On the eve of his final race, we sat down with Laurens to look back on his time in the peloton, discuss what comes next and his best advice for young riders.
The Very Beginning
My first race as a professional was the Tour Down Under in 2004. I remember that it was such a relaxed atmosphere and right from the beginning, the traveling and sightseeing part of this life was always a big thing for me. It was only a five-stage race and it was still quite a small race but, I thought that if racing is always like this, I will be doing it until I am 50 years old.
Of course, I quickly learned at my next races, which were some of the Belgian Classics, that cycling was not going to be like that first race but, it was a really nice first encounter with professional cycling. Actually, at that race, I threw podium flowers into the crowd and they were caught by Phoebe [Haymes, CCC Team Head of Communications] so, you could say that a sort of circle has now been completed from that first race to finishing my career in CCC Team.
Grand Tour Success
My first Grand Tour was in 2008 so, my fifth year as a pro because before that, I was racing for smaller teams who didn’t do Grand Tours. I didn’t necessarily expect to ride the Tour de France when I turned pro but, things were on the rise for me and I was actually 21st in my first Tour. It was really nice to be racing in the big leagues and from then on the Tour was the race that I built my year around. My fame in Holland, and cycling in General, also started to grow from here because everyone was watching the Tour and on several occasions, I was the best Dutch rider there.
The Tour de France is my favorite of the three Grand Tours. It was the race that I always watched as a small kid and it was my dream race. I reached Paris ten times, finishing inside the top ten on GC in 2014, and I am proud of that number.
Away from my personal performances at Grand Tours, I won the Giro d’Italia with both Denis Menchov and Tom Dumoulin and each experience was completely different. I learned a lot from Denis by watching him during that time because he wasn’t telling me too much but just observing his diet or the way he acted in the room etc. Being part of Denis’ win was more of a learning experience and my feelings after Tom, who is a real friend of mine, won are totally different. I rate that one higher than the other, and maybe more than any of my own results, it was really special.
From Student to Teacher
When I was younger, I was always learning by watching others and sometimes I would ask questions. Now, I really try to be a mentor for the young guys around me.
I had a good click with a lot of the younger CCC Team riders this year and if they asked me questions, I always tried to answer them as well as possible. I had similar relationships with Dumoulin at times and other teammates like Sam Oomen from that time. At Rabobank, however, I was more of an example than teaching through words because there I was much more focused on my performances.
It’s nice to know that people see me as someone they want to learn from, someone to look up to and get advice from. I have also done a Master’s degree in coaching so, while I am not planning on doing anything like that next year, usually, I will continue to ride gravel, but maybe there could be something there in the future. We can always make a Live Slow Ride Fast coaching company.
Making the Most of Opportunities
Cycling has provided me with a fantastic platform, which in turn has given me a lot of opportunities. I have always been really vocal on social media. In 2009, I joined Twitter, I am very active on Instagram and I’m also on Facebook, but not as much. My podcast has given me a more prominent voice and audience and I also use Strava like a social network.
A lot of my motivation to use the platform I have been given was because when I think back to me as a young kid, I can imagine how I would have reacted to my heroes doing things like this and I think, for example, I would have definitely been on Zwift at seven AM in the morning if they were doing stuff like that.
I think a lot of people really enjoy what I have done with these channels. I have lost count of the number of letters, messages and emails I have received from people who love the podcast, my coffee, or the LtD Gravel Raid. I think the message of Live Slow Ride Fast is appealing to a lot of people but without cycling, who knows if I would have had the audience I do now to share this with.
I still really like being on the bike and, in the days immediately following Lombardia, I will be making a big trip towards the south of Italy. That will be an exciting moment for me as I will immediately be starting the change from pro cyclist to adventure rider. It’s this kind of thing that I am aiming to do in the future to replace professional cycling but fulfill my love for the bike. For example, I would like to do races like Dirty Kanza, Cape Epic, maybe a crazy bike packing race. It will be cool.
The Things I’ll Miss
For sure the massages with swannies like Freddy [Viane] and Ton [de Vaan] will be something I will miss as well as the amazing food the chefs cook for us, the ability to throw your wash bag outside and it comes back to you in what feels like a minute. Having your bike washed by the mechanics right after the race, no matter what time we arrive at the hotel is amazing and I always want to say props to the mechanics for that. I will also miss traveling with a team, the camaraderie with the boys and our dinner table chats. In general, I will definitely miss professional racing, especially the bike shape of the body as a result of it. I will still race gravel but, I will probably never be as fit as I am right now. I would maybe like to postpone that change for a little bit.
What I won’t miss though are the risks the crashing and being away from home. As we talk, I’ve been without my family for two weeks so I am looking forward to being with them more and putting them first now.
Words of Wisdom
For me, the most important piece of advice I would give to young aspiring professional cyclists is to keep enjoying riding the bike. That’s what I am still doing and it makes me sad when I hear stories about pro riders who never touch the bike again after retirement or who enjoy it a lot less than before. Of course, people don’t need to do what I am doing over the next two days because that’s maybe too far the other way but, it turned out that I was in a hurry because of my youngest son’s birthday. I planned to make the trip over one week but, it’s his birthday next week and I want to start my new life being there for my family.
Sometimes you need to leave the watts out of it and just enjoy the ride. I hear stories about guys who only do intervals but, basically, in my really good years, I maybe did only ten proper interval sessions a year and the rest was riding the bike for the love it. I am happy that I am stopping my career still loving riding the bike. I would have retired way earlier if I was not enjoying it anymore. I sort of live by that idea. It’s why I moved to CCC Team for my final year. I have no regrets making a change when something doesn’t feel 100 percent right anymore.
I’m a pretty decisive person. I’ve never had a problem with that. I have bought two houses in my life and only seen three from the inside. That’s a small example but also, I have been with my first girlfriend for 20 years now. So, when I know something is right, I really know and that’s how I feel about retiring. I have no regrets.
I’ve enjoyed my last weeks, months and year in the peloton but it’s okay because it’s time. I have loved this life and job right up to the last minute but, on the Sunday morning after Il Lombardia, I will be just as happy as before the race. It’s been a beautiful journey and I never thought it would be such a long one.