His result was based on a steady consistency rather than one or two headline-grabbing stage performances, but Laurens Ten Dam’s solid riding in the Tour de France let to the best Grand Tour result of his career on Sunday.
The 33 year old followed up on his 28th overall in 2012 and 13th place in 2013, finishing ninth overall in this year’s race.
Ten Dam was best-placed of the Belkin team, finishing one place ahead of the rider who was sixth last year, his team-mate Bauke Mollema. He was very close to taking eighth overall, being just 14 seconds off Haimar Zubeldia (Trek Factory Racing).
“I’m really happy with ninth place. I’m satisfied right now with the Tour. I’m really happy with what I did. The hard work was rewarded,” Ten Dam told CyclingTips on Tuesday.
He admitted that the result exceeded what he had anticipated beforehand. “I was not expecting ninth on the Tour. My best result coming into the race was eighth in California and I was 13th in Suisse,” he said. “So I was a little bit off the pace, but everything came right at the right moment with the form.
“I have to thank my trainer for that. In the end I am even more satisfied with hitting peak form in the best race. It’s an art and I’ve managed to do it for two or three years in a row.”
Ten Dam is a strong climber and his high overall finish is due to his performances in the mountains. He was eighth on stages 13 and 14, to Chamrousse and Risoul respectively, and also 11th at Hautacam.
He attributes his fine overall result to hitting peak form at the right time, but also to what he said was a cleaner race.
“It’s more of a personal thing for me. I can’t point fingers at the other riders,” he said, speaking of his position on ethics. “I know how I did it and I am really happy with how I did it. But to be honest, I believe the race was really clean.
“For me, when I see the guys ahead of me, I think it’s a clean Tour and I am happy with the results I am getting at age 33. I’m not thinking about results I could have gotten at age 25 but I am happy with my life. I can look everyone in the eye and for me that’s important.”
Ten Dam is one of the team’s protected riders for the Grand Tours, a position he has earned through solid performances in the past. He first rode a three week race in 2008 and immediately showed promise, taking 21st in the Tour. The following year he was 28th in the Giro and then 60th in the Tour; he returned to the French race two years later and placed 58th, then stepped things up the following season with 28th there and eighth in the Vuelta a España.
Thirteenth overall in last year’s Tour showed he was continuing to progress, and he decided to once again target the race in 2014.
“It’s basically hard work from December,” he said, explaining what is involved in getting ready for the sport’s biggest race. “You know you’re going to be one of the leaders of the team. It’s just a physical and mental build up from December, and you hope it starts gaining momentum as the months goes on.
“It’s a lot of hard work and a lot of sacrifice to get that goal. It’s hard to quantify the amount of work.”
In addition to clocking up huge amounts of training, other sacrifices were made. Ten Dam had to spend a lot of time away from his wife and child in order to build up for the race. She is in the advanced stages of pregnancy but was able to cope despite him being absent.
“She is a strong woman and she just deals with it and is pretty good,” he explained. “She didn’t call me once to complain during the Tour, so I am happy.”
He had that on his mind, and also illness in the first week of the race. “I was a little bit sick which is why I was a little bit grumpy in England,” he revealed. “But I got it out of the body and I got better. In the last two weeks of the race I was happy and confident in myself.
“I got more confidence after the first mountain stage in the heat. I knew as long as the weather stayed good, I was going to be strong.”
Still, even though he was in good form, he had to work hard and to go deep in order to take his top ten result. Suffering is part of the requirements for a climber, with the ability to hover on the limit for extended periods part of what makes the difference in the mountains.
“There’s a difference between pros and amateurs; I don’t know how to explain it,” he said, talking about the necessary focus. “You go as hard as you can and never give up. It’s difficult to describe. You are in pain for the last 40 minutes but you know as soon as you cross the line it goes away.
La Course and remaining season targets:
Sunday saw the final stage of the Tour tear up and down the Champs Élysées, with Ten Dam and Mollema bringing their Tour campaigns to a close in Paris and completing their top ten overall finishes.
It also saw the first hosting of the new women’s La Course race, an event which is the first step towards a women’s Tour de France. It remains to be seen if organisers ASO will expand it beyond the current format, but Ten Dam gives the idea of a women’s race a thumbs up.
“I think it’s really nice, although I haven’t seen pictures yet and I haven’t spoken to any of the female cyclists yet. When we finished I was wondering where they were because I wanted to speak to Marianne [Vos] but for women’s cycling I understand that the tweets for the women were very big.
“They were there in front of the same amount of public as us. It’s 1000 times bigger than they used to, so for them it was a big thing. I think it’s really good for women’s cycling and their sponsors and maybe they will get more sponsorships now because one million people watch them on Champs Elysees. It’s also live on television. In Holland I know it was really big and good for all the sponsors.”
Sponsorship is also of prime importance to the men’s teams; Ten Dam’s Belkin squad has been working on getting a new title sponsor to replace the departing electronics Giant, which indicated earlier this month that it didn’t plan on remaining involved in 2015.
Ten Dam has a contract extending beyond the end of this season, but is confident that a new backer will be found and that his current deal will continue.
He’s currently riding post-Tour criteriums but also has to work to keep his endurance up for his next goal.
“I just got off the phone with my trainer. He had a surprise for me as today I already have to start doing 2.5 hours,” he revealed. “We need to start building towards the Vuelta from Tuesday of next week, when I finish all the crits. So that’s my next goal…”