Procycling's 12 days of Christmas: 1

(Image credit: Getty images / Future Publishing)

Procycling magazine's 12 days of Christmas revisits some of the highlights from our contributors in the magazine over the last year. Here, Laurens ten Dam remembers what it’s like to come out of the winter off-season and get back into racing mode.

Laurens ten Dam is Procycling’s columnist. This article was taken from Procycling magazine issue 265 February 2020.

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In the old days I would take my rusty bike out of my garage somewhere in the second half of November for a gentle ride of an hour. While starting up our lazy legs with my fellow pros in the neighborhood we would moan about the hard work we already had to do, in contrast to the BO's when they started training on January 1st! 

When we were able to be on our bikes for four hours straight at the killer speed of 30km/h average by Christmas, and we were not more than five kilos overweight, we were satisfied. We were more than ready for camp in January.

To escape the harsh December conditions in the Netherlands, and to build fitness faster, we sometimes rented a villa in Spain and took off with the same group as I trained at home with. Every morning at those camps there was the same ritual. The leader of the pack - in our case it was Karsten Kroon - would point his wet finger in the air, wait a few seconds and say: "Today we do the five hour loop counter clockwise because of the wind direction." And everybody followed. Afternoons were filled with doing dishes, groceries and the necessary cooking at home. There was a lot of time for laughs and discussions, and we played poker at night. 

How things have changed in a decade and a half. Team December camps are famous now. I experienced it myself for the last time at CCC camp. Staff to rider ratio was 2:1 at least and the schedule looked like we were a bunch of commandos. I started the day with a core session of half an hour followed by a balanced breakfast. After a four to six hour training ride and a killer lunch my afternoon was filled with massages and meetings til dinner. Poker time? Forget it. 

My very first professional race was the Tour Down Under in 2004 and my team looked at it as a cool training camp. Some racing, not too much, and certainly not too serious. We had business class flights in an out, which was new for me too, and we talked more about the promised afterparty (after all, it was still January) than about the race itself. I remember thinking in my business seat on the way home, still smiling from that after party: 'if this is pro life I will stay pro til I am 50!' 

But it wasn't that easy. In my first classic that year I got my butt kicked badly. I got spewed out of the back of the bunch with 100km to go in the race. Gone were the good feelings after the Tour Down Under. It took me four years of hard work and learning the job before I called myself a real professional - a rider who delivered results when needed and made an appearance in the Tour the France at the age of 27. 

How different it is now. The number of young riders who are delivering results in their first year as a pro are more than a handful. Egan Bernal, Remco Evenepoel, and Mathieu van der Poel have already results that the best talents of my generation could only dream of at that young age. The reason? All those well executed December camps with staff, trainers, nutritionists, osteopaths, masseurs, mechanics and sport directors all over the place. While I was doing coffee rides in December all those young studs get a fast course in 'how to become pro cyclist in one year'. 

Does it make it more fun for the rider? I doubt that sometimes, they have to work really hard. But as a spectator I will cheer for all those bright young talents. I enjoy the tactics and work ethics of those young studs. I must admit, every time when Evenepoel, Bernal or Van der Poel are lining up at a race I have the urge to be home and watch them on television. They are young, they are good and I am a fan! 

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