The Elite Men’s races at the 2019 Verge Northampton International provided two days of exciting racing. Two of the riders right in the middle of those races were Tobin Ortenblad (Santa Cruz / Donkey Label Racing) and Travis Livermon.
On Day 1, a big group of riders stuck together, and Ortenblad rose to the top to take the win.
On Day 2, Ortenblad broke out to a lead, but after a flat tire slowed him down, Livermon joined to make it a two-up battle. The two riders battled for position into the final corners before Ortenblad made a move and secured the win for the second-straight day.
Cyclocross Magazine contributor Taylor Jones sat down with the two on Sunday after their thrilling Day 2 finish. You can read what they had to say in the transcripts below.
For more from the Verge Northampton International weekend, also see Jones’ interviews with Caroline Nolan and Caitlin Bernstein.
Interview: Tobin Ortenblad, 2019 Verge Northampton International
Cyclocross Magazine: Talk to us a little about how things went for you in Northampton.
Tobin Ortenblad: They went as well as they could have, which was the big goal. I was definitely skipping Pan-Ams to come here was to try to scoop up two wins. I was stoked to be able to make that happen.
It seemed like it was going to be two different days of racing. First, there was just a big, tactical eight-man group all day, came out to a sprint. Today, from the gun I had a pretty big gap and tried to hold it. I had a little mishap and a mechanical which brought down the 25-30 second gap to like 3-5 seconds immediately. Then there were a tactical last two laps.
CXM: At the front, you kind of put the hammer down at the beginning. Greg Gunsalus went with you. You opened up a pretty big gap on the field. At that point, what was your mindset? Hard effort and keep going and just kind of dare people to ride across to you?
TO: Yeah, I wasn’t planning on going crazy, but all of a sudden I had a gap and I knew that if I had a big enough gap, no one was going to take it up on their own. So then you get that hesitation, that lull. Then that’s all it takes.
CXM: Then you had a mechanical, but it was pretty close to the pit so you were able to come in, grab a bike and keep going. At that point, Travis Livermon was just a few seconds behind you. What were the dynamics at that point from your perspective?
TO: The lap I had the mechanical was on four to go. When we came in with three to go, he hadn’t made complete contact yet. He was probably like 3 seconds off, so I just tried to crack him. Just go as hard as I could because I know, being in his chasing position, that it sucks when they’re right there and you still have to be giving it that 110%.
So I tried to see if I could just crack him and I was hurting pretty bad too, so he did just come across eventually. He sat on me for about a lap, gave it a pretty hard attack on the last lap. I think we were both softened up at that point, so it was nice to be able to follow his move and catch some draft. It definitely was like, if I made one mistake he was gonna roll away with it.
CXM: Talk us through. You came into the last bit right before the finish. For folks that don’t know, you’re coming in out of some twisty turns, like a half pinwheel type deal. Then you have a left-hander. From there its probably, what 200 meters to the line?
TO: Its short, probably 100 meters.
CXM: So what was your thought process there? Just go as hard as you could and win the corner?
TO: Yeah. Travis had me kind of gapped in the forest, if I’m being honest. I was hurting, but then I took some corners really well and just came right back onto his wheel. For people who don’t know its a really hard straightaway, a couple hard corners, another really hard straightaway, this big, looping, double apex left into a right.
I was able to go underneath him, but when you go under someone you push wide, so he was setting up to go underneath me in the next corner and he almost did, but there was another corner after that. I took the inside, then I was outside. On the next corner I was back on the inside, and he was on the outside.
CXM: So that was it. You led the sprint out from there?
TO: So that was it. You can kind of manipulate them if they’re outside. Just come up hard on the tape and stay on the inside for the next corner. Then it was, like he’d have to have such a wind-up sprint, it would be impressive if someone could come out in that finish line sprint.
CXM: So, the thought process of not going to Pan-Ams was bank some fitness, bank some points. These two weekends in Massachusetts, its obviously a success, its what you came out here to do.
TO: Yeah, it felt good to set the goal and do it and get some wins. I haven’t won a UCI race in almost two years. I have no illusions, some of the big guys weren’t here, but that was the point. Just come out here and lock in a front row start for Nationals, get some fitness. I think I did both those things, so its a big success.
CXM: Nice. So now you go home, you’re going to race California State Championships next weekend?
TO: Yeah, we have District Champs, it’s not a UCI race or anything, then Singlespeed Worlds, actually. Then Dallas, then Nationals. So this is it for UCI racing until the week before Nationals.
CXM: Now it’s just a little more racing, a little bit of recovery and just try to dial things in?
TO: Yeah, no doubt. I have nice weather at home to train all week. Like, 75 degrees and sunny, so I’ll take that.
CXM: Bring the 75 and sunny to Seattle!
