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Laurens ten Dam recalls the 2009 Tour de France and why riders should never give up

Laurens ten Dam
Laurens ten Dam climbing at the 2009 Tour de France for Rabobank (Image credit: Getty Images)

Procycling magazine’s 12 days of Christmas revisits some of the highlights from our contributors in the magazine over the last year. As a pro, Laurens raced 18 grand tours. He remembers back to the 2009 Tour de France, and a very important lesson he learned about why you should never give up.

Laurens ten Dam is a columnist for Procycling. This article was taken from Procycling magazine issue 269 June 2020.

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The Tour de France had been a disaster for team Rabobank in 2009. After winning the Giro d'Italia in May, my team leader Dennis Menchov ran out of gas quickly. His GC hopes were already buried when he got caught in the prologue by the stage’s eventual winner Fabian Cancellara. Stage 1 done, more than one minute down. The previous year’s green jersey, Oscar Freire, encountered a young and unbeatable Mark Cavendish who would go on to win six stages that year. On top of that our tyres turned out to be useless in the rain, so seven out of nine riders were packed in plaster. What started as a Tour with high hopes to win the GC or several stages, turned out to be a nightmare for the big budget team Rabobank was. Morale was low, in fact it has never been that low in my whole Tour de France career. 

Traditionally the last Friday in the Tour is the day of the last chances. Saturday would be a massive showdown for the GC contenders and this specific year it was no difference with the stage finishing up Mont Ventoux. Me and my teammates were all aware that this stage would be our last chance to redeem ourselves to the Dutch public and our sponsor. With the top of a second category climb just 16 kilometers from the finish in Aubenas, this stage was too hard for a sprinter. A group would go to the finish because the GC men would lay low and save their legs for Mont Ventoux. Just be in that group and you would fight for the victory. It was as easy as that. 

It turned out not to be that easy for me and my team-mates. A big and strong group hit the road and we were one of the six teams who missed it. The race was over. 

I'll never forget Juan Antonio Flecha, his facial expression when he demanded I pull. In fact, he commanded the whole team to pull except our team leaders. So we started to ride tempo, a hopeless cause; six injured riders started to pull behind a very strong 20-man group. I knew the peloton was laughing behind my back. Those poor guys are being punished for being nowhere this Tour. 

But it was not our team leader who commanded us to the front of the bunch. It was our pride. We wanted to show we were still there. At one point, Flecha started to yell at us. “Faster, and go full through the corners”. I went as fast as I dared and even faster. Later I heard stories from other riders that they were terrified behind us. What was going on there? I never rode so long and so fast at the front of the bunch. It was pride and anger which drove us that fast. We pulled full until the bottom of the last climb with 16km to go where we were just 30 seconds behind the first group. When I finally let go I almost cried, we went that deep as a team to fight for our last chance. 

Not all stories have a happy ending. Mark Cavendish flew up that last hill in Auvergne. He survived a 14 kilometre-long second category climb and won the sprint in front of Oscar. We were left empty-handed. 

That night on the dinner table we emptied three bottles of French red. It was the first time that Tour we laughed and had fun together. We fought for the victory and could be proud of ourselves again. 

And then the impossible happened. Juan Manuel Garate, my friend and team-mate, would go on to win on Mont Ventoux - the stage that was especially designed to be won by a big name. After all that, we won the most beautiful stage of that Tour. We crowned Juan "el Legendario" that night! 

Never give up.