Hanging Up My Racing Shoes

It's been a hell of a ride. I’ll be 'retiring' from elite racing at the end of the 2017 season, likely capping things off at Iceman Cometh in November. This is a decision that I’ve come to over many months, and while I am still having a lot of fun racing my bike, I know that the time is right to step down and move on to the next chapter. My motivations have changed, and I’m more interested in exploring new, unique places on two wheels than I am in chasing another National Championship or World Cup result. Simply put, the competitive fire doesn't burn like it once did. To be honest, I’m having more fun than ever riding my bike, but I attribute that to spending more time pursuing new challenges with friends than doing hill-repeats in search of my physical and mental limits. I've been racing competitively for 18 years, which at just 28 years old seems completely insane. I’ve achieved many of the dreams I had as a kid, I've traveled the world widely, and met incredible people and some of my best friends through this sport. I am blessed to have had so many incredible opportunities. 

This certainly isn't to say that I am leaving the sport. My role will change, but I hope to forever be a part of this community; y’all mean too much for me to ever want to leave it. I’m going to continue coaching, and working with our numerous development teams, to ensure that the next generation of riders can have the the same opportunities that I’ve had. I’m sure you’ll see me out at local CX races, a few enduros and who knows, I might even find myself jumping into a marathon or stage race here or there. But I’ll have a different set of goals, maximum fun instead of the top step. I'm hoping to put a few fun bike-related projects together next summer as well.

The next big goal for me is Medical School, and eventually Business School as well. This is something I have been thinking about in some fashion for many years, but my vision has solidified over the past year. As some of you know, I grew up in a medical household, and that was my first introduction to what medicine can accomplish in a community. But its been my own experiences over the past decade that have truly clarified this path. I believe that medicine is the best way for me to meet my goals of creating a fulfilling career, contributing in a meaningful way to my community, and pursuing the science and art of care that I am so passionate about. With the added education that comes from Business School, I will have a skillset that should allow me to guide healthcare organizations in ways that positively impact the healthcare of my community and region. This is what I aspire to accomplish in this next chapter.

I’ve applied to many schools across the US at this point, and while I have not yet been accepted (interview season takes place between September and March), I have a good feeling about my chances. And if I’m not accepted for a 2018 matriculation, I’ll need to bust my ass in the coming months to ensure I am a better candidate for 2019. I'm committed to this. I don’t want to try to carry the added pressure of trying to compete at a high level while I pursue these goals. It's just one more reason I feel like it’s time for me to step down from racing. 

There’s no way I can thank all of you for what you’ve done to make this journey possible… There are too many of you to name. But I would like to extend a special thank you to Jason Jablonski, my coach for the past 14 years, and to Daimo for being the best friend and mechanic one could ask for. They've always been there when I needed them. Thank you Julia Violich, Jim Miller, and Marc Gullickson for believing in me when many did not, and Adam Pulford for always having my back. Corrine, thank you for all your love, support, and putting up with my travel. And finally, my parents, Tom and Jill, who instilled a work ethic that's helped me achieve so much, and the belief that anything is possible. You all rock, I couldn't have done any of this without you guys. Much love. 

Stephen

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The best week of the Season: BC Bike Race

Photo: Margus Riga, Day 6 Squamish

Photo: Margus Riga, Day 6 Squamish

BC Bike Race has the power to change lives. I know, because it has changed mine. I’ve been fortunate to ride incredible trails all over the globe, but never have I been part of a mountain bike event that is so moving. Like most good things in life, BCBR isn’t just about moment, it’s about the journey. The sinuous singletrack, resting above the ocean and below snowcapped.  Coastal Range is almost beyond description, but it’s the people I’ve shared the journey with on those trails that truly made it special.

Sechelt, at the Sneddons, Photo: Margus Riga

Sechelt, at the Sneddons, Photo: Margus Riga

This years event took us from Cumberland, BC, to Whistler over seven stages. We traversed the Sunshine Coast, North Shore and Squamish in-route. Most evenings involved a ferry ride crossing the fjords, and every community we landed in provided a different atmosphere. The terrain changed as the week went by, every day was something different. We rode what I believe to be the best single track in the world, and without question the best single track anyone has ever raced on. Every day the trails took my breath away. You have to ride this stuff to believe it!

Photo: Margus Riga, Day 7 Whistler

Photo: Margus Riga, Day 7 Whistler

Some people thrive during the week, and others are just there to survive, but there isn’t anyone who doesn't have a smile on their face. This year, that again made a powerful impression on me. I fell in love with this sport as a kid because of the freedom it provided and the places it took me, but I eventually reached a point while racing on the World Cup over the past decade where I felt that the result was all that mattered. I know many riders who see themselves only as good as their last race. Where is the joy in that?

Photo: Dave Silver, Day 1 Cumberland

Photo: Dave Silver, Day 1 Cumberland

In 2016 I raced BCBR for the first time, and being absorbed by everyone’s immense positivity each day, no matter the conditions or obstacles, was a fierce reminder to me that is about the experience, not the result. I learned a lot from some of the slowest people in the race. In 2016, I struggled physically and mentally; I had a hard time savoring the ride each day and being patient with how the race played out. I didn’t know where we were going, what the trails and days held in store for me, or how my body would hold up after months of travel and a huge Olympic disappointment leading up to the race. Too often I tried to force things, and I burnt matches when I didn’t need to.

