THE 'ROAD TO RIO' BEGINS HERE
In two days time, Stephen Ettinger's 'Road to Rio' campaign will begin when he lines up for the first race of the 2016 mountain bike season at the Bear Mountain Canada Cup in Victoria, British Columbia. Ettinger, who moved to Bellingham, WA two months ago, is looking forward to starting his season with a race only a few hours outside of his backyard.
"I’m looking forward to this weekend," says Ettinger. "It's super close to my house so the travel is easy. It’ll be a good, hard way to kick off the year."
Although it's his first time riding in Victoria, Ettinger is no stranger to the Canadian climate or his competition. Dreary weather and rough terrain is quintessential to mountain biking in BC, but it's not so different in Washington where riding over wet rocks and roots is fairly routine. Despite being one of only two Americans lining up for the start in BC, Ettinger is very familiar with his Canadian rivals.
"I've been riding on the roots and in inclement weather around home, so I'm feeling pretty comfortable with these conditions," says Ettinger. "The competition - Raphael Gagne and Derek Zandstra and other top ten Canadian riders will be there. Myself and Spencer Paxson will be the two Americans. These are the guys I regularly battle with in the top 20 in the World Cups. It will be a fun race at the sharp end."
OPENING WEEKEND EXPECTATIONS
Ranked as a C2 race on the UCI calendar, Bear Mountain doesn't carry a lot of weight, but it will be a good opportunity for Ettinger to test his legs and equipment three weeks ahead of the Pan American Continental Championships where things will really kick-off.
"I do expect myself to be on the podium," says Ettinger. "If I show up and I’m not able to race at that level, then some alarm bells will definitely be going off. It’s a C2 so there’s not a lot on the line. More than anything it’s about getting the legs under me, feeling things out, knowing what I need to work on, where I feel good and testing out new equipment."
PUTTING NEW EQUIPMENT TO THE TEST
Ettinger has made a few equipment changes for 2016 - most notably his bike, drivetrain and suspension. Although he's had little time to become well acquainted with his new hardware, as is usually the case at the beginning of every season, Ettinger is confident that his equipment choices are spot on. When speaking about Focus, Shimano and Fox, Ettinger's excitement is palpable.
"This weekend I'll be racing the Raven," says Ettinger. "This course should be fast and punchy so the Raven is the right choice."
"I’m really, really excited about being on Shimano Di2," adds Ettinger. "I’ve been training with Shimano mechanical over the last 8 weeks – I love it so much. When I was with BMC I got to test Di2 in its pre-production phase. I know how good it feels, so I’m really excited to be racing on it this year."
"I'll be racing on the Fox Factory iRD SC fork and Fox DPS Float shock," says Ettinger. "Riding on the new 272 fork with boost is going to feel good, I know it."
Ettinger has been riding Kenda tires for several years now, but he's particularly stoked to put the new Saber and Slant 6 to the test.
"The tire I choose will be dependent on the race day conditions," says Ettinger. "If it's really wet, I'll run the Slant 6. I haven't raced on them but training on them has been good. The Saber is built for a fast, dry day but it turns out to be really phenomenal in most conditions if it's not too wet."
With the Olympics only five months away, the event's promoters built the course with one thought in mind - to replicate the flowing and fast Rio course. The elite men will race six laps of the 5.5 kilometer track that cuts between the golf course's fairways and dives in and out of the woods at the Bear Mountain Resort.
"I have been doing some leg speed stuff which can pay off on a course like this," says Ettinger. "The real high end engine isn’t tuned yet, but everyone is in the same boat. It may be totally sweet or could prove to be totally taxing."
Elite men: 2:30pm PST