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For the first time in years Laurens ten Dam will have his family cheering him on at a major international event with the Dutch rider Stateside for the double header of the Leadville Trail 100 and SBT GRVL.
Sitting in the top-10 of the Life Time Grand Prix Series, and with some impressive results already this year, ten Dam is a possible contender for the men’s LeadBoat Challenge but the veteran rider is prioritizing experience and adventure above all else this weekend.
“I’m here with the family, so I’m staying here for two more weeks, so it’s a month in total,” he told VeloNews in the days leading up to the Leadville Trail 100.
“I’m doing the whole enchilada of Leadville and SBT. I’m really looking forward to it and it’s been great just getting the family over here with me to experience everything like I have before.
“With COVID it just wasn’t possible and I would do these trips without them but now they’re here and they’re sitting by the pool and enjoying the experience. My wife, my kids, they’re having a really nice time.”
Ten Dam has made gravel and off-road racing in general his main focus since stepping away from the WorldTour. He was one of the first Europeans to venture to North America for a taste of something different and he has established himself as one of the regular contenders for top honors in every off-road race he enters.
He was fourth in Unbound in June, but after a hectic summer of work and racing he has arrived at Leadville with the pressure and expectations on his shoulders slightly lower.
“Life has been busy since Unbound but I just love to pin on a number when it comes to race day. I want to always get the best out of myself and I’ll just see what I have in the tank for both races. I’m looking forward to it, and I’m looking forward to the adrenaline rush from doing some nice races,” he said.
Not a natural — or by his own admission — experienced mountain biker, Leadville represents a difficult challenge for the Dutchman, especially considering the depth of this year’s field and the pedigree of mountain bike specialists set to line-up.
“To be honest two times I’ve done Leadville and two times I’ve gone in with high hopes but had nothing on rest day. Now I go in without high hopes. I remember doing the race for the first time in 2016, just three days after the Tour de France and I thought that I would be good and I just suffered with the altitude. Then last year I prepared with eight days of altitude training and I was five minutes faster but I’ve never done a good race. It’s still really cool to be here though,” he said.
“Unbound form was really good, and the same with Gravel Locos. Then after Unbound I had to do a daily Tour de France podcast, I did Crusher in the Tushar, and then I’ve just been at home training on the flatlands for this. I expect to be good but not as good as I was before Unbound when I was preparing like a pro. Now I’ve been preparing like a podcast host.”
Ten Dam currently sits ninth overall in the Life Time Grand Prix Series, of which only the Leadville 100 is part of this weekend. The standings are not to be written off but the Dutch rider is aware that the sport of gravel is getting stronger with each passing season, and that the mountain bike specialists have taken control of the series to date.
“I’m maybe ninth at the moment but mountain biking doesn’t suit me as well. I’m planning on skipping the next mountain bike race as it’s too much traveling but it’s still cool to be part of all the races and part of something big.
“With the GC, of course I’d like to be as high as possible, but I’ll see where I am at the end of the series. The young guys like Keegan Swenson are more complete than I am. Maybe if they put a road race in, that will suit me better but I was happy to be second of the LifeTime guys at Unbound. I was in the mix but for me mountain biking it’s a different ballgame,”he said.
“Last year I was second in Unbound, and this year I was fourth and doing the same numbers but the young guys are a big plus to the series. The level of professionalism has just risen because of these young guys.”