Photo: Dave Silver, Final Podium Whistler

Photo: Dave Silver, Final Podium Whistler

This year, I savored the journey before the race even began. In 2017 I traveled with Geoff Kabush (who eventually won the race), and Katerina Nash (the women's solo winner), and we stayed with friends on Vancouver Island, the Sunshine Coast, and in Squamish. Typically riders stay in the tent city, allowing BCBR to manage all the logistics, but after an incredibly wet year in 2016 I wasn’t going to take the change of sleeping each night in a great swamp. And honestly, it was about the most fun way I could imagine it going down.

Photo: Margus Riga

Photo: Margus Riga

Geoff and I were very evenly matched all week, and so despite throwing blow after blow at each other on the bike, we both climbed into the same car and shared dinner together each night. We are friends, and there’s something special about sharing a meal together after trying to waste one another in the single track all morning. Likewise, Katerina’s Clif teammate, Maghalie, made her work everyday for the overall GC, but joined us many evenings for ocean swims and dinner on the patio. How often does that happen?? Never in my normal racing world. At most races we are sequestered away in our hotels and insulated from the world, often only seeing friends on the starting line. So BCBR is a change of pace very desperately needed.

Photo: Margus Riga, Stage 5 North Van

Photo: Margus Riga, Stage 5 North Van

About ten minutes into Stage 2 in Powell River, we had a black bear run out onto the course in front of the group, and those of us at the front started shouting “Bear!”. Troy Wells, nicknamed ‘Rudy Bear’ starting looking around, asking why we were yelling at him! “No Rude, there’s a bear on the course!”. Just like the other hundreds of black bears I’ve seen over the years, we only saw this one’s ass, because it was high-tailing away from us as fast as possible. Freaking cool though, and something that just doesn’t happen in Los Angeles.

Photo: Dave Silver, Stage 2 Powell River

Photo: Dave Silver, Stage 2 Powell River

During stage 4 from Sechelt to Langdale, Sam Shultz, Geoff, and I were racing at the front—We entered the woods for a descent after a long muscle-y climb, and it was one for the books. We were absolutely shredding, and Sam was showing off by throwing huge table tops off little natural hits the entire way down. When we reached the the bottom it took a moment before we stopped giggling and realized we were still racing. After the race, Sam exclaimed that it was the best piece of trail he’d ever raced, maybe the best he’d ever ridden. That kind of stuff just doesn’t happen anywhere else.

Photo: Dave Silver, Stage 7 Whistler

Photo: Dave Silver, Stage 7 Whistler

Geoff opened up some time on me during North Vancouver’s Stage 5, and again on Stage 6 in Squamish. Having lived in the area for years, he knows those trails as well as anyone, and made use of that local knowledge. He’s as sharp as they come, and has been racing for nearly as long as I have been alive. I was able to finish the week with a stage win in Whistler however, and though it wasn’t enough to move me into the overall lead too, it was a bit of a consolation prize. Second on the week overall, along with a couple of stage victories—pretty good if you ask me. But again, more valuable than anything, I left the race with a bag full of incredible memories, new friends, and a renewed appreciation for the sport and community that has given me so much over the decades.

Photo: Margus Riga Stage 3 Earls Cove

Photo: Margus Riga Stage 3 Earls Cove

One of the most memorable highlights of the week wasn’t made on the bike, but was a special evening when the Sneddon family invited a group of us over for dinner on the beach in Sechelt. The Sneddon’s have been on the Sunshine Coast for generations, and Kris is a longtime member of the Kona team. They've built and maintained many of the trails we race over the week, and they are at the core of the BCBR community. For us, this annual dinner is a chance to all break bread together, dip into the ocean, and reflect on the first half of the race. Its an opportunity to set the mood for what’s ahead, and remind ourselves to stop, breath, and enjoy the experience. At the end of the week, or any ride really, those memories are all we have to go home with, so we might as well make them good. I left the race full of incredible memories, new friends, and a renewed appreciation for the sport and community that has given me so much over the decades.

Photo: Margus Riga, Stage 1 Cumberland

Photo: Margus Riga, Stage 1 Cumberland

Photo: Margus Riga, Stage 1 Cumberland

Photo: Margus Riga, Stage 1 Cumberland

Photo: Margus Riga, Stage 3 Earls Cove

Photo: Margus Riga, Stage 3 Earls Cove

Road Trippin'

Carson City, photo: Joe Lawwill

Carson City, photo: Joe Lawwill

Mt. Adams, photo: Ryan Minton

Mt. Adams, photo: Ryan Minton

Ahh the great American road trip… a monument to the expanse of the USA and our sense of independence. When I started racing nearly fifteen years ago, every race was a road trip; we drove to Sea Otter, we drove to Deer Valley and down to Mammoth. We’d hit Yosemite or Crater Lake or the Great Salt Flats as we crisscrossed the Western US. But over the past ten years, I’ve been traveling at a frenetic pace, jet-setting across the globe, chasing UCI points and World Cups, often hitting two or three continents in as many weeks. All that has left a lot less time to enjoy one of our favorite institutions, the road trip.

Missoula XC , photo: Allen Steckemest

Missoula XC , photo: Allen Steckemest

Carson City, photo: Joe Lawwill

Carson City, photo: Joe Lawwill

This year I’m not chasing those World Cups, and racing seems to be happening at little more comprehendible pace. I think that my quality of life seems to be inversely proportional to my frequent flier status. And finally I’ve had some time for a good ‘ol road trip. 

Over ten days my Subaru’s tires rolled over fifteen hundred miles or so of tarmac, crossing from Bellingham to my parents place in Cashmere, to Missoula, MT, down to Trout Lake, WA, then to Bend, OR and finally, Carson City, NV. I traveled from coastal rain forests, across fertile farmlands, to the Rocky Mountains, through the Cascades and on to the high desert. 

