Think you need a gravel bike to win a prominent gravel race? Three of the four winners from last weekend’s big day of racing piloted their cyclocross bikes to high-profile gravel titles. Kaitie Keough and Ted King showed their Cannondale Super-X cyclocross bikes were ready to handle fatter tubeless gravel tires and the 200 miles of Kansas gravel, while Tobin Ortenblad took the very same Santa Cruz Stigmata he raced in Europe to the Lost Sierra to reclaim his 2015 Lost and Found title.
Only Olivia Dillon bucked the trend of winning gravel races on cyclocross bikes. Dillon opted for a Specialized Diverge gravel bike for her 2018 Lost and Found victory.
Although we’ve been covering gravel events like Dirty Kanza, Lost and Found and Crusher in the Tushar since as far back as 2008, we’ve often scoffed at the notion that gravel cycling and gravel racing require a dedicated gravel bike, regardless of real or fake sanctions.
While clearance for bigger tires and lower gearing for extended climbs are often helpful for rougher, longer events, we’ve long encouraged participants not to get hung up in categories, labels or marketing hype. We see gravel bikes with tighter, steeper geometry than cyclocross bikes, and gravel bikes with more stretched-out, relaxed geometry. What’s right in between the two? A modern cyclocross bike, which often fits the gravel bill perfectly, as proven by three of last weekend’s winners.
From Euro Mud to Davis Dust
Today we take a close look at the modified Santa Cruz Stigmata cyclocross bike Ortenblad used to conquer the 100-mile Lost and Found route around Lake Davis.
It’s certainly not the first time we’ve profiled Ortenblad’s bike. We took a look at his Santa Cruz Stigmata from the Pan American Championships and when it was first unveiled a the Sea Otter Classic. We also inspected his Nationals-winning Specialized Crux from Asheville, and after his first Lost and Found victory in 2015.
Last Saturday, Ortenblad demonstrated that legs, strategy and patience, not a dedicated gravel bike, were key to winning the Lost and Found. The Santa Cruz-based and sponsored rider swapped out his Zipp 303 tubular cyclocross wheelset for the tubeless version, substituted a pair of 40mm Vittoria Terreno Mix tubeless tires for his 33mm Terreno cyclocross tubulars and picked a SRAM 10-42 XD cassette to pair with his 46t X-Sync wide-narrow ring to handle the long climbs and fast descents of the California Sierra.
The result of these mods? His second win at the Lost and Found gravel grinder.
Experience Trumps Intel
Coming into the event, Ortenblad was encouraged by locals to skip some of these mods and come prepared for fast, pack racing. After his win, the winner reflected on the changes he made and the advice he was given.
“I could have gone with a more compact cassette, but SRAM makes the 10-42, and it’s the best of both worlds,” Ortenblad explained.
As for his tires, Ortenblad was glad he resisted the pressure to opt for minimal tread.
“It’s super chunky [out there], and I ran chunkier tires because that’s what I did in the past,” he explained about his 40mm tires. “Coming into the event, some of my friends who live in the area said to run narrow files, but I’m glad I didn’t because it was still super gnarly. I think if I would have done it over, I would have run a file in the back, and kept the Mix in the front.”
As for his tire pressure, Ortenblad opted for 32 psi up front, 33 psi at back, and he rolled to the finish flat and leak-free, unlike the top two women who suffered multiple leaks, but ran similar if not higher pressure. “A big part of winning the race when you’re so on the edge is sustaining equipment, and if you flat, you’re done,” he explained. “I’ve always run higher here because I don’t want to hit the rim, I don’t want to slice [the tire].”
Ortenblad didn’t ignore all the advice he received. “Usually I’ll run alloy wheels out here, but some of my friends said it was going to be fast, pack riding, so I thought I’d put on a faster wheel.” He reached for the 45mm deep Zipp 303 tubeless wheels for a more aerodynamic profile rim.
The 100-Mile Plan
Ortenblad also made sure he was prepared, with both essential survival gear and information. He packed the tools necessary to ensure he wouldn’t be permanently lost in Plumas county should he experience equipment failure, and also equipped his bike with key data to help him plan out his ride.
On his stem, he had a table of all the major climbs he’d face in the 100 miles, while his Quarq crankset and Garmin head unit teamed up to offer up feedback on his effort throughout the day. Did Ortenblad use the power data much? “I didn’t dictate the speed on the climbs,” he explained. “You look at it after. I don’t want to see it during the fact, because if it’s some huge number, I’m like, Oh my God, I can’t do this, but when I’m taking pulls, I’ll make sure I’m not going crazy.”
Ortenblad used the information taped to his stem and from his Garmin to help ensure he had the legs when it mattered. “I knew I’d be the most fresh at mile 95 to attack. That was my plan.”
On Saturday, Ortenblad was the man with the plan, and the plan worked.
See the slideshow of Tobin Ortenblad’s Santa Cruz Stigmata bike below the specs:
Tobin Ortenblad’s 2018 Lost and Found Santa Cruz Stigmata “Gravel” Bike Photo Gallery: