Santa Cruz is widely known as “Surf City,” but the name “Spin City” is equally apt since so many world-class cyclists are drawn to live and train here. Adding star power to the already illustrious roster of cycling national champions and Olympians residing here is Tour de France rider Laurens ten Dam. The Dutch road racer with Team Giant–Alpecin moved to Santa Cruz with his wife and two young children last January. His arrival, for a one-year stay, sent a ripple of excitement through the cycling community.
“During his second ride in town, he spoke to me and said something friendly,” said Santa Cruz cyclist Katrin Tobin, a former U.S. National and Olympic Team Member and two-time National Champion road racer. “He has absolutely no arrogance about him. He makes the rides better for everyone. To have someone who has raced in the Tour ride with us makes people ride better. He wants to help and it’s a joy to have him in town.”
His name may not be familiar unless you follow pro cycling, but the international press have called ten Dam “super human” and “one of the gutsiest athletes around” after he suffered a horrific crash in Stage 3 of the Tour de France in 2015. He was part of a massive pile-up. At least six riders, including the tour leader, were forced to pull out of the race. Ten Dam decided to continue despite a dislocated shoulder.
“I said that they had to pop my shoulder back in,” ten Dam told cyclingnews.com. “I have trained very hard, so I don’t want to abandon the race even before we enter France.”
Called “LTD” by his friends here, ten Dam keeps a low profile locally despite racking up noteworthy top-10 finishes at major stage races during his 14-year professional cycling career. He finished eighth in the Vuelta a España and ninth in the Tour de France. He’s suffered some gnarly crashes along the way, even being nicknamed “Rocky” by friends back at home after he busted his nose.
Ten dam is beloved by his fans worldwide with 108,000 followers on Twitter and more than 18,000 on Facebook. Bicycling magazine recently reported that ten Dam is the most followed athlete on Strava, a wildly popular app used by millions of cyclists to track their speed and mileage.
Despite his accomplishments, ten Dam, 36, is easygoing and fits in well with the casual Santa Cruz lifestyle.
“He’s super down-to-earth. He likes to live simply,” said local cyclist Scott Davis, who mountain bikes with ten Dam weekly.
When ten Dam is not in the saddle, Thessa Neef, his one-time high school sweetheart and now wife, like to go camping and take their boys, ages 2 and 4, to the nearby pump track.
“Compared to other American cities, it’s laid back, everyone here is friendly and not in a rush and not showing off,” Neef said. “Here it’s just be yourself and be outdoors. What I really like about the city is that even though we are here just a short time, we were welcomed into the community so easily.”
Ten dam and family are a family on the move, cramming in plenty of fun before they head back to the Netherlands in January. I caught up to them for a few quick questions during their weekend trip to Truckee.
Q: How did you first hear about Santa Cruz?
A: The first time we visited Santa Cruz was about 5 or 6 years ago. We did a big road trip in 2010, rented an RV, and visited Las Vegas and Yosemite. We went to a Sharks game and then to the coast. After a small ride on West Cliff, we thought we would like to live around here.
Q: Are you considering retirement after 14 years as a pro cyclist?
A: My plan was to retire at age 34 and travel when my kids were not in school. But what happened is I got better and better at cycling and got sucked into it. So [instead of retiring] we planned to live in the U.S. for one year and then return to race in Europe. We arrived in October 2016 and will leave in January because I have to race and train. Our oldest kid will go to school in Holland. It’s the best of both worlds.
Q: Where do you like riding in Santa Cruz?
A: I ride here as much as possible. I ride mountain, cross and road bikes. I did my first cyclocross race ever here in Santa Cruz at the Lighthouse. The mountain biking is really nice. I always do Tuesday night rides with Scott (Davis). We ride Wilder Ranch and do Mailboxes. I love it over there. These are the moments I can still enjoy my other bikes. In the summer, I only ride my road bike.
Q: What kind of training have you been doing during the offseason?
A: I ride 400 or 500 miles a week (in the) offseason. In February and March, I get really serious. Big races are 600 miles. My coach gives me workouts based around base miles and long, slow distance. In the spring, you enter more specific training. In the winter, I lift weights.
Q: You’re headed back to the Netherlands soon. We will miss you!
A: We planned to live one year in the U.S. and we visited a lot of cities before we moved to Santa Cruz. When we came back, we got the same feeling as five years ago. I think it’s the best choice we ever made.
Karen Kefauver (www.karenkefauver.com) is a freelance writer and avid cyclist who covers sports and travel and is based in Santa Cruz. Her Spin City bike column appears monthly and was launched in 2009.