh f*ck, man, you lost money.” And that’s you know, that’s the interesting part of this is it is a belief there has to be a faith in the athlete and the person selling in their brand because it can’t just be the small period of time, in my opinion.

Jesse: [00:20:07] Right.

Alexey: [00:20:07] Right. So 2 hours later.

Jesse: [00:20:10] All right. Advertising school is over. All right. So we’ll make a hard transition. I try not to make too many of them, but otherwise we’re just going to keep talking about small business and advertising —

Alexey: [00:20:23] It’s really fun. Thank you. I actually really enjoyed that.

Jesse: [00:20:26] No, no. It’s — I mean, we’ll probably get off and keep talking about advertising, but for you, the listener, you may be like, I don’t run a small business. I don’t I’m not getting sponsors. Like, “What the hell are you guys all about?” So I did — I do want to give you a little bit of a hard time because this is the Smart Athlete Podcast. And you were racing professionally on the road and then change sports, which doesn’t seem terribly smart.

[00:20:53] You know, a lot of people try to do that. You know, think of like Michael Jordan, not a great move. So why make the move, you know? And change. I mean, you were doing well. Like what? If it’s going good, what’s wrong with it?

Alexey: [00:21:14] Yeah, well. Well, here, here. We’ll throw out the truth and the short version, hopefully. So, yeah, I grew up racing on the road with my entire identity from I won Nationals when I was racing age 16, in Augusta, Georgia. 1718 Category for Juniors got a chance to go to the race for the national team. That kind of racing in Europe fit me very well.

[00:21:35] The like all in race of attrition […] style like. I honestly think that was made for me. Got my ass kicked in the first one and after that I just, I was like, oh, I can make money here. I can make some I can make some bakery money. Let’s go race. And so I ended up saying to world championships that year in Copenhagen, which was this whole realization of there’s a pathway here, right?

[00:21:58] Because I got to watch these people that I grew up watching. Fabian Cancellara, Mark Cavendish finished up this hill that I had just raced on. The same feelings I think people have now with unbound or gravel, like lining up on the same start line. I had done that right. Maybe not exactly a couple hours difference, but like it was insane to see like hold there sprinting up the exact same climb that season 11. My first year of junior kind of kept going.

[00:22:22] The next big moment was under 23 and like having a choice between college and different teams, Livestrong was around, BMC was just coming on the block. There’s the first conversation I had with my parents about just like, “Hey, I want to do this.” And they were like, “If you get a contract like you can opt to apply to college, you can defer it.”

[00:22:41] So this belief and this dream just kept growing. I followed this pipeline and like, I don’t think all of us have this, but a lot of us who have been in sport, you have this thing that’s just you look at every day, right? It’s what gets you through the hard days. It’s like. You might not fully believe it, but you hope it and you dream about it and you think about it in the hard times.

[00:23:00] And fast forward to when I got the call from a lot of young boys at the time, Jumbo-visma now it was this feeling of like, “Oh my God” like “I actually did this” like, whether it’s luck or hard work or timing, which it was all three of those. I was just enamored by how not easily it came in the end, but just all of a sudden, like, holy sh*t, I’m here. And now what?

[00:23:25] I was 21 years old, we can all admit, versus 20 years old when I got the contract. 21 when I started racing. We can all admit, like, we make different decisions at that age and I was just trying to figure out what I wanted, who I was, what I believed in, and what kind of racer I was. Because you getting asked that from every corner is like, “Hey, I am a DC rider”, “I am a one-day rider”, “I’m a breakaway artist” like, but I’m 21. I don’t know what I am like  […]

Jesse: [00:23:50] Right.

Alexey: [00:23:52] I’m good at time trial for my size. And so I went into that contract just very wide eyed, bushy tailed, like, what can I do? And it quickly changed to. You know, there’s a lot of risk in this sport. I really enjoy this. I enjoy the competitive side, but there’s things that I would change if I was in charge of something which obviously I wasn’t. I was 21 years old and on a team with 28 riders.

[00:24:16] But I wanted to be more of a voice. I wanted to help, I wanted to talk. I wanted to be a part of the community. And there’s a lot of barriers in rotary and road cycling, right? There’s always a line you’re in, you’re in the bus, you come out of the bus, you go straight to the start line. You race like you don’t do an interview unless the team asks you to or an interview asks you to.

