Van den Ham made a name for himself on the U.S. gravel circuit with breakthrough wins at two popular gravel festivals, Grinduro California and the Lost and Found Gravel Festival.
The May 20-21 Grinduro California event at Mt. Shasta featured a unique format that combines gravel riding with timed stages, similar to a mountain bike enduro. Riding his Revolt Advanced Pro, van den Ham posted the fastest cumulative time over four stages to take the win.
“The event format is basically what the name suggests,” said van den Ham, who raced with the Giant Rev Pro helmet, Charge Pro shoes and Dash computer. “It’s a gravel enduro, except that instead of having all the stages descend, they are a mix of flat, rolling, uphill and descent stages on a mix of both gravel and singletrack. In total, the race had about 40 minutes of timed segments over the course of a route that took me nearly five hours to complete.”
Van den Ham won the opening stage, which was mostly uphill, and defended his lead over the three stages that followed. “I've always felt like this format suits cyclocross racers, but was worried about the challenge from fellow Easton athlete and former big-deal roadie Rob Britton, especially since the first stage was a 10-minute climb,” van den Ham said. “But somehow I surprised myself, minimized my losses to the MTB racers on the singletrack and descent stage, and ended up taking the overall by just over a minute.”
After Grinduro, van den Ham traveled south to race the June 4 Lost and Found Gravel Festival on the remote gravel roads of the Sierra Nevada range in and around Portola, California. Facing a tough field on the 100-mile course, the Canadian got into a lead group of five including MTB short track world champion Christopher Blevins and former U.S. XC collegiate national champion Sandy Floren.
“This race can eat bikes for breakfast, and within the span of about 30 minutes that lead group was down to just Sandy and I as everyone else ran into one problem or other,” van den Ham said.
With more than 50 miles to go, van den Ham found himself alone at the front with more than three hours left to race.
“With no idea how far the chase was behind me, or for that matter if there even was a chase, my race strategy devolved into pedaling, eating, and trying not to look back too much. It really wasn’t until I looked back and didn’t see anyone there at the crest of the final climb that I realized I actually might have pulled this one off.”
From there, van den Ham held it to the finish in Portola, beating second place finisher Ryan Gorman by just over two minutes. Floren finished third to round out the podium.