Hipflask at the ready as Laurens ten Dam gears up for gravel and bikepacking adventures

Laurens ten Dam
(Image credit: Camille McMillan)

Live slow, ride fast’ is the motto Laurens ten Dam lives by, and the veteran racer will be putting that notion to the test in an action-packed year that will see him race and bikepack across three continents. 

The Dutchman’s 2020 season was scuppered by the global pandemic but all being well he will head to North America in May to take on the first of a cluster of gravel events before then jetting off to Kenya for one of the most highly anticipated gravel events of the season, the Migration Race. The former Tour de France top-ten finisher spread his season between the US and Europe, racing in the United Kingdom, Germany, and several US states before then turning his attention to one of his first loves, bikepacking.

“I still have to figure out how I can get into the US but hopefully in the next few weeks a few things will figure themselves out,” ten Dam tells Bike Perfect from his home in Holland.

“First I’m doing an event in Texas called Gravel Loco. It’s closer than some of the events on the west coast and Texas is a bit more open than California at the moment in terms of restrictions, so if it’s safe I’ll be there. Gravel Loco is put on by an organizer who just wants to give back to the sport, which is fantastic and I’m really looking forward to meeting him because he knows what he’s doing. Then I have Kenya and the Migration Race on my calendar. It’s a first-year event, a stage race that takes in some amazing places, and as well as camping there’s a really cool back story there because the money raised from the race helps go to fund a development team in Kenya and they’ve got a really international field coming over for it."

All being well, ten Dam will wind down the gravel racing in late summer, early autumn, and begin to ease off with his intensive training. That will allow him to combine a few final events with bikepacking trips in Europe. He will take part in the FRTHR UK event, a three-day event in the Fens, which combines off-road racing and bikepacking, while he also embarks on his own ‘Bomba Tours’, which blend exploration with the chance to reminisce over the bike riding adventures he used to enjoy with his father.

“Bikepacking is still really important to me but it’s on hold right now because the season is starting for me and the main priority is the races I’m doing,” he says.

 “I will do a few events that have combining side with bikepacking included, with one even that’s taking place in England. It’s run by the organizer of the FRTHR Pyrenees event in France. That’s a great event and one where you carry all your own equipment. I did it last year and carried everything with me. There was one guy who wanted to be as light as possible and just had a sheet but I went for a bit more comfort.

“It’s also really cold here so there’s no bikepacking right now but there will be some rides in the future for sure. The focus is on structured training for now. I’m looking forward to more bikepacking later in the year though. Those trips remind me of why I got into cycling in the first place. There’s just total freedom when it comes to bikepacking. You’re not racing for a time and you have so much more space to be creative. It reminds me of riding bikes with my dad. We used to ride like that and in the evenings cook our own meals. It’s about adventure and exploring.”

Laurens ten Dam

Structure training takes precedent at the moment, but bikepacking adventures will return (Image credit: Camille McMillan)

The ‘Bomba Tours’ of which there have been two so far stem from a love of adventure combined with a tale passed to ten Dam by friend and former Italian road racer, Eros Poli. 

“We carry small hipflasks, and we’ve branded our own. They’re called Bomba and so we have this aim of taking ours with us on our bikepacking trips. We’ve done two so far. Eros Poli, a friend of mine, got the idea from his grandfather who used to give him a hipflask that contained double espresso, eggnog, grappa, and sugar. He would drink it in the final of a race to give him that extra kick and we’ve created our own idea around it. So we cycle and try and find local liqueur to put in our bomba. It’s just something special that I like to do but really it’s something that anyone can replicate and they don’t really need to follow exactly what we’re doing. Bikepacking is all about exploration and adventure but most of all having fun.”

Ten Dam’s Specialized Diverge has recently been set up for his next race but later in the year, he will flip the setup back to bikepacking. From experience, he already knows exactly what makes his list for the most important kit to take when he turns back to bikepacking.

“There are so many things but probably one of two or three items stand out. A really good jacket makes a huge difference because you can ride in it during the day but then use it as an extra layer at night when it’s cold. Never go without a perfect jacket. I’d have to say that cargo bib shorts are great too. The bibs with side pockets, where you can stash your phone, food or of course the Bomba. Obviously food, water and a credit card, just in case, but my hipflask will be with me for sure. And lastly booze. You’ll want booze.”

Laurens ten Dam

(Image credit: Camille McMillan)
Daniel Benson

Daniel Benson is a former Editor-in-Chief of both Cyclingnews and Bike Perfect. Based in Oxfordshire, he has covered the Tour de France 13 times and also reported from the 2012 Olympic Games in London. His career as a journalist has taken him to the Tour Down Under in Australia, major world championships, and races in every continent since he began on Cyclingnews all the way back in 2008. Daniel runs the editorial teams across Cyclingnews and Bike Perfect and plans race coverage across road, track, cyclo-cross, mountain biking, and now gravel. A recreational cyclist at best he has dragged himself through several marathons and two Ironman competitions.

Rides: Pinarello, Cinelli, and Cannondale