[00:24:35] You can’t talk about how it went. There’s all these secrecy around road racing. So when push came to shove in the end of my contract, very honestly, my only offers were less. And I in the beginning it was just a thing of I was like, I’m risking this, this which I viewed as the death toll similar to F one, but the money’s not the same.

[00:24:55] And I don’t mean that badly. Road racing is beautiful and I love the history of it. But I also wanted to figure out how to feel the feelings I wanted. I wanted to, like, have that, like, impact on companies and be helpful and like be a human, not just be a bike racer.

[00:25:13] And so push came to self with all of this. And I reached out to one of the guys who had been. They’re the entire time through my national team career. Jim Miller still works for USA Cycling and I was like, “Do you think there’s a possibility to move to Mountain Bike World Cup?” which I thought was the difference, right. It was just a different challenge right now.

[00:25:34] And looking back, it wasn’t anything different. It was the same like. Walls that exist. Right? It’s still the different. And very honestly, I was never good enough technical had ever to do any of that. But that was the first dream. I was like, I talked to Bianchi. I was like, Hey, so if we do this, is there a possibility to go to your World Cup team? Kind of kept growing and gravel was also kind of making its moves at the same time. This is 2000 end of 2018 into 2019 this is happening now.

[00:26:02] So I’m 24 and I kind of was like, This is what I want to do. I’m going to make a change now at the time. And I tried and. You know, everything we talked about advertising like you talk about as an athlete, I want to make an impact. I want to do this, I want to do that. But it’s really hard when you’re racing and trying to focus on racing too nearly impossible, I would say.

[00:26:27] So it quickly grew into something that, like I regretted for a minute into like, “Oh, I can learn here, I can be a value here, I can grow this side of it.” And I think the biggest thing was and people might take offense to this is that. The competitive side of me went down a little bit. Nothing in the US would ever compare to the races I had been doing. And it also was the way I had grown up dreaming of these races.

[00:26:55] But being in the breakaway at unbound is never going to feel like being the breakaway at the age ever, right? Nothing I do. It’s the history of the sport. Maybe in 100 years for someone or for 50 years for someone. That’s the case.

[00:27:09] But for me, I think that freedom opened up the ability to also focus some time and energy on other things. And you know what felt like regret and felt like a stupid decision at times. Maybe not a smart athlete, some would say – no pun intended. I fell into a groove where right now 2022, I have never felt more grounded and more pathway in front of me, right? Because I am all of a sudden in control of it. And that’s a cliche that we all want to control what we do.

[00:27:42] But, you know, I get to have a conversation with the companies I work with and I’m kind of I built this family as like I’m a mini employee to all these companies. I’m not just a marketing budget number. And that is something that not only creates more longevity in my career and like in my livelihood and what I do, but also teaches me so much more. Everything we just talked about, I couldn’t have talked about three years ago because I had no flipping idea. You know, and that’s something that it’s taken a while. But I wanted to get away from the 28 riders of 28 different answers on a world tour team to being the one rider and helping truly make change that was positive.

Jesse: [00:28:22] You said a lot. So much to touch on. But like. You know, anybody who watches the show on YouTube, just listen to the show, you see me make notes and I’m making notes and stuff. So what? I mean, it seemed like. The big impetus for change — If I can kind of make it succinct, is like a real realization that like, you weren’t being fulfilled where you were and you had a desire to move towards something that was more personally fulfilling.

[00:28:59] And then I think about like. I think about the guys on tour or the men and women at race, pro triathlon runners, whatever it is, whatever it is, whatever sport. You know, the Olympians I’ve talked to in all the different sports. You know. We get these, like I’ll say commercial or media soundbites during the Olympics, during the tour or whatever about these people and what grand accomplishments they’re doing.

[00:29:34] And it builds up, at least in my opinion, to this idea that, like, if I could just be as an example you gave, if I could just be as good as Mark Cavendish and destroy people on the line at the end of races, then I would be happy. But that’s not necessarily as, you know, better than I and better than probably anybody listening. The amount of time and effort it takes to be anywhere near as good as Mark, ignoring, like, genetic potential is insane.

[00:30:10] Like, it’s like you’re there — unless you’re juicing not to like touch too much on that history. Exactly. But just like even if you are. You’re probably exhausted, totally exhausted at the end of every single day. So, yeah, like, I don’t I don’t know what, how many sprint finishes wins marks up to, but that’s a lot. But just like you can count them all.

