For Tobin Ortenblad, his coach Chris McGovern and his Santa Cruz / Donkey Label Racing program, dwelling on the result of a race, good or bad, is allowed. To a point. Or that is to say, to a bottle.
“When the race is done, we’ve got a “one bottle” rule. After you finish drinking whatever is in that bottle, it’s done,” he said.
Ortenblad’s “one bottle” rule has been put to the test during the unexpected roller coaster ride of emotions Ortenblad has experienced during the last month.
After four races of the US Cup-CX series, Ortenblad was on fire and sitting in the driver’s seat of the chase for the $10,000—which became $12,500 after Charm City—prize. He came into Cincinnati feeling confident with the results to back it up.
Then disaster struck in the Cincinnati Cyclocross mud. Ortenblad finished 14th in Saturday’s C1 at Devou Park and then took a disappointing 11th the next day at Harbin Park. His shot at the top prize in the US Cup-CX series also got mired in the mud and he dropped from first to fourth in the overall series standings.
Although only 23 years old, Ortenblad has raced enough cyclocross to know bad weekends happen. “I had a bad weekend, bad legs, whatever,” he said. “I think the only thing that’s guaranteed in this sport is you’re going to have a bad day. It was just a bad weekend for it to align with.”
Since the USGP folded, riders could hopefully shake off a bad UCI weekend as a missed opportunity for a little money and a few points and get back at it at the next race. With the series, the effect of a bad weekend can be magnified by its oversized impact on the overall standings. As Ortenblad said, his bad weekend came at the worst possible time, with a good deal of money on the line.
Ortenblad did not mince words when talking about Cincy. “It just sucks,” he said. “There’s nothing more beyond that. If it was just a title, it’s like, it’s a title. There was good money, and for a privateer program like mine, I’m not really paying myself a massive salary, so that would have been nice.”
Sliding Back to Form
Cyclocross Magazine spoke with Ortenblad on Saturday in Louisville before the weekend of racing at the Derby City Cup and Pan-American Championships and then again after he returned home to California. Both times we chatted with him, he made it clear he had something to prove on the muddy, technical course at Joe Creason Park in Louisville.
Ortenblad dabbles in some criterium racing during the offseason and we have seen him enjoying races in beautiful NorCal fall conditions. Even though Ortenblad won U23 Nationals in the mud at Asheville and finished fifth in the Elite race in snowy conditions in Hartford, perhaps it is his laid-back California nature that has people a little skeptical when the weather turns foul.
“The other thing that was unfortunate about last week [in Cincy] is it was the first muddy race, so everybody was like ‘Oh Tobin can’t do mud.’ It’s like ‘Ok guys, I had bad legs for one weekend.'”
So Tobin had something to prove in Louisville?
“You could say Tobin has something to prove,” he said before Saturday’s Derby City Cup. “Hopefully everything’s back under me. I do like this course. We were out here Wednesday. We didn’t do very much training because I clearly just needed to take a break. Came out here Wednesday and did some fun riding on the course and came out on Thursday and did the same thing.”
Ortenblad’s approach for the week worked, and his ability to stay present in the moment helped him toss Cincy aside like a finished bidon. On Saturday, he finished just off the podium after getting nipped by Kerry Werner in a sprint. His finish was good enough for third in the US Cup-CX overall standings. The $2,000 prize was not the whole enchilada, but it was something for the young privateer to build on.
“I was stoked to claw my way back onto the US Cup podium after blowing it and losing the lead in a big way in Cincy,” Ortenblad said after the weekend. “Third was cool, but I know I can improve upon that next year.”
Although riders made it abundantly clear the US Cup-CX races were a big deal for them this year, Sunday’s Pan-American Championships were arguably a bigger deal. In our post-race interview with Stephen Hyde, the defending National Champion described the importance winning and wearing the Continental Champion’s jersey. “It’s getting more clout,” said Hyde. “It’s getting more and more special.”
More importantly, although the race is only four years old, it has already become a target for all the top racers in the Americas. Each rider has their own season targets and goals, builds and peaks, but Pan-Ams is a target race that many of them share. A podium at Pan-Ams is one that is well-earned against the top athletes on the top of their respective games.