CXM: Thanks for catching up with us, good racing this weekend. We’ll look for you to be mixing it up out there at Nationals.
TO: Fingers crossed!
Interview: Travis Livermon, 2019 Verge Northampton International
Cyclocross Magazine: It’s nice to see you back out here, you took a couple of weeks off from doing UCI races. Talk about how the weekend went for you up here in Northampton.
Travis Livermon: It was my first time here, it was a lot of fun. The course is a ton of fun. I don’t know that it necessarily suits my strengths but still a lot of fun. Very well put together, which is great.
Yesterday’s race, it just didn’t come together for me. I took a spill early but was able to catch up easily enough. I was trying to push the pace hard through the middle of the race, which I don’t think was the right thing to do, given the way that the course rides. Then I didn’t quite have it there in the finish. I think there were still eight of us that went into the last lap together.
CXM: Talk about the dynamic of that a little bit because that’s really not something that you see all that much. In some of the early season races like Charm City or DCCX, you’ll have some small groups at the beginning and they kind of break up pretty quickly. Yesterday everything stuck together for mostly the duration of the race.
TL: Yeah, it’s hard to say exactly what it is. Its a very wide course, but there’s a lot of turns. All the straightaways are pretty close together so you could really push it and maybe come out and get a 20-foot gap or something. Then the straights are so wide open it would come back together. There’s always someone who has a push and a lot of people who can sit on. It’s hard to string together a lot of hard efforts. I think that keeps it together.
CXM: What was your game plan yesterday with it being group slash pack racing? What was your thought going into the last lap or two? Were you content for it to come down to a big sprint or were you waiting for someone to throw a big attack?
TL: I wanted it to blow apart, so that’s why I was pushing hard those middle three to four laps. The last two to three laps, I just sat in the group and kind of figured it was going to be a sprint at that point. I realized, compared to hammering on the front it was a lot easier to sit in the group and follow moves. Personally, I think I wasted a lot of energy doing that and then didn’t have it in the finish.
CXM: So, I guess we can go to today. Today, you were second in a pretty tight finish with Tobin [Ortenblad] but it was a really interesting dynamic early in the race. Tobin and Greg Gunsalus went to the front, big effort, created a big gap at the front. What went through your mind when you saw Tobin kind of ride out off the front.
TL: It was kind of weird. The course, even though it was reversed, seemed like it would ride the same as yesterday but it totally didn’t. The race was totally different. So when [Ortenblad] was doing that, it’s like a red flag, you know, because he’s probably the strongest person here. He won yesterday and he’s got a gap like that.
At the same time, I was kind of thinking maybe the group is the smarter place to be. Then a big push late in the race could bring it down and he [Ortenblad] will have wasted energy. But it blew apart quickly, and I realized I needed to push hard to chase him.
CXM: It fell apart behind you, but it kind of paid off, because you made a big, solo push. Tobin had a mechanical then after that he only had a 3-5 second gap on you and you were kind of able to hang with him. So at that point, the dynamics of the race completely changed to basically a two-up race.
TL: Yeah. It did cross my mind to not quite close up to him and leave a 5-second gap there. I knew when I caught him, the pace would drop and he is a better sprinter than me, definitely. I would have preferred the pace to stay really high and the sprint not be so powerful, but I thought it was kind of a gamble so I closed it up to him.
Really, the pace stayed high for the most part. We took it easy on a few of the straights. We kept pushing, and the last lap, I pushed really hard. I really hit it going into the woods hoping to get a gap. If he slipped up on anything and I could just get 10 feet that would have been it, but he didn’t slip up. So we were tight coming into all the straights on the finish and that was it. We passed each other I don’t know how many times, it was fun kind of doing the inside, outside, high, low lines on each other but needed another corner I guess.
CXM: What’s next for you? You’re going home but you’re coming back out for Supercross?
TL: Yup, I’m going to go home, but I am going to leave all my stuff up here. I’ll fly home tomorrow, on Friday I’ll fly back up. Drive over to Supercross.
CXM: So you’ve got Supercross, then we’ll see you in Hendersonville, then are you doing anything between that and Nationals? Are you taking a break?
TL: No, there are two weeks there where there is racing but its not really that easy for me to get to it. We’ll see. That’s kind of how I’ve been doing the season. I keep telling myself if I get to the point where I’m really flying then I’ll travel more. I’ve kind of ended up somewhere in the middle.
CXM: This season so far, how would you rate it? It’s been a success or you’ve still got some things you want to check off your to-do list?
TL: I definitely have more things I’d like to do. That’s why I’m still racing. It’s been good. I want to do better, but everyone wants to do better. We’ll see. Hopefully next year I can use the things I’ve learned this year and improve on that.
CXM: Thanks for catching up and we’ll see you in Hendersonville.
TL: Thank you.