In Missoula, I checked in with old friends, including my childhood best friend and #1 partner in crime, Allen. I skipped a short track race to go for an actual ride instead of chasing around in little circles. Ryan Douglas came along, another old face from Bozeman I’d last seen when I left Durango in 2010… The guy finally went to law school, he's gonna be terribly good at it. And we had an all-time tour guide and Ron Jeremy doppelgänger (until he shaves his mustache) Sam Schultz. It was so sweet to be riding with friends instead of riding around that gravel parking lot on Sunday morning. This sport (and life) is all about who you share it with right?

Missoula XC, photo: Allen Steckmest

Missoula XC, photo: Allen Steckmest

Carson City, photo: Joe Lawwill

Carson City, photo: Joe Lawwill

From Missoula, I drove seven hours (only stopping briefly once to pee) straight to Trout Lake, WA. I arrived at Spencer Paxson’s parents place just in time for some homemade pizza and a good look at Mt. Adams (our next day’s objective) as the sun was setting on its flanks. Spencer couldn’t join Ryan and I, which was a bit of a heart-breaker, but c’est la vie. I wouldn't have wanted to subject the father to be to a 4am wake up anyways. He needs all the sleep he can get over the next two weeks…. But Ryan and I suffered through it so we could go harvest corn all afternoon on Mt. Adams. At 12,000+ ft its the second highest peak in the Cascades and one that I’ve always dreamed about going up. And it did NOT disappoint. it seemed like all of Washington was under a layer of clouds below us, but on the mountain, it was sunny and warm. It stayed frozen above 11,000ft but everything below that was amaze-balls. I think that’s the technical term for how good the skiing was. The sensation of skiing thousands of vertical feet at a time, down the seemly unending expanse of a glacier, has to be about as close to flying at you can get without wings; there's nothing but mountain and sky below.

Mt. Adams, photo: Ryan Minton

Mt. Adams, photo: Ryan Minton

From Trout Lake it was onwards to Bend, OR, for The Blitz; an hour long race from near Mt. Bachelor down to Bend. Its half enduro, half XC, with a big stepdown at the end. Oh and your time doesn't stop until you finish your beer at the end. So sick. It was about as fun as any race I’ve ever done. And yeah, I hit the big step down. I didn't manage to make it out of the first bracket in the arm wrestling comp however, so I gotta work on that before beach season is here in full swing.

The Blitz! photo: Rudy Bear

The Blitz! photo: Rudy Bear

Carson City, photo: Joe Lawwill

Carson City, photo: Joe Lawwill

I think that a few of my all-time favorite drives have taken me through south eastern Oregon, and so I relished the solo drive through that lonely corner of the county, listening to Stegner’s Angle of Repose, and watching hundreds of miles of sage and mountains pass by my windows. I rolled into Carson City in time to take a lap on the weekends XC course, as the sun was setting, and it was just purrrfect. I’ve driven through Carson City a dozen times or more, and never even considered stopping to ride, but I will next time I come through town, and you should too. The racing was HOT, and I rolled the dice a bit in the XC. Fortunately things panned out for me. I set the pace early, and ended up riding with Keegan and Howie until part of the way through our second lap, and then when the two mountain goats rode away, I just had to put my head down and go. It was a long two hours being solo, but somehow, it suck and I finished third, nearly 4 hours after we’d started. I definitely did it the hard way. 

Carson City Fat Tire Crit, photo: Bill Freeman

Carson City Fat Tire Crit, photo: Bill Freeman

I love what promotors like Sadow at Epic Rides and Eric at The Blitz are doing for the sport right now, and the turnout, media attention, and events atmospheres all demonstrate that a lot of others feel the same way. It’s refreshing for me to personally be racing in some events where people are really excited about the courses and venues, and at this chapter in my career, I’d prefer to race 50 miles over varied terrain, than in a little 3 mile XC loop any day. But I do worry about where this leaves us for athlete development. As a coach, I take issue with sending young athletes out on long, hot 4+ hour races, particularly when many of their goals are more in line with a tradition XCO type event. They want to race World Cups and compete against the best in the World, just as I did when I was 19 years old. And its damn important that they do! It’s not to say that there aren’t still really good XCO races in the US, but I think its clear to anyone who’s paying attention that type of racing is falling out of fashion, and we are progressing (or regressing) to longer, marathon type events here in the US. People talk about they ‘hayday’ of MTB making a resurgence, and that would be awesome, but it doesn't solve the fundamental that we are slowly loosing a the platform for young XC riders to develop in an environment thats most conducive to them racing against the best at the World Cup level. And so short of sending every kid who shows some potential to European and Canadian training camps, what do we do? More road trips?

Carson City XC, photo: Corrine Malcolm

Carson City XC, photo: Corrine Malcolm

Carson City, photo: Joe Lawwill 

Carson City, photo: Joe Lawwill 

Oh right, and we went swimming in Lake Tahoe which was as awesome as I remember it being

Oh right, and we went swimming in Lake Tahoe which was as awesome as I remember it being

Happy Birthday from Whiskey 50

Photo: Joe Lawwill

Photo: Joe Lawwill

It sure wasn't a dance party and bottle service, but damn I had a good time in Prescott, AZ over my birthday weekend racing Whiskey 50. There's not much like slugging it out over 50 miles of dry, loose, desert single-track with about 100 of your friends... Maybe not everyones picture of a celebration, but for me its about as good a way as I can think of to celebrate mountain biking, and becoming a 'year older'. 