On Sunday in Louisville, Ortenblad delivered. He got in an early break with Canada’s Michael van den Ham and then held off his friendly rival down the stretch to take second. Not only was Ortenblad back on his game, he had a blast doing it. “Having a bad ride in Cincy was unfortunate because I know people were thinking, ‘Ooh must be the mud,” he said. “I love the mud and I love letting it slide on a ’cross bike. I was thrilled about the conditions in Louisville. Another day of rain would’ve been better if you ask me.”
That bottle on Sunday? It probably tasted sweet.
This fall has been a roller coaster of emotions for Ortenblad. Triumph. Disappointment. Redemption.
With plenty of wins and perhaps a bad race here or there in his future, what did he learn from the experience? After all, being young is all about learning, right?
“The past couple weeks have certainly been a rollercoaster,” he said. “The biggest thing I know to be true in this sport is that highs and lows are a part of cyclocross. You can’t dwell on the past especially when its negative. I always push to stay present in life and racing. I think if you approach anything with that attitude you can’t fail.”
Into the Heart of Cyclocross Season
Several top U.S. stars are headed to Denmark and Germany for the Telenet UCI World Cups. Ortenblad and his privateer program are not making the trip, but he certainly belongs there. Ortenblad is currently 19th in the UCI rankings and has several strong performances against top European talent under his belt this season. He finished third on Saturday night at Jingle Cross and mixed it up at the front of the race in the UCI C2 race at the Trek CX Cup before finishing seventh.
“How do I stay motivated when I’m home you ask?” Ortenblad posed rhetorically. “Well, it’s coastal California and the weather is insane right now. I wake up every day excited to get a cup of coffee in me and go ride. My dad and I do a lot of work behind the scooter while I’m home and we have plenty of local racing to attend while I’m here.” Sounds like he will be okay missing out on the dicey European weather this time of year.
Last season was Ortenblad’s first as an Elite after winning U23 Nationals in Asheville. Although many American eyes were on Stephen Hyde during the 2016 U.S. World Cups, Ortenblad quietly showed promises for a bright future. He finished eighth and tenth at the two Trek CXC Cup races loaded with European talent and took tenth on Day 3 of Jingle Cross. Several more wins and the previously-mentioned fifth at Nationals would follow.
This season, however, there has been no need for flashes of potential. Three US Cup-CX wins and a second at Pan-Ams speak for themselves. So what, if anything, has changed for the Santa Cruz native?
“I wouldn’t say a ton has changed,” said Ortenblad. “Chris [McGovern] and I have continued training as we normally would. We are always tweaking and making new workouts that are a bit more ’cross-specific and applicable to the racing we do. My power numbers and fitness are also both up, but this is just all from having some faith in the training process, I’d say.”
Ortenblad continued, “Experience has also been a huge part of the season’s success as well. This isn’t my first year being able to ride at the front of these races, so I’m making fewer mistakes and also reading the race better than I have been able to in the past. I still do make a mistake from time to time, but acknowledging that, being accountable for it and then correcting it is also something I think I’ve gotten better at. This is probably just an age and maturity thing.”
That experience has come a perfect time for Ortenblad. This year’s racing, especially early in the season, featured a lot of tight battles and group tactics. With the super-duos of Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld.com and Aspire racing, Ortenblad’s confidence and lessons learned have helped him navigate the front of a field stacked against a privateer like himself.
“On top of all that I know that I am the most favored in a sprint finish,” he said. “There is a new dynamic at the front of the UCI races with two sets of teammates. You have Curtis [White] and [Stephen] Hyde then [Spencer] Petrov and [Jeremy] Powers. I know they’re going to play team tactics and they do, so as a solo rider you just have to watch for the right moves and then make the selection. If the race isn’t blowing up on its own, I now have a lot of confidence in just riding smart and waiting until the punch at the end.”
It has been a heck of a month for Ortenblad. A rollercoaster, if you will. Between now and Nationals, he will be enjoying the NorCal weather, racing at Ruts ‘n Guts, Resolution Cross and some local races and getting ready to represent for the West Coast at Reno Nationals.
And if he gets stuck in the ruts at one of those races, well, the next race and a probable podium are just a finished water bottle away.