[00:30:42] But if you count all those days and you count all of the exhaustion it took to get there. And I am not going to put words in his mouth because I can’t speak for him. But just like for the vast majority of us, would we consider that worth it? You know, and that’s only something you can answer. Like, I can’t answer that for you. You can’t answer that for me. We can definitely can’t answer that for Marc. Clearly, he’s done what he’s done.

[00:31:07] But just like I think sometimes and maybe this is where you found yourself. This is where I am kind of like a little bit putting words in your mouth, but a little bit just kind of asking you to clarify. Maybe you found yourself or it’s like you’re pursuing this thing you think you want because it seems like it’s going to be fulfilling. And then you find yourself in the reality of the situation, which is different. Or maybe. Not as fulfilling as you had anticipated.

Alexey: [00:31:39] Yeah. And I don’t want to undermine most of what you said is true at all. I don’t want to. I want to make sure I get out that. I also — part of it is possibly just wasn’t good enough, right? Because you get a lot of what I was looking for by being better, by being the exact thing you want to be the identity you think you want. And it’s one of those things that I think you have to play with. Right? And just figure out what you want and what you want immediately.

[00:32:06] If I had been better, maybe you’re up there enjoying it. Right? And it’s a little easier. And you’re doing the interviews and you feel like you’re impacting community and you can create different things. But that being said, like that regret, I also like I still miss road racing because that’s what I grew up dreaming about. Like I miss those races. I watched them and like, like everybody else and I’m like, that was really cool because no longer will I ever be at the top of my sport, in my opinion, ever.

[00:32:34] And no matter what you think of gravel and I do think it’s hard. I don’t think you can just come from the world tour and dominate gravel because we just saw that with Niki Terpstra. Like, you can’t just can’t just because you win classics doesn’t mean you can come to Leadville and kick butt. Like gravel is different.

[00:32:48] But, you know, that’s it is the hard thing. It’s the fulfillment side of it. And it’s weighing those options and balancing and being a true adult. That I think is the hard part and figuring out hopefully before you turn 30 or 40 with enough time to make change, to feel good. And I think that’s the thing. Maybe I jumped early. People probably have opinions on that. People probably thought I just am. And some people probably think I’m just a cyclist who wasn’t good enough and tried to change it. But it’s something that like you can I think you can have regret and also see a pathway that you’re very proud of and you’ve been working hard to create.

Jesse: [00:33:25] Well, I mean, to your point, like. Let’s. I don’t know, first of all, but let’s suppose. That’s true. Let’s say Alexey wasn’t good enough. He was never going anywhere. And he made a change because of that. So what?

Alexey: [00:33:46] People care, though. People want to say, and this is the world, right? People want it —

Jesse: [00:33:49] Yeah but like who? Which people? And —

Alexey: [00:33:52] Yeah. Fair.

Jesse: [00:33:53] Why should you give a shit?

Alexey: [00:33:55] They’re not buying bikes from my sponsors.

Jesse: [00:33:57] Well, I guess. But just like. Let’s, let’s break it down, though, like we’re talking about fulfillment. If you’re not good enough and you are consequently miserable, is that worth the sacrifice of whatever paycheck you’re going to get at the end of the day?

Alexey: [00:34:22] Probably not —

Jesse: [00:34:23] There is a dollar trade off. I mean, if it’s if you’re going to pay me a million bucks a year and I’m going to be miserable, all suffer that out for a little bit of time. I certainly will —

Alexey: [00:34:33] I think it’s that belief —

Jesse: [00:34:34] Other than that.

Alexey: [00:34:35] I think it’s that belief of it will change, right? And you never know. I didn’t know it would come in the third season.

Jesse: [00:34:41] Right.

Alexey: [00:34:42] And some would say you gave up too early. I was 23 years old. Right. That’s when some people get into the into. So I think it’s it’s more of that belief as an athlete, you always have that thing you’re looking at and you’re like, is it a give up situation? You’re like, All this workouts just too hard. I’m done with it. This career is just too much. I’m done with it. And you could turn that corner tomorrow and be like, “Wow, I just hit fitness.” Like, I’m peaked. I’m going to get that result right now.

[00:35:07] And that’s going to change the trajectory of where I’m going right now. But that’s also an unknown. It could also crash tomorrow, right? You could also and that’s I think that I’ve always been a very glass half full person. I’ve always been a very positive person. I’ve always wanted to be not in control. And control seems like the wrong phrase, but I’ve always wanted to be — I’ve always wanted to be on the rudder.

