Laurens ten Dam’s introduction to many in the American cycling community was not so much for his riding, but for what he kept riding through. A descent in the Tour de France a decade ago turned bad when he misjudged a corner, went over the bars, and hit some rocks, leaving his face a bloody mess. Unaware of how bad his appearance was, he got bandaged up—looking a bit like a mummy in the process—remounted and kept going, endearing himself to fans.
But at a certain point, the risks, pressure, and everything else that comes with being a pro wasn’t for him anymore. After a career that spanned 16 years and included a top-10 Tour de France finish, he called it quits in 2019. However, he didn’t abandon the bike like many pros — including Bobby & Jens co-host Bobby Julich — do right after retirement. Far from it. For the Dutchman, the bike was never solely about the results, though they were nice when they came. Rather, it was always a tool to see new places and discover new things — even if that new thing was learning how to play blackjack at a Lake Tahoe casino after a snowed-out stage at the Tour of California.
In the later years of his career, he moved to a team that would allow him to live in Santa Cruz, California, and explore the United States while riding a lighter race program. When it came time to get some race fitness in his legs for Paris-Nice, though, his pro status excluded him from local crits. That’s when he turned to gravel riding, on a non-sponsor correct bike heavily covered up with the right logos. And when he finished, the sight of competitors drinking, eating, and celebrating together afterward drew him in. “Gravel is something that ticks all those boxes of exploring the world,” he said, without those aspects of being a pro that he disliked.
Since retiring, he has been enjoying gravel, not to satiate a need to win, but instead to feed that desire to explore and experience new things. Today he lives by a philosophy of “live slow, ride fast,” where he tries to enjoy life more and live in the moment.
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“Bobby & Jens” is a weekly VeloNews podcast brought to you by Zwift. It stars former pros Bobby Julich and Jens Voigt and features conversations with top athletes, coaches, emerging stars, and other newsmakers from the wide world of cycling. A new episode drops every Friday. Subscribe now wherever you get your podcasts.