LAURENS TEN DAM
Laurens reflects on the Tokyo Olympics and how times have changed
“Oh man, how things have changed. The riders emphasise being present and being in top shape. They prioritise the Games now. Young riders dream of being Olympic champion”
In 2008 the Dutch national coach had trouble finding five guys who were willing to do the Olympic Games. The road race at the Beijing Games was held the same week as the lucrative post-Tour de France criteriums. You would race for start money every night, entertaining the public. When you went to Beijng you would miss out on the extra money, while at the Olympics there was nothing to earn but respect. We as a team ended up dragging Niki Terpstra, who was doing the team pursuit back then, out of the Beijing velodrome to help us climbers in the first 150 kilometres of the race. I didn’t get much of a result if I remember rightly but that wasn’t the most important thing anyway. What was important was that we could make it to the basketball stadium fast to watch China versus the USA. Then I played at being a tourist for three more days before heading back to Europe where the next races were on the calendar.
No one made a goal out of the Olympics while planning their season back then. It was just an afterthought in the bigger picture of classics, the Tour de France and the World Championships at the end of the season.
Oh man, how things have changed. The riders emphasise being present and being in top shape; they prioritise the Games now. Young riders dream of being Olympic champion. Their season is being built around it. Sponsors and teams are stepping up their game too. The frame builders delivered special bikes to many of the riders while I remember putting black tape on my regular Colnago bike to fit the strict rules of the International Olympic Committee on advertising in their events. Teams support riders to be in top shape at the Olympics and happily send their time trial coaches over to help out the low-budget national committee. Unthinkable five years ago.
I even heard some stories that riders used this year’s Tour as a last good training block. Mathieu van der Poel left that race to focus on the mountain bike, the sport he took on four years ago in order to win an gold medal. He changed sports for the Olympics because cyclo-cross, his first love, is not an Olympic sport. It took him years of dedication to become competitive and finally win some World Cups. His Olympic dreams ended with that nasty crash on a big drop in lap one. Years of preparation were gone after 10 minutes; he didn’t realise that they took the practice ramp away in the race.
I loved watching all those events this year. The men and women competing gave us a big show and there were stories all over the place. It was just how the Olympics should be. I was intrigued to see how deep the track sprinters can dig. They’re almost bodybuilders on the bike. They did, like, a three-round boxing fight and then were out for the count for 30 minutes. Laying around on the track they couldn’t stand up. The pain in their legs must have been unreal with lactate sky high. It’s totally a different sport than I am used to, but very interesting.
And then we have the fairytale story of Anna Kiesenhofer, the amateur beating all the Dutch favourites in a once-in-a-lifetime road race. It shows that all those kids dreaming of a gold medal have the right to do that. Never stop believing.