[00:35:30] If you have a sailboat turn, I’ve always wanted to, like, “Hey. Like, I want to head upwind right now.” Like, I want to take the hard path. I want to build something. I want to be proud of this. And I think that was where it was is — I didn’t know if I was going to be proud in another year. I was doing these big races. I was proud of what I was doing, but it had also gotten to the point where I was like, “Okay, what is the next step?” And it felt like I was waiting patiently for the next step. And what if it never came?

Jesse: [00:36:02] Yeah. I think on a personal note, nothing. I guess all of my all my comments are personal notes, but just. That you touched on this really about being an adult. I think that’s a tough thing about, I guess, being an adult or just life, is that, you’re always making a choice, even if you a not making a choice to change and you’re just staying and doing the thing that you’re doing. That’s still a choice.

[00:36:31] It’s a choice to remain versus a choice to change. And no matter what choice you’re making, there’s always pass left untrammeled. And as you’ve touched on, there’s I think there’s sometimes there’s just. A little bit of. Regret or difficult feelings of some kind where it’s like, what if? I deal with those, you know, even though like my personal story, like I did crash and that was kind of the end of my pursuit is like things were going real well that day. I was probably on point to actually finally get that pro card that that day and was forced into a crash collarbone got blown up. I had to have surgery and just my mentally I was broke.

Alexey: [00:37:26] Yeah. The mental energy coming back is insane.

Jesse: [00:37:28] I just I had pushed myself so hard for so long and the amount of I just didn’t have the energy to rebuild at that point. Even though like. That decision was kind of taken out of my hands and some in some respects. There’s still the like. I still struggle with that day. It’s been four years now, and I just go like. What I made it where I’m not made it that day like I don’t. The unknown winding up but I don’t know. And. It’s that path left on travel, I think is the difficult part about being an adult, knowing this is the decision I’ve made and maybe I’m going to feel that regret, but I’m just going to keep moving forward.

Alexey: [00:38:16] Yeah, but I think just my last point on this is that I love human nature. I always have. And I think the interesting part is the really cool part is those decisions we make are based on the pathway before, right? Like what we’ve done. I don’t think I ever would have had the confidence to make the decision I did because it was a massive jump.

[00:38:35] Whatever career I had been in, if I hadn’t had the pathway before, like living in Europe at 16 and like learning how to survive and like enjoying my passion and believing in my passion and all of these things that you get taught as you grow up and become an adult. Taught me that it was okay to jump, right? It could have easily been like, I need to stay. This is safe. Stay here. Don’t do anything. Don’t move.

[00:38:59] But that’s not what I felt I had done. There’s plenty of people close to me that were like, “You’re making a mistake” “What are you doing?” because they had been there the whole time. They’d seen how much I put into something, right, like you talk about. And the unknown was massive compared to whatever I was struggling with. And it’s one of those things that in the end, like, you have to just commit to. Right? You have to. You can think about it. That’s healthy. But if you dwell on it, then then you made a mistake. Try to go back, because if you continue dwelling, you’re going to affect your future as well.

Jesse: [00:39:35] Yeah. Yeah. So, I mean, is that the whole idea about. Trying to move on to — see I should have made notes on this because you said something that now I’m like, “What did you say?” The whole idea about trying to move to something more fulfilling. Don’t jump into the unknown. Wanting to see this positive progress. Got my dog up here. He’s going to get some attention, apparently. Is that the genesis or the idea like where from the ground up comes from or how does that show get born?

Alexey: [00:40:18] Yeah. See, I guess quick for people who don’t know From The Ground Up is something that was created just as a way, as a professional to try to still be of value to the group that came in after COVID. Very honestly, we take three people who haven’t been on bikes for a while to Leadville, which is arguably one of the hardest mountain bike races in the US.

[00:40:37] Yes, I think because of what you’ve done in the past, it affects your future. Yes. But it was also something that was very spur of the moment. As an athlete, selfish, narcissistic version of myself, I think I did this big ride with my other co-hosts, Ryan Petrie, of How Do You Stay Relevant when there’s no events? How do you stay valuable to a company, to sponsors, when there’s no events, right? And how you reach this new group that’s coming into the sport that we’ve never reached before because they don’t care or know about Lance Armstrong or Mark Cavendish or anybody else.

