In recent years, there has been an increasing tendency for footballers from Europe’s top leagues to cross the Atlantic and seek one final, hefty pay day in Major League Soccer, but Laurens ten Dam can only smile when asked to compare his relocation to the United States in 2016 with those of Messrs. Pirlo, Gerrard et al.
Given that his original intention was to race simply on the perennially cash-strapped domestic circuit in the US, after all, financial considerations scarcely entered the equation as Ten Dam set about planning his American adventure.
“For the love of cycling, I wanted to get back to basics. Standing next to a car in my naked ass changing my bibs instead of being on a fancy bus doesn’t matter to me, you know, so that’s why I was ready to race for Jelly Belly or Bissell,” Ten Dam told Cyclingnews at the Giant-Alpecin presentation in Berlin last week.
Not that the love of a more rustic form of cycling was the primary reason for Ten Dam’s decision. When he reached Paris in a state of exhaustion at the end of last year’s Tour de France, the Dutchman counted backwards 100 days and realised that he had spent a total of ten nights at home with his wife and young family in that period. At 35 years of age and 13 years into his professional career, Ten Dam felt that something had to give. A training crash ten days after the Tour convinced him.
“After the Tour, man, I was done with Europe, because I wanted to balance my family life, and I decided I wanted to go to the US,” Ten Dam explained. “It was what I wanted ten years ago, and I’ve done everything in cycling that I wanted, and I wanted to just go and ride for a domestic team – and that’s certainly not for the money because a domestic team doesn’t pay much.”
Ten Dam’s agent Joao Correia was, rather understandably, reluctant for Ten Dam to slip quietly away from the European scene when a steady stream of WorldTour teams were still interested in paying a more competitive salary for his services, and he persuaded the Dutchman to give him time to broker a compromise solution.
“I phoned my manager and he said ‘Whoah, whoah, whoah – maybe you can combine,’” Ten Dam said. “Several teams didn’t take the bait, they probably thought that I had checked out a little bit, like you said about footballers going to Major League Soccer.”
LottoNL-Jumbo, where Ten Dam had raced since 2008, was ultimately prepared to accede to his desire to base himself across the Atlantic, but he ultimately opted for Giant-Alpecin, having raced with the squad at its humble beginnings as Shimano-Memory Corp back in 2005.
“I thought I was changing things anyway so I might as well change completely and I decided to come here,” Ten Dam said of the switch to Giant-Alpecin. “The first point I had in the negotiations was ‘I want to move to America’ because I didn’t want to talk bullshit with them, I wanted to be honest. So then we talked about the programme, and I knew we would have to decide early about when I was going to be in the US and when I was going to be in Europe to race.
“In the end, it’s all worked out nicely for me and the team. We’ll have to see at the end of the year in September if it’s been good or not. For now it’s ok and I’m looking forward to the year.”
After spending time with his Giant-Alpecin teammates at a training camp in Spain last week, Ten Dam was due to travel to the United States with his family on Friday, and he will base himself in Santa Cruz for the next seven weeks as he prepares for his first race of the season at Paris-Nice.
Following that initial block of racing in Europe, Ten Dam will return to California, this time to Truckee, for a longer stint in April, May and June, incorporating the Tour of California, before he races the Tour de Suisse and Tour de France in the service of Warren Barguil.
“It’s not that I didn’t love cycling anymore, it’s more that I wanted to spend more time with the kids,” Ten Dam said of his novel schedule. “Like now, I’ll be in Santa Cruz for seven weeks and I’ve already bought tickets for the [San Jose] Sharks games because my oldest loves ice hockey, and maybe we’ll get tickets for San Francisco baseball games when that season comes around.
“It’s more of a balanced life but I can still be at the highest level, I think. If things work out like this, maybe we’ll do it again next year, maybe not. Maybe I’ll just do bike trips and things like that, we’ll see. But for sure I’ll still be riding the bike.”
When Ten Dam first revealed his plans to move to the US, he joked “maybe I can do some crits and get my ass kicked.” It remains to be seen whether, as a WorldTour rider, Ten Dam will be able to get dispensation to compete in local road events, and while his American calendar is bare for now, he plans at the very least to be able to pencil in some mountain bike races.
“I will do as many races as possible but it might be a little bit difficult with the UCI regulations to do crits, but I also can do some mountain bike racing or things like that,” he said. “I’d like to have some good work-outs there in any case, and I hope the local pros in California accept me. I will bring a box of beers to the races, I’ll have a nice work-out and have fun, and we’ll have a beer afterwards.”
All told, Ten Dam reckons that he will spend all but three months of 2016 in North America, with his European campaign coming to a close with the Tour de France. “After the Tour, we don’t know yet,” Ten Dam. “We’ll travel for sure and I’ll do the Canadian races. I want to do the Leadville 100 and I want to see Hawaii too. So maybe we’ll go to Truckee again then because in August it’s got the nicest weather, we’ll see. Then in winter, I don’t know. Maybe I’ll do some nice bike trips.”
Ten Dam’s decision to step away from the European scene also highlights the ever-increasing demands at the top level of the sport. If he felt jaded last summer, it was not because of the miles clocked up over 13 years in the peloton so much as the spiralling number of sacrifices required over the past few seasons.
“I turned pro in a small team and I was at home a lot more and I was lot fatter, for example,” said Ten Dam, who placed 9th at the 2014 Tour and 13th a year previously. “The demands are a lot higher now. And at races, too, there are a lot more risks, there’s more stress and there’s more attention.
In that light, the relative anonymity of life in Truckee, far from the madding crowds of the European scene, sounds appealing, though it is, as Ten Dam points out, all a question of balance.
“It will definitely be a nice year with my family but I’ll still be at the biggest race, the race I’ve dreamed of since I was a kid, the Tour de France,” he said. “So it is the best of both worlds.”