For the second year in a row, Tobin Ortenblad will be joining other young cyclocross racers at Eurocross Camp during the Holiday season to race and live in Belgium, the heartland of cross. The 18-year old California Giant Berry Farms/Specialized rider is going into the trip with a simple goal of “getting as much experience” as possible on his first year as an under23 rider.
In 2011, on his final year as a 17/18 junior, Ortenblad blasted onto the national scene midway through the season which led to his first time at the Camp. He followed up his trip with a second-place finish at the USA Cyclocross National Championships, which he called his “best” racing day of his career – so far.
“Last year was a lot of fun, it was cool to get a taste of the racing over in Europe because it really is so much different than the racing here with the number of juniors in the field and the aggression and the speed and then the courses are absolutely insane.” he said of his experience.
The most fun for him was definitely all the different courses. “Coming from a dirt jumping, downhill background, the more technical, harder courses were a lot more fun because if you were had great technical skills you could ride the course really well compared to the guy with the great legs and not a lot of technical skills which sometimes happens here in the United States.”
And the least fun? The cold damp Belgian weather. “I come from Santa Cruz, California where the weather is usually always great and not cloudy and over there, it’s just cold and cloudy and moist and that was just a bit different than my home town so that was kind of hard to deal with but not too bad.”
This time, Ortenblad is going in with some knowledge but once again, will be facing new competitors. “It’s kind of going to be like last year because it’s my first time racing u23 and last year was my first time racing juniors so I know what to expect as far as country goes but I don’t really know what to expect as far as the racing goes because I’m in whole new category again.”
His mental preparation is to not put too much pressure on himself as far results. “Don’t have huge expectations because people are just incredibly fast over there, and be ready to suffer. I expected it to be similar to racing in the pro men field of the USGPs.”
Ortenblad is quite happy with his 2012/13 season which included all the big national races.“So far the season as gone great.” he said. “I’ve been on the podium a couple of times, I’ve beaten a couple of people I didn’t expect to beat my first year racing u23, and it’s been really great so far and it’s been a lot of fun being able to travel all over the United States, for the first time this year I get to go to all the big national races.”
The next big goal is to get selected to Team USA for the 2013 UCI Cyclocross World Championships which will be held in Louisville, KY in February, 2013. “That’s also a big part of going to Eurocrosscamp this year is if you get some decent results over there, it should help making it on to the Worlds team.”
The chances for making the team look good for Ortenblad as well as his teammate Cody Kaiser. “I think things are looking good. At the moment, if we have five spots available, it is looking like Cody Kaiser and Zach McDonald and then I’m usually right behind those two if you exclude Yannick Eckmann. That puts the other three spots up for grabs between me, Drew Dillman, John Johnson, Zane Godby and Jeff Bahnson.”
Not bad for a kid that started racing four years ago, though Ortenblad has been on a bike since he was about five years old. “My neighbor rode for the Yeti Factory downhill team, I would chase him around the block and he’d give me old tires, old parts and stuff.”
“Four years ago I got out of PE in 8th grade to join the high-school mountain bike team and so that’s when I started riding my bike uphill instead of just downhill and over jumps.” he laughed. “We did four mountain bike races and then the team just encouraged me to try cyclocross and then I tried cross, the local CCCX race in the junior field and won my first race which was the first race that I’d ever won so then I really liked it and just carried that out throughout the season.”
And he was hooked. “Ever since then, it’s definitely been my favorite, mainly because it’s just so high intensity, it’s so different, it takes technical skills and speed, and running, just a mix of all these fun things.”
Ortenblad also races on the road and mountain bikes during the year. After Worlds, his next steps include getting his upgrade on the road and possibly collegiate racing.
“The goal for the coming season is to get my cat 1 upgrade on the road and move to a bigger development team like California Giant Berry Farms/Specialized on the road as well and from there just see where it goes because guys are getting pro contracts from CalGiant so that seems like the best next step on the road.”
He added, “I just applied to colleges so depending on where I’ll go, I will probably jump on the collegiate scene, a couple of the same people that I race normally so it should be fun.”
It is always interesting to ask young riders to name one of their favorite riders, it provides a glimpse into how they would like to race in the future.
“My favorite rider is Fabian Cancellara just because of how aggressive he races and how he really takes charge of the race and he doesn’t sit in and wait for a sprint, he likes to make things happen on his own and really go for it. And I think that’s just really cool and it’s fun to watch. When you win the race that way, you really show that you dominated everybody and you deserved to win.”
During his Eurocross Camp trip from December 18 to January 3rd, Ortenblad’s race schedule will probably include the Namur and Zolder World Cups, the GVA Loenhout race and the Super Prestige in Diegem.
To help Ortenblad and his family defray the cost of Eurocrosscamp, the Santa Cruz community is selling raffle tickets online and at the Surf City Cyclo-X race this Sunday where Ortenblad and possibly his teammate Cody Kaiser will be racing.
“Watching the community that has helped me out and seeing their appreciation and seeing that the advice has started to pay off has been really cool.” he said.
Surf City Cyclo-X Event Director Mary Perez started the ball rolling at the CXLA weekend a few weekends ago. “Mary came up to me at LA and wanted to see how much of my cost was covered for cross camp and if I needed help.” explained Ortenblad. “It’s just so awesome that someone would go out of their way to help me out. It’s just this really tightly knit cycling community here and it’s an honor.”