[00:41:09] And so if that’s not selling bikes, if they’re not in it because the history of it, then you have to have a new pitch because you’re not going to reach them otherwise. So I think, yeah, part of the history, but for the most part I think it was more just like figuring out. How to stay — How to stay relevant.

Jesse: [00:41:24] So then, I mean. We were talking a little bit about this show before we were recording. How long ago it’s been now? An hour ago or so we’re talking about the three people that are on the show that you’re helping kind of train and transform everything we’re talking about. What do you call them? Do you call them contestants? You call them riders? I can’t remember what the other thing you mentioned was the possibility of what we call which call.

[00:42:00] I said riders because like contestants didn’t really make sense because it’s like it’s contestants is like, let’s win a prize. Like, come on down, the price is right, like. That’s a contestant, you know? But you said, well, it’s like you did get chosen out of however many thousand people, you know, applied to be on the show. But it just doesn’t seem right because to me, like, it’s a show of transformation. It’s a personal journey. Like you’re not trying to win a prize, like you’re on a journey of self-discovery, of improved fitness, of new identity.

[00:42:44] I think you had mentioned that two of the people preferred contestant over rider because they didn’t feel like riders. And that really hit home with me because like since I came from a running background and transition to triathlon, I think I raced triathlon for maybe five, five or six years before I felt like I’m a triathlete. I was like, “Oh, I’m a runner, but I do triathlons” and the idea is like that though I talk about this with guests from time to time. But the idea about the story we tell ourselves about who we are, I think is always interesting to me because here’s these people. I’m going to go do Leadville. But I don’t see myself as a rider.

Alexey: [00:43:33] But there’s so many things to unpack there, right? They don’t know what Leadville is, if we’re very honest. You can tell them 25 times, 105 miles. There’s 11,000 feet of climate. You can list off the stats. If you haven’t been a mountain biker. There’s no there’s nothing behind you to explain to add context to what that is.

Jesse: [00:43:48] Right.

Alexey: [00:43:49] I think that’s the biggest thing, is the reason this project is interesting and it dabbles this line, this weird line of like education and drama, like reality TV and education, which is the stupidest thing. It doesn’t make any sense to me, but it’s because that’s the beauty of it. Right?

[00:44:07] Cycling is very intimidating and not very accessible. And if you create something that like the best phrase I ever heard was hopefully this project, this series makes people want to get off the couch instead of stay on and watch another episode. Like that is the goal, right? For everyone to look at it and be like, I have no idea what this is, but it’s worth trying because a lot of people, we get stagnant, right?

[00:44:33] We find sport is special because you can keep setting goals most of the time in a lot of people’s lives, you get to a point where you feel like, That’s it. I have my life, I have my track. I’m just going to continue pushing. I’m going to grow up this ladder.

[00:44:49] But they don’t dare to dream anymore because why would you dream when there’s nothing ahead of you? And I think that’s the biggest thing the product offers, right? You give people a chance for six months to absolutely dedicate themselves to something that is damn near impossible. Let’s be very honest. Like nobody is going into this being like I’m going to finish, no question. 

[00:45:11] Because it’s so foreign, it’s so sideways. It’s — there’s people who we interview, people who finished on the […] Leadville is a lot of time cuts, right? And the 12-hour mark is the cutoff for the belt buckle. We were interviewing people who finished right around that cutoff. So they rode their bike for 12 hours. They — a couple of them had done IronMan and done 100-mile runs and said Leadville won the mountain bike was the hardest thing they’d done. That is bonkers.

Jesse: [00:45:41] Yeah, right.

Alexey: [00:45:43] But it’s because of — well, it’s this foreign thing, right. They probably were runners, they probably were something else. And this is the new frontier. And that’s part of this, right? Like you see this from the ground up is more about the human side of it. If we want to tie back into the advertising, right? The human belief in yourself, is more interesting than the race itself.

Jesse: [00:46:06] The scene. I think I missed the part where it was six months of preparation. It reminds me. So a little plug for myself I guess, or really a podcast, I guess, if you go way back. Episode 28 Will McGough. He wrote a book called Swim Bike Bonk, and it was not his intention to do this schedule, but basically his book publisher forced him into this schedule.

[00:46:29] And it was he had to try to get ready to do an Ironman in three months from couch to Iron Man, three months. No no training whatsoever. His thought was like I think his original thought was something like, “I’ll do it like next year. Like we’re going to build up to it.” And then they’re like, “No, no, you misunderstand the publishing schedule. You’re doing it this year.” And he’s like, “Crap.”

[00:46:54] And so check out that interview with Will back on episode 28. But check out the book too. If you’re interested in people that go through this kind of rapid change challenge as they talk about with him in the interview, like I kind of like hated him for the first half of the book. Just the way he talks about the sport and everything. I’m like, He’s so disrespectful and he thinks he’s hot shit and all this stuff because it didn’t.

[00:47:17] Because like you said, there’s no context. You don’t understand. You don’t understand how insane the task ahead of you is. So it makes me kind of feel for the contestants slash riders in not having that, that context.

Alexey: [00:47:40] Yeah. And you start to get it in little things right. Like they went and did unbound and you’re like, “oh it just wrote 100 miles” but not at altitude, not up mountains, not on a mountain bike like there’s so many little things that are thrown in your path.

[00:47:54] How many times are you going to crash Leadville? That takes time. Are you going to flat like it’s all of these things. And so this was the second year of second season From The Ground Up episode two released on this past Wednesday. And it’s so interesting to watch it back and see their progression because that’s the probably the most beautiful part of this is at the end you create these lifelong memories, and there’s also a diary of it to go back and watch.

[00:48:20] Even if no one else watches it, we get to go watch it, which is kind of special. And it’s just it’s the growth of humanity that is interesting. Right? That is what we all aspire and motivate. And like when we were talking before the podcast turned on, that to me is content. If it doesn’t educate, inspire or motivate, there’s very little use for it. Yes, there’s part of it that is. Part of it that we just want to turn our brains off and watch TikTok videos. That exists also. Right? 

[00:48:50] But — Oh, yes. Other than that, it’s if you’re creating content, I believe those should be your pillars. And if you’re watching content or listening to content, that’s what I’m into. Every time I go ride my bike, I listen to podcasts and I’m very rarely listening to music because I’m not going to grasp all of it at once. And sometimes it’s more dramatic podcast, true crime, instead of educational podcasts.

[00:49:14] But it’s still a weird education, right? I’m still trying to pick like, “Oh, that was very interesting.” Like, “Why would you make that decision? That seems stupid” because that’s the fun, right? You have these people that I was very surprised in the second season that still had people wanting to do this after they watch people struggle and suffer so much the first year.

[00:49:34] Because you walk up the first time we have this, the first episode, always delivery visit. You come in, it’s overwhelming. You drop all the stuff off, here’s your new bike, here’s your trainer, here’s heart rate, monitor, numbers, blah, nutrition. And everyone’s like, “Yeah, I think I can do in 12 hours.” “I think I could doing 11 hours.” You get to the next step, you’re like, “Yeah, training is hard, but I still think I can do it.” And it’s this slow progression toward reality, but they still dedicate their entire being on the day, which is indicative of humanity has nothing to do with your belief in yourself at that point. 

[00:50:08] Because you probably don’t believe you can do it anymore. That’s the weird thing. But you line up because you want to see how far you can go. To get to the goal you set yourself six months ago and then start over again the next year. And now maybe it’s a different goal. Maybe you want to do a triathlon, but you will never, ever have to go as deep as you did for that, because on that day you didn’t believe you’re going to finish and you still wind up. And that’s. Sh*t, man. That’s harder than what I do.

Jesse: [00:50:40] I think stuff like that, I think is. Even if you don’t finish, which is difficult to be like. I really wanted to and I just couldn’t or whatever, whatever it is. I think there’s still that if you can remove yourself from the emotions of maybe not finishing for a minute. And like. It’s maybe it’s cliche or dumb to say, but it’s just like there’s people talking about, well, like. You’re passing everybody on the couch. Well, that’s true.

[00:51:18] But beyond that, like, maybe you didn’t believe in yourself, but like you had. At least the faith to line up and try. And that’s something like, I think that says something deeply about your character. Either it’s your desire to finish and following through with that desire, even though, you know, this is probably not going to go well. Like people give up when they’re like, I don’t think it’s going to happen, so I’m not going to try.

Alexey: [00:51:52] It’s the easy thing to do.

Jesse: [00:51:52] I think — right. It’s much easier, I think, to give up than to go try. So it’s like even if you don’t finish, like, you know, I guess to use a turn of phrase like you had the balls to show them. No. And I think that says something about your character you could be proud of.

