It's been a long time coming but finally, Laurens ten Dam will pin on a race number in major race since hanging up his road bike at the end of 2019, with the 40-year-old making the trip from Holland to Texas, USA for Saturday's Gravel Locos.
The 153-mile event will see the veteran Dutchman line up against Peter Stetina, Colin Strickland and Ted King – although the latter only recently had surgery on a broken collarbone.
"I found a way into the US and now I'm basically about to start my first race since Lombardia 2019," ten Dam told Cyclingnews as he drove cross-country from Illinois to Texas on Wednesday evening.
"Since my retirement, so I'm excited to pin a number on again. I did a Grasshopper at the start of last year and a bike-packing event, but this is the first major race.
"I'm curious to see how I go. I've done some decent training recently.
"Colin Strickland, Ted King, and Peter Stetina are all there, so those are the guys I know that are good at gravel racing. Let's see if I'm on or off pace but I feel good and I'm having fun. I'm here for three more weeks with Unbound also coming up in a few weeks."
Ten Dam travelled to the US last week and rented a small van which will double up as home for the coming weeks as he travels to races. This adventure was of course meant to take place in 2020 and, while the global pandemic put a halt to that, the former Tour de France top-ten finisher is relishing the very different environment he has immersed himself into.
"I started this whole gravel experience at the end of 2019, and we did Kanza and did bike-packing and finally it all starts again. I'm going solo on this trip, but I don't know how long it will last. I'm 40 and going up against some of these young guys but I'll try and give my best in these races that are coming up," he said.
"I've no clue how I will do. We'll have to see. I'm here alone and I have no idea how the race works but I'm going in with an open mind. I'm going to give everything and we'll just see how the legs are. I know I'm 40 but I still have plenty of miles in the legs. At least 150.
"I have no clue what to expect. I did one day of training in Bentonville and then on Wednesday I parked my van and rode some beautiful trails. I've got to clean my bike now and basically, I'm improvising. It's not what I'm used to with the whole WorldTour crew behind me but I fucking love it."
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