Laurens ten Dam is one busy man. The retired WorldTour racer, now self-proclaimed pro adventurer, runs no less than 3 companies, and this year will see him produce an astonishing 85 podcasts, 2 films, 4 cycling events and even, an extensive line of clothing. All the while he’s training to compete, as the only European, at the Life Time Grand Prix series as well as other off-road adventures In the US and Columbia. Somehow he still manages to find the time to be there for his family —wife Thessa and their two sons, 9-year-old Jens and 7-year-old Bodi.
It is no surprise then that he takes my call while driving, filling what could have been a rare moment of solitude with more work.
“Time management plays a central role in my life now,” said the Dutchman with a laugh.
“Nowadays, if I spend a full day riding my bike, I come home to an inbox full of unread emails, and plenty of work that awaits me. That’s my reality now and that’s ok.”
In fact, I don't think he'd want it any other way. He seems happier now than he was as a WorldTour racer.
A 16-year career
Ten Dam got his pro racing start with the Rabobank development team in 2002, and went on to race for Bankgiroloterij, Shimano-Memory Corp and Unibet.com, Rabobank, Belkin, Lotto-Jumbo, Giant-Alpecin and Team Sunweb before retiring in the orange colors of the CCC team.
He raced just about every big race on the calendar, and finished the Tour de France no less than 10 times. Notable results along the way include ninth overall at the Tour de France in 2014, and Top 10 finishes at the Vuelta a Espana, Tour de Suisse, Volta Ciclista a Catalunya, and the Tour Down Under.
In his 16-year professional career, he endeared himself to fans not just for being a good climber but for his pure grit; getting up and continuing to ride on after crashes where many would have opted for the stretcher. And boy, did he have some gnarly crashes!
Eventually though, the constant striving to get faster and skinnier, the regimented schedule, and the crashes became a bit too much even for this hardman. He had had enough, and he announced his retirement in 2016.
“I had just ridden the Tour, I was in Paris and I had this moment of realization that out of the past 100 days, I had been away from home for 90 of them. And the 10 days that I was at home, I was hungry, tired and grumpy. I just didn’t want to live this way anymore," Ten Dam recalled.
But rather than quitting, he moved to Santa Cruz, California, for a year and found a team — Sunweb — that allowed him to race a lighter European program that was rounded out by US domestic events.
“It was during my time in California that I rediscovered my passion for cycling,” Ten Dam said. “I realized that I wasn’t done with the bike. It was done with the pressure that I was putting on myself, the lifestyle, the wanting to be 5th instead of ninth, to be even skinnier and train even more.”
Letting go of some of that, finding balance and most of all, rediscovering his love for the bike, is what allowed Ten Dam to continue racing on the WorldTour for three more years until his actual retirement in 2019 at the age of 38.
From WorldTour Pro to Pro Adventurer
It was the off-road racing and the friendly nature of the American gravel scene that played a huge part in helping Ten Dam fall back in love with cycling in 2016.
Due to his WorldTour Pro status, the American cycling governing body wouldn’t allow him to race the local criteriums. So he turned to gravel racing instead. The sense of adventure, the happy-go-lucky atmosphere, and the friendly, post-event beer immediately drew him in.
Grasshoppers, Grinduro, Leadville — Ten Dam dabbled with some of the biggest events around, but didn’t go all-in on gravel until 2021, when he rode his first full gravel season.
The 2022 season will perhaps be his most ambitious one yet as he balances his work commitments while also chasing new challenges on the bike.
Ten Dam will be the only European competing in the inaugural Life Time Grand Prix Series, a six-event off-road race series that will see 60 hand-selected elite athletes vie for a $250,000 prize purse over the course of six months.
This endeavor, combined with his appearance at Gravel Locos races and the Colombian Transcordilleras race, will mean that Ten Dam has to make eight transatlantic trips this year.
“It’s a lot. And to be honest, I'm curious if I'll be able to do it all, physically. I know I will always line up at the start, but how it will go or what I’ll be able to do in the races, that is a big question mark for me,” admitted Ten Dam.
“And to get straight to the point, another big question mark for me is the mountain biking. I have ridden Leadville twice in my life but aside from that, I'm certainly no mountain biker. I mean, I live in the Netherlands! I ride a mountain bike when I ride on the beach, and even then it’s rigid”
With that said, Ten Dam has been excited about the series since the day it was announced.
He read the article online and was immediately triggered.
“Challenge aside, I was really attracted by the idea of the exclusivity. You’ve got 30 men and 30 women. It starts in April and ends in October. It kind of reminds me of Formula 1: the same contestants, the drive to survive, personalities, friendships and rivalries; you get this whole story,” he said.
But while excited to participate, Ten Dam holds no ambitions for the overall win.
“I don’t have the illusion that I’ll be competing for the top 10 of the GC. Mostly because of the mountain bike events,” he said. “Gravel has no secrets for me and I know that I can ride Unbound well, I saw that in my first participation last year. It’s just the mountain biking that’s the question mark for me.”
But it’s not always about the win. In fact, Ten Dam’s love of the bike stems from his sense of adventure, the freedom and seeing and experiencing new places on two wheels. That, and a good challenge, of course.
“I live for the challenges and even at 41, I continue to find them. I won’t be doing this in a few years when I’m old and worn out. I mean, I’m already old but perhaps not completely worn out just yet," he said. “Though, I said the same thing in 2016 so you never know.”
The Life Time Grand Prix kicks off on April 9th in Monterey, California. Global broadcasting will be available, and we’ll be providing coverage of the series along the way as well.
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