Laurens ten Dam’s telephone started ringing straight after Wilco Kelderman’s unfortunate crash in the Dutch national road racing championships. (Ten Dam was at the top of the reserve list at Team Sunweb to ride the Tour de France 2018.) One day later he was on an aeroplane, alongside the Team, and preparing for La Grande Boucle. The Prologue spoke to ten Dam halfway through the Tour (on a rest day) to see how he was getting on.
We were just getting used to the idea of a Tour de France without Laurens ten Dam. But after Wilco’s crash you were called up. Is your role more significant, now that Wilco’s not riding?
Yes, that’s definitely the case. I’m really happy to be riding in the Tour again, but replacing Wilco is very hard. He is an excellent rider.
Has Team Sunweb changed its tactics now following Kelderman’s withdrawal?
We look at every day as a new day. I don’t really think much has changed regarding tactics, because before the Tour there wasn’t really a detailed masterplan.
As a pro rider, you train a lot alone, but now you’re part of a team. Are you more of an individual sportsman or a team player?
That’s right. I’m a bit of both, actually. So this sport is a perfect combination for me.
We at The Prologue are avid listeners of you podcast Live Slow, Ride Fast. Recently you implied you find it irritating that professional cycling teams appear to leave nothing to chance these days, both in training and in races.
Yes, we’re now seeing a whole new generation of obedient riders who have grown up following training plans that describe in great detail what they must do. [But] sometimes it’s also good to have riders who can also think out of the box.
This sounds like part of the change that the bike racing world is going through. Do you agree that racing has changed, and do you notice that from the middle of the peloton?
Yes, it certainly has changed, and it’s happening really fast now.
Is that a good thing?
Well, I’d rather they rode a bit slower, of course [laughs]. But the style of riding is changing fast. That’s partly to do with training. Everyone is much better trained these day. For example, in the past you had one trainer for 25 riders. These days there are six trainers for a group of the same size.
You ride for Team Sunweb, but does you heart beat faster when fellow Dutchman Dylan Groenewegen wins the sprint?
Yes, I really like seeing him win. When I was young I was a fan of [Dutch sprinter] Jeroen Blijlevens, and as far as I can remember he won four Tour de France stages. Dylan, who’s only 25, is already well on the way to equalling that. He’s still got a career ahead of him, and may well win more.
Do you like the fact that he, like you, is from [the province of] Noord Holland?
[Laughs] Yeah, that’s cool. We don’t train together, though. He lives south of the North Sea Canal.
We were just talking about your podcast, where you explain a lot about what goes on inside the professional peloton. Do you think other riders listen to it?
I know they do! Mostly it’s only the Dutch riders, because we only speak Dutch during the podcast. But I get a lot of positive reactions. [And] they can always switch off if they don’t like what they hear [laughs]!
During long, flat stages [sometimes rather boring to watch] do you seek out specific riders to chat to?
Those stages are also part of racing. I often seek out a group of mates. But I’m getting a bit older now, so my group of mates gets smaller every year.
Is part of your role in the team mentoring the younger riders?
A bit. It depends on each rider. I have a better click with some riders than others. But most of them are interested in how I approach certain situations due to my experience.
Last question: the experimental 65-kilometre-long Tour de France stage 17. What do you think about that one?
[Laughs] Well I haven’t really had time to do a recon, because I was called up at the last minute to ride. But from what I’ve seen of the route, this one’s going to be very cool. I’m looking forward to it!