When you think of Santa Cruz, CA what is the first thing that comes to mind? Surfing, fish tacos, Rob Roskopp, and likely if you are here cyclocross. Northern California has long been a hub of cyclocross and Santa Cruz has always produced great riders and great races. Recently Tobin Ortenblad a resident and student of the Santa Cruz cyclocross scene capped off his best season to date by capturing the U23 National Championship in Asheville NC a few weeks ago. Tobin is currently in Europe having just raced the final World Cup in Hoogerhiede and is now preparing for the World Championship in Zolder this coming weekend. We caught up with Tobin to see how life as a national champion is treating him back home and over in Europe.
Here we are a couple weeks after your win at Nationals, how has life changed for you? no more waiting at lines at your favorite burrito spot? your own VIP booth at the club?
Well obviously after winning U23 nats I went out and got a huge chest tat. You know a big American flag and a bald eagle that says, “2016 Champ.” In all seriousness though, coming back to the cycling community in Santa Cruz has been incredible. So many people are so happy to see things finally come together for me, the local shop I’ve been working at since a freshman in high school bought me a cake and we did a little viewing party where we had a ton of customers, friends, and family over to watch the race on the shop’s big screen one night. I also made the front page of the local paper which was cool, they finally covered something other than surfing and skating.
Living in Santa Cruz you have a lot at your disposal as far as outdoor activities go, how did you end up racing cyclocross and not surfing or becoming one of the Lost Boys?
Living in SC has definitely afforded me the opportunity to get into so many other sports and I did try most of them. I always rode a bike, although I always really wanted to be good at skating…which never happened despite my best efforts. I played baseball for a long time before I got sick of bench warming and ultimately decided it didn’t take enough physical effort to be considered a real sport anyways. Soccer was cool until I got kicked off my last team in middle school for getting into a fist fight at practice. Throughout all these different sports and hobbies (baseball), the bike was always there and I always rode it. I didn’t start racing until 8th grade where I figured out I could get out of my middle school P.E. class if I rode with the high school mtb team. So I was getting out of middle school early every other day without a P.E. class weighing down my schedule and started riding with the local high school team which eventually evolved into xc racing, then cross. Prior to riding with the high school team all I did was dirt jump and ride downhill, so the first day of practice doing hill repeats with the high school team was quite a kick in the teeth.
How difficult is it during the season living on the west coast with so many of the big races taking part on the east coast through out the year?
Living on the West Coast during cross season is ideal because we don’t have seasons and you can train outside year round without too much clothing and misery. Although there are plenty of local races, the lack of UCI races sucks. You have guys on the East Coast getting UCI point every weekend while I’m over here pinning it for fifty bucks and a pint glass. We try to get out to the East Coast as much as possible, but its rough. Its a long flight and it’s not particularly cheap either.
Hoogerhiede was just a few days ago, that course looked horribly painful. In your opinion what is the biggest difference between the racing in Europe and the racing here in the states.
Hoogerheide was brutal last weekend. The course was so heavy and thick and the competition wasn’t a particularly soft bunch either. The biggest difference between the US and here is that these guys race insanely hard courses with best in the world competition every weekend. Just like jumping into the U23s from the Jr. ranks you’re instantly facing much harder competition and you’ll either sink or swim. These guys go blow for blow every weekend and eventually they start to swim.
If given the opportunity would you consider racing full time in Europe over racing in the US?
If I had the opportunity and support to race a full season over here in Europe I would take it. To become one of the best in the world you would need to be over here racing with the best in the world. Although I love the racing over here I think I would struggle with the training. I’ll admit it, California has made me pretty soft to training in inclement weather. Most of the time in the winter its pretty grey and rainy over here which is rad on race day, but on training days its kind of a bummer….My coach is going to give me crap once he reads this.
Belgium has beer and frites trucks but do they have sweet potato tacos or falafel?
Beer and frites are pretty much just what the people want that are coming out to watch and get crazy at these races. You wouldn’t expect the NFL stadium to serve sweet potato tacos and vegan acai bowls….cross in Europe is like football in America.
I hear there are giant dance parties after the races in Europe right at the course, do you think this is something we should start doing here?
The big dance parties are a thing over here, except for they’re not as glamorous as they sound. Imagine a bunch of chubby middle age men that have had too much Jupiler throughout the day of bike racing and are now all grinding around in a way over-crowded tent with crappy techno blasting. I feel like we’ve tried to do this in the states and it just ends up being a bunch of skinny cyclists standing around talking about watts and grams. Maybe our efforts haven’t been strong enough to promote the right vibes though?
Speaking of parties, Worlds is coming up this weekend, how are the sensations? With it being at Zolder, a course you’ve already raced this year, does it help the confidence?
At this point Worlds is less than a week away and I’m doing everything I possibly can to prime the legs for glory on Sunday. I got home from Nats and got pretty sick the second I relaxed and let my guard down after the big win. The following week was filled with crappy training, tea, couches with blankets, and Netflix. Hoogerheide definitely woke the legs back up so I’m pretty pumped for Worlds, now. Having already raced that course about five times is confidence inspiring for sure. I knew what to train for and I know what to expect. It’s going to be flat out, but I feel like I know where to make my efforts count with all my experience with the past races.
You got some solid results this year racing with the big boys, 4th at Providence day 2, top 10 both days in Louisville, is next year your break out year where Tobin Ortenblad gets mentioned in the same breath as JPow and Hyde?
This year was a huge step forward for me in the results department, but next year needs to be better. I want to be battling for podium spots at every race, not just UCI points. I’m 110% committed to cross as my main discipline at this point and next season that will be more than evident. I’ve got some ideas for new teams as I graduate into the Elite field so there should be some excitement there as well.
Ok time for some hard hitting journalism, you are a music guy so lets get your top 5 albums from last year. not singles or playlist I need full records.
I am totally a music guy, so I’m glad you asked this. Best albums of 2015…..Now there’s a great question. Okay here you go:
-A little more mellow but I love every track on this album:
City and Colour – If I Should Go Before You
-My dad and I both love this album:
Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats – Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats
-You want some music that will make you win a bike race? This is it, especially the song “Pop Feat. LINKS”
Mord Fustang – 9999 In 1
-These guys are a little less well known but as so rad:
Hermitude – Dark Night Sweet Light
-This guys is doing big stuff and has a super unique style. Love it:
GRiZ – Say It Loud
Anyone you would like to holler at while we’re here?
Well obviously I’d be nowhere without the support of my coach, family, and friends. This year is a little different though, my team California Giant Berry Farms – Specialized will no longer be around next year and so I’d really like to thank Anthony Gallino, the team manager and VP of sales at California Giant Berry Farms, for absolutely everything he has done for the sport of cycling and all the young cyclist that have passed through his program. This team has given me everything I could have ever asked for to go from a chubby little high school kid to the U23 American National Champion. This team has spent countless hours and dollars on me and I’ll never forget that. This sport needs more passionate individuals like Anthony Gallino.
[Editor’s note: Follow interviewer and photographer Brett Rothmeyer on Instagram at @brettrothmeyer and check out his photos at thefurthestpointfromhome.tumblr.com. You can follow Tobin on Twitter @mctubbin and at www.tobinortenblad.com.]