Photo: Bill Freeman

Photo: Bill Freeman

This is the kind of racing I'm excited about these days... its old school. Long days mean that there are so many different ways a race can play out. A single mistake doesn't end your day, and you not only have to be fit, but smart. Sometimes it feels like XCO racing (think World Cups) is so much about 'go 'til you blow' for anyone who isn't racing in the top 5; you've just gotta hang on... but if you race like that in a Marathon type event, it might mean walking up some lonely, dirt road 20 miles from home with leg cramps and a flat tire. That's nobody's idea of a good time, so you have to gauge your effort, and know the strengths of the people you're racing against.

Photo: Joe Lawwill

Photo: Joe Lawwill

It feels like there are just so many more people coming out these types of events, which means awesome spectators, and a chance to hang out with the amateur racers that are the core of this sport we love. We've come full circle within the sport; What we now call Marathon and Enduro, is really just the type of riding that kicked things off decades ago; pushing yourself out of your comfort zone on the way up, and racing against your friends on the way down. If you can get out into the backcountry a little deeper than you would on a normal Tuesday, even better. I get the impression that people are choosing to race a little less that they used to (fewer race-days, and there's data to back this up) but really embracing the experience when they do make that time and monetary investment. Thats why bike festivals like the Epic Rides Series, are blowing up. Live music, fun courses, cool places and beer gardens... If you're going to spend money on travel and take time off work, whatever you're doing better be worth it, and more and more it seems like people are deciding these kinds of events fit the bill. I dig it, because that means I get to do more races like this too :)

Photo: Joe Lawwill

Photo: Joe Lawwill

I bled out my eyeballs during the Fat Tire crit on my Birthday... I couldn't do anything more than yo-yo off the back of the chase group, but I turned things around in the XC race on Sunday. Maybe I just needed to blow out the system, but things really felt like they were turning over. I had a mechanical early, just before we hit the single track (someone slammed into my rear derailleur and bent the hanger), so I had some serious traffic to work through, but made it back up into the top ten by the time we descended 10 miles into an aptly named Skull Valley. On the way out, The German and I rode away from the group we were with, and bridged to the group racing for top 5, but I couldn't quite hold the pace over the top of the hour long climb, and ultimately had to chase down the final descent, climb Cramp Hill, and road-grind to the finish line alone. Considering that I can through most of the field, I had to be happy with 9th... in the money, my first Whiskey 50 in the books. I can't wait for more of this in the coming months!

Photo: Joe Lawwill

Photo: Joe Lawwill

Sea Otter ( aka. Salt Beaver)

Another year and another Sea Donkey... And other 7th place! If you think you've read this story before, its likely that you have. Despite all the controlled chaos that is Sea Otter, I do love this event. There's no other time of the year that you can expect to race, and go directly to a dance party, DJ'd by a good friend with dancing bananas and free beer.  There's also never a time that you can expect to spend as much time on your feet, or have lips that are so chapped.... It's always windy, you usually get sunburnt and god its good to see everyone!

Photo by Joe Lawwill

Photo by Joe Lawwill

 

It seems like every year here, the racing is a crap shoot... this year wind was the mean mistress, and the course was mega fast and flat. It was group racing at its finest. There wasnt anything technical that could really create any separation (other than an uphill sandpit, what is this golf?) and it was easier to sit on wheels and follow than ever try to attack out into the wind. I stuck it out in the front group of about 6-7 until lap 4 when a little mechanical bobble left me chasing. It was stupid, I was shifting under pressure on the most high speed and bumpy part of the course... Totally did it to myself. But It meant that I got to spend the second half of the day in the chase group. I ended up sprinting in for 9th, solid, but left me wanting more.

Photo by Joe Lawwill

Photo by Joe Lawwill

Fortunately for me, I've got more coming this weekend. Whiskey 50 is on tap, I'm actually sitting in the airport right now, and I am PUMPED! This is the kind of racing that I am most excited about these days, and its gonna be rad. I've tried to make it out here for a long time, but the timing has never been right. Last year I was on the road for a month, and had flown nearly 30k miles during those four weeks, and was too shelled and bailed at the last moment. This year though... Its gonna be great! Mostly because what I am most psyched about these days is riding in incredible places with good people, and having an awesome time during the process. Big circles this weekend in place of all the little ones we did at sea otter; lets go!

Photo by Joe Lawwill

Photo by Joe Lawwill

Bonelli Park US Cup

This has to be the umteenth time we've raced in Bonelli Park over the past decade; maybe the only race I've attended more is Sea Otter Classic. I've won here, I've lost here, we've raced it hot, cold, rainy, and dusty, and one time Mitch Hoke contracted pneumonia. Thank god there aren't many places like it, but its one that still holds a special place for me. I love to hate it, but the season wouldn't be the same without it. 

Photo: Joe Lawwill

Photo: Joe Lawwill

It turns out 70 and sunny can feel pretty hot coming from the PNW jungle, where our 'normal' lately has been 45 and raining. And there just ain't much that can give you that long stare like a day turning your insides into Hamburger Helper. There was some spunk and spark for the first half of the race, I'm no Mr. March this year, but I think things were going the right direction; the diesel was heating up. Mid-way through I hit the boiling point though and the lights went out pretty quickly. 

Photo: Jonny Muller

Photo: Jonny Muller

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I'm not actually sure where I finished the day off, I really don't care that much to be honest. It wasn't a forgettable day, I had fun out there, the racing was great! But when I can't find that suffer muscle its hard to chock the day up as a success, whether I'm 2nd or 50th. Thats what I'm after out there. I'm struggling to find motivation on courses like this these days too. Maybe I need some novelty (which I'm seeking this year for sure); maybe I've just spent too many days in the San Dimas Extended Stay, and I've developed a Pavlovian response to that stimulus. Not sure, probably a bit of both.

I've had a hell of a lot of fun with Guthrie and Payso this weekend. These guys are gems. Its been weird not having Daimo around; for the past 5 years, I've gotten to listen to his terrible music and bad jokes, and damn I miss that. But this season is a new step for me, and getting back to my roots, tripping with a couple good buddies has made for a hell of a fun weekend, it helps to keep everything in perspective. 

Home tonight, its time to finish building up my new SAM enduro bike and a new Focus hardtail too.  Hopefully get some skiing in before Sea Donkey next week!

photo: PB Creative

photo: PB Creative

Kicking the Season off in Victoria, B.C.

Over the weekend, I kicked off the 2017 racing season with what's becoming one of my favorite UCI races in North America; the Bear Mountain Canada Cup. It's great to kick things off so close to home, and I had a blast jumping into my first Enduro race!

Two Bikes, because well, two races! Love the BC Ferry system too.

Two Bikes, because well, two races! Love the BC Ferry system too.

It's the beginning of March, and I've had a really fun winter filled with adventures around the World, loads of great ski days and long rides, but I'm hardly feeling 'sharp'. I knew coming into the season that I needed a bit slower start, particularly with so many of my biggest goals laying in wait later this summer. I had strong legs, and I was excited about being on the starting line, but I wasn't quick, and thats OK. After a fast start, and watching Gagne ride away from all of us, I found myself in the chase group with familiar faces including Geoff, Zanstra, and Keegan Swenson. I felt like I was riding the technical, wet course well, and that was probably my saving grace. A year ago I would have wasted huge amounts of energy in those conditions. The PNW will change a man.... The new Kenda Honey Badger Pro XC tires were game changing, and I felt like I had the Focus 01E bike set up just perfectly. Its good to have confidence in your equipment. As we entered that last lap, the familiar sting in the legs felt good, but I couldn't quite pick the pace up enough to hang when the sparks started to fly. Turns out ski touring will make you strong, but not fast. I rounded the final corner with a smile; finishing 7th on the day. Maybe not "satisfied" but ok with where I am at, and having something to work towards is motivating. 

I'm going to miss having Daimo on the road this year, but the times they are a-changing. Its a bit more work for me, but I'm trying not to sweat the small stuff. It's bringing me back to my roots a bit, which is something I am completely embracing. 

I'm going to miss having Daimo on the road this year, but the times they are a-changing. Its a bit more work for me, but I'm trying not to sweat the small stuff. It's bringing me back to my roots a bit, which is something I am completely embracing. 

I jumped into my first Enduro on Sunday, and just had a riot! I'm not sure why more of Saturday's XC nerds didn't jump in too, the winner ended up riding his XC bike after all. Lots of pedaling on relatively flat stages after the tough effort on Saturday made for some of the most painful moments of the weekend, but I think the refreshing format and hitting some big air's kinda took the edge off the pain a bit. Pretty psyched to be doing more of these in the coming months. Its such a cool format; I totally understand why so many people have gravitated towards this over the past few years. Its incredibly accessible, and you get to spend A LOT more time hanging out riding with your friends over the course of the day. It was incredibly refreshing, and just a perfect way to cap off the weekend. 

The BEST way to finish off a weekend in Canada includes lots of airtime

The BEST way to finish off a weekend in Canada includes lots of airtime

THIS is why I love Vancouver Island. Amazing trails, and epic forests. 

THIS is why I love Vancouver Island. Amazing trails, and epic forests. 

Victoria is such a great city. If you haven't been, please put Vancouver Island on the bucket list. The food is excellent (I'd recommend you check out Pizzeria Prima Strada), the riding up and down the Island from Cumberland to Victoria and over into Tofino is among the best in the NW, and it has an incredible atmosphere. The people are phenomenal (who doesn't love Canadians?)! Corrine and I found great food and drink around every corner, and things feel like they slow down a little bit on the Island which made the re-entry into race mode a little easier to wrap my head around. Success this weekend was not measured in number of podium stairs climbed, but in the amount of fun I had. And knowing that I have work to look forward to in the coming months is satisfying. I can't wait to get back onto Vancouver Island for BC Bike Race later this summer. 

 

Photos courtesy of Corrine Malcolm

The 2017 Season Preview

There's something unfamiliar about the amount of permanence I've had in the six months or so since finishing last year's race season; I can't think of any time in the past ten years where I have been home more, and had the opportunity to explore my backyard with more enthusiasm. The 2017 season is going to look a little different, and I hope that it'll prove to be the most fun in years! Don't worry, you'll still be seeing plenty of me out there racing and riding, but I hope I'll be a little less jet-lagged next time we run into one another! These ten years or so that I've been racing professionally have felt like a whirlwind, spent jumping on one airplane after another, week in and week out, racing and living all over the world. It's been nothing short of incredible, but in all that I've seen and done, I haven't had time to explore on the incredible riding and racing we have here at home in North America, and particularly in my own backyard out here in the Pacific Northwest. I'm looking forward to connecting with you guys here at home a bit more this season.

Japanuary didn't suck

Japanuary didn't suck

I've has a slower-than-normal build into the season. I took a lot of time this fall to connect with the Bellingham mountain bike community; riding with kids, and exploring trails with new friends. I jumped into some cyclocross racing; Single-Speed CX was all time, and I think I mostly held my own! Corrine and I explored the North Cascades and BC Coast Range on foot and skis, and  perhaps the highlight, was a two week ski trip to Japan with my dad, and a few of our closest friends in January. It was the first time I'd traveled without a bike, or on cycling-related business in nearly a decade, and reminded me in a profound way what it means to travel and savor the experiences that we are provided through it. I needed to decompress after a busy, and disappointing Olympic cycle, and I don't think I could have asked for a better off-season.

Corrine taking it all in

Corrine taking it all in

I am heading into some fresh racing and some old favorites, with a group of sponsors and partners who I am really excited to be working with. Focus and Shimano have both stepped up big-time this year, and I'll continue working with RideBiker Alliance, because I, now more than ever, believe that this whole cycling thing is more fulfilling when its shared. Clif Bar is on-board again, and I hope you can find the time to come hang out at some point this season, we will be trying to put on some events together, so keep your ears open. There are a few new sponsors in the mix too, and a couple who are in the works! Check out the sponsors page to learn more! 

I think 2017 looks pretty good, don't you?

I think 2017 looks pretty good, don't you?

Spring will look pretty traditional; I kick things off at the Bear Mountain Canada Cup next week, and move into Bonelli and Sea Otter in April. I'll be racing Whiskey 50 for the first time ever, which I am stoked about! May will be quiet with a few BC Cup Enduro's (thats right!) and some projects here in the PNW. Stay tuned! And summer will be busy with Carson City, BC Bike Race, US Nationals, a World Cup or two, and some UCI racing out east. I already have my eyes on World Championships in Cairns, AUS. That's without question one of my favorite places to race, and a course that suits me well. Maybe I can pull off my best ever World Championships in what will be my tenth World Championship. That makes me feel old! This fall I'll be chasing some more enduro events, and hopefully throwing in a few surprises! 

I have a pretty cool backyard and good people to share with with; I can't wait for more of this in 2017

I have a pretty cool backyard and good people to share with with; I can't wait for more of this in 2017

Make sure to stay tuned, I'll try to keep this site up-to-date, and of course, my social media accounts will always be rolling, so follow me on instagram, twitter and Facebook

Seventh at Iceman Cometh

Traverse City Michigan isn't exactly a destination that comes to mind when you think about the strong cycling communities around the U.S. But it's home to the biggest single-day cycling event in the Country, Bells Beers Iceman Cometh, and what a heck of an event it is! There are 50-some waves of around 100 riders, that start at 8am and go through the day. Its a point-to-point race, mostly on doubletrack and dirt roads, that's held rain, snow or shine. Some years the weather is terrible, below freezing with feet of snow covering the course, while other years the temps are mild and the course is fast and dry. This year we were pretty lucky, treated to arguably the fastest course in the race's history, under sunny skies. 

I arrived in town on Tuesday, coming directly from the USAC Sport Committee meetings in Colorado Springs. It gave me a rare opportunity to go explore some of the other trails, and spend some time breaking bread with locals. The T-City community and Einstein Cycles welcomed me and Spencer with open arms. We chased around on a Thursday evening shop ride out on the Vasa Trails, spent time at the Expo, and enjoyed just getting to hang out at the shop, meeting new friends in town for the weekend. 

Photo: Marathonfoto

Photo: Marathonfoto

By the time we got to race day, the anticipation had been built, and I was more nervous for this start than I have been for a race in a long time. We completed the 30mi course in under 1:25, likely the fastest times ever put up. My strategy at Iceman is usually to survive the first 28 miles, and then race the final two. Its such a flat, fast course, that things rarely break up and its all about positioning coming into the final few kilometers. This year was no different, other than that Howie (who went on to win) took off early, and stuck it to the end because we were disorganized in the chase group. The start was fast, crashes took place in the middle of the pack, and everyone was fighting hard to be in the right position. About 10 miles in, I dropped my chain and was standing on the side of the course when Howie attacked, so I'll never know whether I would have been able to respond when he went, but I've just gotta be happy knowing that I was able to close the 30 seconds I lost up to the front of the chase group. That in itself was a huge effort when the front end was moving at 20+ mph, I can hardly believe I was able to make it back. Once I made it to the front of the chase, I tried to contribute, but was careful not to burn the rest of my matches, saving something for the final few hills. Although I was feeling good and well positioned as elbows were being thrown going up the final chicane, my right hamstring had different ideas, and locked up as Payson sent a huge flyer. I had to throttle back and hold on to whatever position I could, the best I was able to muster at that point was 7th, which felt like a huge order limping in over the last quarter mile. The race is such a crap shoot, its November, people's fitness is all over the board, and although I felt like I was as strong as anyone in the group, the cards just didn't fall my way this year, but man what a fun day of racing through colorful foliage with a bunch of my good friends. I can't wait to get back next year!

This really does cap off the MTB race season for me, but 2016 isn't over. Even through I've missed the past few weeks of MFG Cyclocross, I still have an opportunity to win the overall, and supposedly the last race in Woodland Park, Seattle, this weekend is always the best! Cant wait to get back to riding the trail bike, and chasing around on skinny tires. Oh, and then there is SSCXWC in December... Better get my jorts out!

Plenty of success in the MFG cyclocross series

My first foray into cyclocross racing has so far been a huge success! We are now three weekends into Washingtons premier series, MFG, and so far I am shooting 3-0 and leading the Series Overall by a significant margin over Fernando Paez and Steve Fischer. 

Photo by Geoffrey Crofoot

Photo by Geoffrey Crofoot

It turns out that cyclocross is A LOT of fun, and because the cycling community in the greater Seattle area is so strong, these races bring out big crowds. Over the course of the day upwards of 800 people will toe the line on a busy weekend, and with twice that many people standing on the side of the course cheering, the environment is electric! Its such an accessible discipline, that people love coming out. 

The first race of the MFG series was on the shore of Lake Sammamish in Issaquah. The racing was fast and tactical on a dry course without many technical features. My mountain bike prowess shined on the loose corners, and that was ultimately what made the difference in the last lap of the hour long race. I was able to blow up our lead group of four riders by attacking into a fast set of corners and opening up a gap. He who braked the least was going to win, and I was able to carry momentum through the final set of corners better than close training buddy, Steve Fischer and fellow mountain biker Fernando Paez. 

Photo Credit: Geoffrey Crofoot

Photo Credit: Geoffrey Crofoot

The following week I had a long solo effort at Marymoor Velodrome. Fernando took the whole shot, and set a blistering tempo for the first two laps, but crashed hard early in the race and was never able to recover despite being the stronger rider on the day. The course was bumpy and dry, and the temps were climbing into the high 70's. It was certainly not 'cross weather'. I wasn't feeling particularly good, but managed to hold my lead for 45 min to the end, crossing the line wearing the green jersey of the Series Leader and further consolidating that lead. 

Photo by Geoffrey Crofoot

Photo by Geoffrey Crofoot

The most recent race took place at Silver Lake Park in Everett, and we had the deepest field to date. My confidence was at an all time low, because my left arm was swollen to twice is normal size after I'd been stung or bitten by an unknown insect the day before while out on a trail ride. Even the smallest bumps sent shooting pain up my swollen arm, despite generous loads of kinesiotape and Ibuprofen. My plan was to take it easy, try to finish in the top five and hope that meant I held onto the series lead. But of course, the adrenaline of the moment threw the best laid plans out the window. We had a fast start, with Steve, Fernando and myself setting the pace in the early part of Lap 1. The arm was painful, but I couldn't back off. As we traversed a long sand section, Fernando had another spectacular crash, which left Steve and I on the front with Spencer Paxson chasing. Then Steve started yelling to his mechanic that he had a flat, and so all of a sudden, 8 minutes into the race, I found myself on the front with a 30 second gap over second place. At that point I couldn't exactly sit up, so onwards I pushed, fighting through pain, to another MFG win aboard my Shimano equipped Focus Mares. It was a hell of a day, one that my arm still hasn't forgiven. 

Photo: Geoffrey Crofoot

Photo: Geoffrey Crofoot

Its on to Boulder Cup next for me. I'm hoping to score a few UCI points so I can jump into a bit more racing next year, maybe even a World Cup or two if they bring those races back to the US! It'll be exciting to be in a proper National caliber event, and see what I can do! 

Terrain Gym Ambassador Video Released!

During the spring of 2016 I worked with Terrain Gym in Bellingham not only to improve strength and speed for the season, but to share my story and a bit of my motivations and goals. Enjoy!

 

Ettinger considers 2016 season an emotional success

Ettinger considers 2016 season an emotional success

The 2016 chapter of Stephen Ettinger’s mountain bike career came to a close with a victory at the Canada Cup XC in Whistler over a week ago. Since then, the Bellingham, WA resident has taken some time to reflect back on what was a roller coaster season. When asked to sum up his season in one word, there was little hesitation.

“Emotional,” said Ettinger. “It wasn’t the best season I’ve ever had, but it was a good season. It’s been one that had a lot of highs and a few lows - some of those coming right on the backs of one another.”

Rewind to early March when Ettinger, lining up for his first race under the Ridebiker Alliance banner, scored a disappointing ninth in his season opener at the Bear Mountain Canada Cup. A week later Ettinger was able to turn the tide with a solo and dominating win at Bonelli Park #1.  

Several weeks later and all within a month’s time, Ettinger traveled to three different continents in April. He claimed a hard fought bronze medal at the Pan American Championships in Catamarca, Argentina. Following the podium presentation, Ettinger and the rest of Team USA hopped a plane back to the United States for Bonelli Park #2 and the Sea Otter Classic. After a long round of travel, Ettinger could only muster an uncharacteristic seventh place in SoCal. A week later up at the Laguna Seca Raceway, Ettinger put together a pair of third place finishes in the short track and cross country races. And before the dust had settled, Ettinger had his bikes packed and was on a plane to the land Down Under where he netted a satisfying top 20 at the Cairns World Cup.

After a month away from racing, Ettinger was back on a plane to Europe for the Albstadt and La Bresse World Cups in May. Stomach cramps put a damper on the race in Germany and three flats plagued the French race. Ettinger returned to the United States feeling unfulfilled and needing time at home to re-cooperate after going full gas for months.

“There were races where I was racing in top 15 at World Cups only to have defeat snatched from the hands of victory,” said Ettinger.

It wasn’t even June yet and the 27-year old had already traveled to three continents outside the United States. If there was anything Ettinger learned this year, it was how much back and forth travel can wear a person down.

“I’ve had years where I’ve spent a lot of time away from home but never where I’ve done so much back and forth as I did this year,” Ettinger said. “I really think that over the course of the season that had an impact on my ability to race and recovery and mentally be ready to go. In the future I really need to pay attention to the number of commitments I have and the number of race days I have on the calendar. I’d like to do more racing, not less, but I have to figure out how to do that without so much back and forth travel. The effects of that really accumulated for me this year.”

After some down time at home in Washington, Ettinger swung through Montana in June to race near in his old stomping grounds at the Missoula XC. In front of friends and family, the former Montana State University student scored two top fives in the short track and cross country races.

Then the devastating news that Ettinger would not be going to Rio came. Ettinger tried to reconcile the decision, but it was hard to come to terms with USA Cycling’s undermining selection.

A week after learning that he was a non-selection for Rio, Ettinger tried to put it behind him ahead of the World Championships in Nové Město. Ettinger was stoked to race on an engaging and familiar track in Czech. He wanted to have fun and go fast in front of the rowdy and noisy crowd that lined the course, but the travel and the emotional roller coaster Ettinger had been riding proved to be too much to handle on the day as crossed the line in 50th. 

“It was good to rebound from a really frustrating season last year,” Ettinger said. “But some of my goals of the year weren’t met. Some of that rests on my shoulders, some of that were circumstances that I was unable to control. There were some races that were really motivated to get to the starting line for.”

Knowing that he needed to take a different approach for the second half of the season, Ettinger added a couple ‘firsts’ to his schedule in July – the seven-day BC Bike Race and the five-day Cascade Cycling Classic with the US MTB National Championships squished in between.

The BC Bike Race proved to be just what Ettinger needed to get back to having fun racing his bike again. He finished third overall and enjoyed the grass roots, authentic feel of the race. The national championships, held in the high environs of Mammoth, CA, were never a huge goal for the sea-level resident. Feeling content with fifth in the cross country race, Ettinger exchanged his fat tires for skinny ones as he took on domestique duties with Rally Cycling in Bend, OR. Racing a stage race at that level was an entirely new experience for the accomplished mountain biker, and, like BC Bike Race, it was an experience that gave him inspiration and motivation for the final push of the season.

Ready to get back on his Focus O1E dually, Ettinger flew clear across the country from Oregon to line up for the Boston Rebellion, the final race of the US Cup. Ettinger’s fourth place in the cross country race landed him on top of the leader board for the overall win. Along with it came the coveted heavy weight belt that will most likely be seen on a wall at his home in Bellingham.

Road tripping with his longtime mechanic, Daimeon Shanks, from Massachusetts to Canada, Ettinger and Daimo enjoyed a final hoorah together at the iconic Mont-Sainte-Anne World Cup. Ettinger finished 26th on the day, not his worst or his best World Cup result, and had a great time on a fun course in front of an enthusiastic crowd. More importantly, it was the end of a chapter for the duo who had been working together for five years. After thirteen years in the business, Daimo was closing shop to plunge himself headfirst into law school.

To wrap up the season, Ettinger drove the few hours from Bellingham to Whistler to race in the final Canada Cup. Determined to end the season on a high note, Ettinger did just that when he put himself on the top step of the podium to bring the mountain bike season to a close.

It was a season full of emotion. Cycling can be cruel that way. Yet Ettinger still considers it a success thanks in large part to his support network and his sponsors.

“Not all the boxes were checked and the big one I wasn’t able to fulfill,” said Ettinger. “I’m looking forward and I’m excited to keeping the momentum that I got going this year into the future and do some fun racing next summer. It has been a fun year despite being frustrating at times. There were other moments that were really inspiring. I walk away appreciating what I have and the opportunity that I get to do what I love. It was fun to make an impact this year.”

“I did some races this year without Daimo around, which made me realize how strong the support network is that I have built up around the country,” Ettinger continued. “I realize now how many people there are willing to help make the little things go smoother for me so that I can race at my best. Knowing that I have all those people around is really confidence inspiring for me going forward. Having those people around is huge, and I really appreciate all that people did in lending a hand to help make the season a success.”

But the year wouldn’t be complete without a foray into more uncharted territory. Cyclocross. Living in the Pacific Northwest, it only makes sense that the mountain biker takes his skills and fitness to some of the best cyclocross tracks in the country.

“I want to have fun racing ‘cross,” Ettinger said. “I want to mix it up and challenge myself on new courses. I want to learn a new part of the sport just as I did racing with Rally on the road this summer and BC Bike Race. I want to figure out another side of the sport that I haven’t spent much time in.”

With no pressure on his shoulders to crush the ‘cross scene, Ettinger will keep a loose schedule so that he has time to take it all in during the winter months.

“I don’t have grand ambitions in terms of results,” Ettinger stated. “I don’t know my schedule really. I’ll race a lot in the PNW, and hopefully get out to a few UCI races as well. I’ll try to be competitive, but I also want to have a lot of fun. I hope that what I do this winter can translate to a better year next year on the mountain bike.”

“I’m excited to be racing locally a bit because it will give me a good platform to talk about Ridebiker Alliance,” continued Ettinger. “Racing ‘cross in the PNW will give me the opportunity to reconnect with people I grew up around and haven’t seen much lately. It’ll be fun to talk to them about what I’m doing and how Ridebiker can be a stronger part of the community in the Northwest.”

For the ‘cross season, Ettinger is excited to hop aboard a Focus Mares fully equipped with Shimano components. The Giro lid with Clifbar graphics will continue to sit prominently atop his head.

As the mountain bike season fades into the past, erasing some of the hardships and highlighting the victories, and the unknowns and excitement of the ‘cross season loom, Ettinger is steadfast in keeping a bright outlook on the future.

“It’s one of the cool things about bike racing, you get to do it all again next year and try to do it better than the year before.”