I’m Laurens ten Dam. I was born in Holland in 1980. I’m a husband, a father. A normal guy. I’m also good at riding a bike pretty fast.
When I was a small kid, maybe eight years old, I had a T shirt that my mum had stuck a number on. Because when you are pretending to race your bike, you have to have a number on, right? I didn’t do my first real race until I was 16. I did well, but I was green as grass; I didn’t know how to drink from a bottle or get into the pedals properly. But from the start I liked racing. The first year was a struggle sometimes, but the second and third years I got better and better. I was second in the nationals in my second year as a junior, which showed I had talent. After that, it came pretty quick. I started at 16, by 18 I was national level. I found I could climb in my first year as an amateur. I went to Luxembourg to do some hillier races and discovered I was good on the uphills. I went to ride for Batavus, a year later I was with Rabobank’s development team and my career had begun. A decade and a half later, I look back on a long journey as a professional. From Bankgiroloterij through to Team Sunweb, from young rider to team leader to road captain, from Tour rookie to top 10 finisher. It’s been a great ride, chasing all those dreams I had as a kid.
I bought my first bike when I was 11. A Peugeot from the 1970s; 10 gears, downtube shifters. I took the fenders and the luggage rack off straight away. I wanted a racing bike.
I went to the cycling club in Alkmaar and they told me to take the gears off; the youth riders had to ride fixed or singlespeed. I refused because I was so proud of my bike. Back then, maybe the bike was more important to me than the racing. My dad and I would take holidays on that bike; touring, camping. When I was 13, I rode it up the Col de Colombiere, which is a first category climb in the Tour, with a 42/21 gear on. I think I only stopped once.
Those memories are nice ones, exploring the world on my own terms. Today, that bike is still at my parents’ place and my brother still uses it sometimes. Pretty good for something that cost what would be around 60 Euro now.
I first watched the Tour de France in ‘89. I remember my dad screaming at the TV because they didn’t show Gert Jan Theunisse winning at L’Alpe d’Huez; they were focused on the GC fight between Lemond and Fignon. Growing up in Holland in that era, Theunisse and Steven Rooks were my first cycling heroes.
In 1991, we went to the Tour and watched the race on the Joux Plane in the rain, wearing some rain coats my dad had made from plastic bags from the publicity caravan. I was 10 years old and it was a big thing for me, seeing Lemond and those guys, listening to the race on the small radio as we waited for it to arrive.
Maybe a year later, I rode to see the start from where we were camping. 50 kilometres on my own, no phone, away all day. It seems crazy now, but I was never afraid to do things by myself, even at that age. I remember laying in the grass next to the road watching them ride through the neutral zone. I saw Erik Breukink on my side of the road. I was like ‘Yeahhhh’. Those things stay with you. I’ve been lucky. I’ve had some great moments in my career. But to finish in the top 10 of the Tour as a professional in 2014 was really satisfying, maybe the most satisfying.