First Year Elite

I was expecting this season to be full of firsts. First year as an Elite, first year running my own program, new bikes, and new equipment. On top of that I was hoping to be at a new level of fitness and power as well. Lots of stress, hours, and work went into getting this program on the map this year and thus far it’s been a total success. A big goal of mine as a first year Elite was to continue the forward progress in Europe. I see too many riders graduate from the Under 23 category and lose all momentum in Europe. I didn’t want that to happen this year and that’s why I’m over here right now getting after it in Belgium and Holland again!

Getting over here is pretty much a set routine now. Get on plane, watch movies until you fall asleep, get off plane, grab bags, get picked up and head to the USA compound. We arrive and build bikes, cruise out for a little ride, return back to the house, and then try and stay awake until eight that night to kill the jet lag.

Saturday was our first race, Poldercross Kruibeke, which was considered a “smaller" race. This is funny because unlike the states where I start front row, I start third row even at a “smaller” race. After the whistle is blown I suffer all day to pull off what I consider a mediocre result. I knew the first year over here as an Elite was going to be rough so it’s important to not get overly attached to a numerical results as much as it is important to think about the passage and not the end result.

If you consider yourself a knowledgable cross racer then you’ve probably heard of Superprestige Zonhoven. Perhaps one the most legendary races of the year, Zonhoven will leave you pouring sand out of your shoes and will wreck your legs.

As I pre rode everything seemed normal. An average start stretch into a turn and flyover which then lead into a false flat uphill drag. That topped out into some light sand and then I made the left turn. From there I could see the bowl, actually stadium might be a better word…Thousand of fans were posted up, bass pounded from the speakers, and then I dropped in. Straight down the ominous drop of deep loose sand into a quick chicane and a brief run up the opposing side of the bowl. From there I remounted and lined it up to rip the next deep sandy rut to do it all again.

My performance at Zonhoven certainly wasn’t a head turner. I remained unfazed by a crappy start and figured I could settle in and start picking racers off. That was definitely not the case. The race blew to pieces on lap one. Just as expected the first lap’s pace was blistering and had us strung out one by one in order to ride any sort of lines that had formed in the sand. In the end I never settled into a high enough pace to make any sort of selection and eventually found myself off the back.

photo: Balint Hamvas

I’m always grateful for the opportunities to race these incredible races, but the goal is definitely to turn things around and pull off two good results at the next races over here. Next up we’ve got Kermiscross Ardooie on the 20th and the third world cup in Valkenburg, NL on the 23rd. Until then it’s all chill and preparation.

Huge thanks to Balint Hamvas for contributing all the imagery. See more here.

Tobin Ortenblad