A Dream Come True

Three weeks out from cross nationals my preparation and focus really ramped up, but in a way I guess the whole season was kind of a build up to this penultimate race. I’m talking bedtime at nine o’clock and early mornings at seven o'clock straight to a quick breakfast then out to train followed by arriving home, eating, napping, and recovering as best I could. 

This year’s course at The Biltmore may have been the best nationals course I had ever ridden. A nice balance of power sections with plenty of slippery, technical descents and off cambers. Pre ride on Friday was short and ultimately unproductive as our practice window was a half hour shared with about two hundred other racers making it hard to lace up one turn to another and dial in the course. Saturday would have to be the day to perfect things. I arrived Saturday as rain began to fall and started the race prep on course. Tires changed from intermediate tread to mud tread as the hard red clay of the estate glazed over and became slippery and unpredictable. I struggled to find grip and lace all the corners together into one good fast coherent lap. Two crashes later and I decided to call it a day. I returned home feeling frustrated and a bit unconfident with my riding. I felt like I didn’t know the course. It was hard mentally, but deep down I knew if I was struggling everybody else was too. Or at least that’s what I told myself. 

Sunday, race day. There was one more pre ride slot in the early morning, I went knowing it was my last opportunity to dial in the course. The rain from the night before turned the hard red clay into nice slippery mud. Three more laps of pre ride at three different tire pressures and all of a sudden it clicked, I had the course down. The hard part now was staying out of my own head. A strong fear of failure kept popping into my head. On race day all I could tell myself was that failing was not an option, it was time to push forward no matter what. Relentless forward progress I told myself, relentless progress. 

The friendly banter among racers at the start was non existent on that day. Too many nerves and too much focus. The U23 race started with a shrill blow of the whistle and we were gone. My plan, take the six lap race and break it up into thirds. The first third plan was to just be at the front of the race, the second was to settle and observe my strengths and more importantly their weaknesses, the final section was waiting for the perfect moment to capitalize on a mistake and go. When a high inside line through the S turns on heckle hill gave me a small gap on Curtis White with two laps to go I attacked. A relentless attack without the slightest glance at what was behind me. When I rolled through the line with a thirteen second gap and one lap to go I knew I had it. I stayed pinned, I saw nothing, I heard nothing, just my bike and the course. 

Tears filled my eyes before I even crossed the finish line to win the national championships on that day. Winning was absolutely nothing short of a dream come true for me. I’ve put so much into this race, so many hours, so many sacrifices, and at this moments it all became worth it. I crossed the line and was swarmed by the best people in my life, my family, my coach, my team, and my friends. To accomplish this in front of all the people that have seen me come so close so many years in a row was one of the most gratifying feelings of my life. 

Going forward from here is another two weeks of focus for the World Championships that are approaching quickly in Heusden-Zolder, Belgium in a little more than two weeks!

Ooh, also just in case you need a good playlist for your next warmup, this one seemed to do the trick for me...

Tobin Ortenblad