Although he just finished the cyclocross season at world championships in Fayetteville, Ark., Michael van den Ham is almost immediately swapping CX for gravel. It’s a shift that doesn’t just require a change of bike, but a change in training strategy.
The Canadian ‘cross champ will start March 12 at MidSouth in Oklahoma, before heading to Sea Otter and then returning to Canada for Paris to Ancaster, racing almost every weekend through the summer. His schedule includes some mountain bike racing in Canada, and while he loves racing on the trails, he’s also serving as MTB head coach with DEVO—the youth arm of the Escape Velocity Cycling Club in Vancouver—for the upcoming year. Then, it’s onto a full cyclocross season.
MvdH is excited about gravel. “I’m really excited about gravel racing this season,” van den Ham said. “My new Giant Revolt is noticeably lighter, feels a little snappier without losing stability, has more tire clearance, gives me the option to run a dropper, and has mounts for just about anything I could imagine. It’s going to be just as comfortable racing MidSouth as it will be riding the technical single track and chunky FSRs in my backyard in Chilliwack, B.C.”
“I used to try and set up all my gravel bikes to be as close to my ‘cross bikes as possible, but lately I’ve started to go in the complete opposite direction,” he added. “The way I look at it, I already have a ‘cross bike, so I want my gravel bike to be about as far from that as possible to really expand my riding zone with a dropper post, 50c tires, and a double ring. It’s pretty easy to go from that more gravity gravel setup one weekend to a much racier feeling setup the next. Just flip the chip, put some 40c tires on, and you have a snappy-feeling gravel race bike.”
The other big difference this year is that he’s going all in on himself as an athlete, opting for a privateer program that will allow him to focus on what matters most: Racing hard.
With new representation through Inspire Athlete Management, the 29-year-old Canadian has big plans for the season ahead. “Michael is exactly the kind of athlete we love to work with,” Simon Williams of IAM said. “He’s dedicated, focused and talented, and with the right program in place, we believe he can do great things in cycling.”
“I’ve always run my own program. I’ve never been on road teams, I’ve never been on a big cyclocross team, or at least, when I was, it was one that I was running! But these past couple years, I realized I was just spending so much energy and effort trying to make all these things happen, and the work required to run my own program was crushing me and affecting my ability to train and race effectively,” van den Ham explained. “I wanted to take it off my plate so I could focus on the real work I’m doing with racing. I feel like my entire career has been realizing that I don’t know what I’m capable of until I commit to doing something all the way.”
Van den Ham started racing in 2008 as a teenager, and his first cyclocross World Championships came in 2013. Over the years, he became one of the top elite racers in North America, racking up several UCI wins and dozens of podium finishes. But it wasn’t until 2017 when he started really believing in himself as a racer. “I was a farm kid coming from Manitoba, where people don’t really ride bikes. I wasn’t a junior national champion. I wasn’t on anyone’s radar. I remember the first time where I was like, ‘I might be good and I might be able to win a national championship.’ I was just on a ride in the spring in Edmonton in 2017, and it came into my head. It was the first time I’d ever even thought that or accepted that it was possible, and I decided it was time to focus on racing,” he said.
That year, he won his first of three National Championships as an elite racer. “I dived into it in a way that I had never done before,” he said. “I just knew that I was going to keep on going and keep on trying to get better and see how good I could be.”
Already on board for the 2022 season are longtime partners Giant, Easton, Garneau, Robert Axle Project and Challenge Tires. “Easton Cycling has been onboard with Michael since 2014, and we’re excited to support his new privateer program as he tackles a larger endurance schedule, ahead of his already expansive cyclocross calendar,” Matt Hornland of Easton Cycling said. “He continues to be the nicest men’s Canadian cyclocross national champion we’ve ever sponsored, and was a crucial part of getting the Easton Overland team off the ground. We’re stoked to support him again in 2022, alongside our friends at Giant.”
As for where he can go in the sport, who knows? Not even Van den Ham is sure. “First, I never thought I was going to be a professional cyclist. Then, I never thought I was going to be a National Champion. After that, I never thought I was going to get a top 20 in a World Cup,” he said. “I never thought any of these things, but I just kept working away and—despite common sense, despite everything—it kept on happening.”
Full Spring/Summer calendar
March 12 – MidSouth
April 7-10 – Sea Otter
April 24 – Paris to Ancaster
April 30 – Belgian Waffle Ride
May 14 – Vedder Classic (Marathon XC)
May 21 – Rule of 3 Gravel (tentative)
June 4 – Lost and Found
June 17-19 – Canmore Canada Cup
June 22-26 – Oregon Trails Gravel Grinder
July 23 – Canadian XC Nationals
August 22-25 – Trans Rockies Gravel Royale