Alexey: [00:52:09] And I think that’s the interesting about Leadville, is just to iterate for people who haven’t done it. Leadville has really tough cutoffs. If you don’t make it to one feed zone by 4 hours, you’re out. You don’t make it to the next few zone by 5 hours, you’re out. And I think that’s the cool part is the tenacity on every single one. Like if you dedicate yourself, I bet you take it all finish whether it’s working 15 hours, 20 hours,  whatever it took. 

[00:52:30] I guarantee they wouldn’t stop walking. Right? But that’s a whole different animal than also being on a timeline. And someone else is cut off, which is almost more — I feel like it gives you more to want to come back the next year because you finish and you’re like, “Wow, I kind of like I could have done this here,” “could have done this there” like “Where? Where did I lose time?”

[00:52:51] But yeah, that project in itself has been so inspiring for me. It’s been the first time that I’ve been able to, if we want to tie it in, like feel that community right and really balance it with my own racing career because it takes honestly probably as much time, right. You know, this about running a business like it, it’s become its own beast. It’s become its own thing. You know, you have to work with people and care about people. And both years that led to I’ve been asked like, would I give up a win for my own personal to see them finish?

[00:53:19] And I would because it’s first off in a selfish way, more valuable for sponsors than anything I do in my opinion. But secondly, just the human side of it. Like I know what it feels like to get that win already and what it does for you. The endorphins that the motivation for the next months of training. To see someone dedicate themselves and accomplish something of that magnitude, that improbability. Would literally change their life forever. And that’s more than me doing a six-hour race at Leadville.

Jesse: [00:53:57] It’s tough to beat that. That ability to impact somebody else.

Alexey: [00:54:02] And I don’t think you know it until you feel it. Until you see it. Right? Like there’s like watching the episodes back. There’s moments where, like, we’re not in the room for the interviews they have with the camera. And you hear them talk and you’re like, Holy shit. Like, you have goosebumps. Like, it’s something that reminds all of us why we started doing our passion, why we started whatever we did and if. And it kind of reminds you like, did you lose it? Have you lost it? Are you are you just phoning it in right now?

Jesse: [00:54:30] Yeah.

Alexey: [00:54:31] Because when you see someone doing their best, it makes you question your best.

Jesse: [00:54:41] Alexey, before we get too deeply involved in something else, I guess we’ll head towards wrapping it up today. Yeah. So I don’t think the episode that you watched was from this season. I could be wrong, but you probably know I ask a singular question to all my guests for a particular season. Now, the question I’m going to ask you, you can answer either personally or in terms of the impact on other people. How are you going to answer but the question this year is how do you celebrate your wins?

Alexey: [00:55:20] Ah, yeah, that’s a good question.

Jesse: [00:55:30] How should you celebrate your wins if you don’t —

Alexey: [00:55:34] No, no, no. I just I enjoy thinking about this stuff. I try not to answer before just blurt something out just to answer it. I think I celebrate my wins usually with the people that helped you get there. Right? Whether that is someone that you help support getting to finish unbound and like feel that feeling whether it’s me realizing after three years winning Belgian Waffle Ride this year like the first people I called after winning Belgian Waffle Ride were the people that helped me get there because very few pathways are singular or alone.

[00:56:08] You might do most of training alone, but you have the coach, you have the sponsor that believe in you. You have the family that just constantly supported you maybe before. Right? So those first calls were to them just saying thank you because there isn’t most sport. You lose so much, right? It’s not. At least cycling, for example, is not a soccer or a football game. It’s not 50 50. Whether you win or lose, it is majority of the time you lose.

[00:56:35] Alex has said that really well recently, and it’s so I think the way I celebrate is trying to give the feeling that helped me get there because that’s that is the biggest win, right? It’s the human nature. How do we be happy together? And it feels better when you have it with people. And even if that’s sometimes through FaceTime and not in person, it’s I think trying to share that feeling is the way that I celebrate.

Jesse: [00:57:04] Solid answer. Alexey, if people want to get in touch with you, check out From The Ground Up. Where can they do those things?

Alexey: [00:57:15] From The Ground Up is if you want to watch the season, it’s live on Outside TV or Outside Watch this year as well as last season. There’s also a website Fromthegroundup.bike. Myself is pretty much every social media. AlexeyVermeulen. Yeah, that’s about it.

Jesse: [00:57:34] Awesome. Alexey, thanks for hanging out with me today.

Alexey: [00:57:36] Thanks a lot, Jesse.

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