Laurens ten Dam is a top-10 finisher at the Tour de France and the Vuelta a España, and in 2017 he was the road captain for Tom Dumoulin’s historic Giro d’Italia victory. He’s also a big fan of camping, barbecue, and beer, so he knows a thing or two about creating a lifestyle that combines elite performance with plenty of fun. We caught up with him to learn more about the secret to his success and to grab some advice on balancing work and play.
Live slow, ride fast. That’s my motto in life. When sitting in traffic or in a line at some airport, I remind myself not to stress out or to run around like crazy, trying to fix problems that are out of my hands. I save my energy for the important things in my life, like my wife and kids, and of course, my bike rides. Being well-rested and ready to give 100 per cent is a pretty basic part of being an elite athlete, but I’m always surprised how many amateurs – and even some pros – think that they can burn the candle at both ends and still expect good results. There are so many distractions in modern life, but we all need to slow down, look around, and enjoy the moment. I take satisfaction in the small things in life, trying not to get sidetracked with all the irrelevant stuff. Save your energy for the bike, and leave it all on the road.
Keep your momentum, and try to mix it up. It can be so hard to restart after something big, but momentum is key. Right after the Tour de France, I usually have a packed schedule of criterium races around France, Belgium, and Holland, or I might be off to the Clásica de San Sebastián. When I come out the other end of that hectic schedule, I can back off the gas a little, but I still have to stay on top of my fitness and keep to some kind of training regime. I like to ride with friends and go mountain biking, because it takes my mind off the pro circuit and reminds me why I love cycling so much. Not every pro is given so much freedom to train and travel, but my team trusts me because I have a proven track record of staying in good shape and always arriving to training camps and races in good condition. That wouldn’t be possible if I was doing the same thing every day for 12 months of the year, even though I get paid for it, so as amateurs you can’t expect to maintain motivation for the whole season without some variety. Cross, gravel, MTB, it’s all good. Just get out and ride, and never forget that bikes are awesome.
Learn to let go. Everything is a succession of ups and downs – and we just need to deal with it. I’ve had big races when I’ve gone home ecstatic with my performance, and I’ve had years at the Tour de France when I’ve left Paris knowing that I could have done more if the circumstances were only a bit different. Being a pro as long as I have been is only possible if you can learn to move past that disappointment and channel it into the next thing. We can’t predict illness, a crash, or an echelon when the pace is high. The beauty of life is in its unpredictability and any time things don’t go my way, I remember that fact, and focus my energy on doing my best the next opportunity I get.
Don’t exaggerate. It makes me laugh when I meet amateurs who stick to stricter diets and training programmes than most pros. It’s too much, and in my opinion, unsustainable. Cycling is great, but there’s more to life, and if you can’t remember that fact, you’re probably not going to be a lot of fun to be around. I’m a professional athlete who trains all the time – rain, hail, or shine – and who abides by a super-specific diet to keep my weight in check, but I still enjoy cooking barbecue for my kids and drinking a good Belgian Tripel with my friends. There’s a difference between being passionate and committed, and being a masochist. Don’t forget that.
Leave time for some love! My family are my other team, my home team. My wife Thessa arranges everything, so I can focus on what I do well; riding my bike as fast as possible. We have a good balance. When I’m away for weeks at a time, I don’t have to worry about how things are going at home. Around the time of the 2017 Giro, I was only at home for a total of six days in eight weeks, so that’s important. I teach the kids my values, or I try to. But I don’t push them into doing what I do; if we go to a restaurant and they want french fries, then they have them. They’re kids and they need that. We have three traditions when I come home from a race; we camp out on my boat, I make them a stack of my special pancakes in the morning and we go mountain biking in the dunes. That’s what they love to do.
Illustrations by Susa Monteiro
Laurens is managed by inGamba’s founder, João Correia, who crashed into the Dutchman’s ambulance at the 2010 Tour de Suisse, while racing for Cervelo Test Team. Despite this unique first impression, they’ve been friends ever since.