Following nearly a month away from competition, Stephen Ettinger, racing for Team USA, will restart his season at the second round of the XC UCI World Cup in Albstadt, Germany on Sunday. The 4.2 kilometer circuit, located directly next to the Albstadt town center, is notoriously difficult with three significant climbs.

“The course is really climbing heavy,” said Ettinger. “It pretty much goes straight up or straight down without a whole lot between that. The profile is essentially a see-saw. There aren’t any of the cool technical features we saw in Cairns. It’s just really, really steep.”

The circuit opens with a climb in two-parts through a thick forest. A sharp descent follows the first climb, and then it’s back up on a short but steep climb. Riders than drop down near the base of the first climb before tackling the third and final climb. From there, it’s a fast descent back to the finish. The first shortened lap of the race eliminates the opening climb, where a bottleneck formed last year.

“This is one of the most challenging circuits because it is so physical,” Ettinger said. “Fitness is everything here. Fortunately, I’m in a good spot in that regard.”

Ettinger achieved his current fitness level with a month of training at home. He arrived in Germany feeling fresh, fit and reenergized.

“I feel amazing after my break,” said Ettinger. “The training I put in these last few weeks at home was super high quality. That feels really good, but more than anything chilling, hanging out with friends and taking the opportunity to reconnect and get grounded a little bit has gone a long way to putting me into a good head space.”

“Some of the time Spencer [Paxson] and I put in on the bike completely confirmed that we’re doing the right thing,” Eittnger added. “My body responded very well. It’s been a long time since I’ve come over for these races this fresh and this excited. The Olympics provide huge motivation right now, but I’m also motivated to get going and do well and be present and in the moment.”

Confident in his fitness, Ettinger is also confident in his bike handling skills. Although the Albstadt course is far from technical when it’s dry, rain changes everything – and it’s been raining ever since Ettinger arrived.

“Mud and rain turn this course into complete chaos,” said Eittinger. “We’ve been fortunate to have had dry races the last two years, but the year before that, it was so wet and so muddy. We’re not expecting it to be that bad, but even a little bit of moisture changes the course completely.”

“There’s nothing to absorb the water here, so the course becomes a mucky peanut buttery greasy mess on top of slick rocks,” Ettinger explained. “You have no traction going uphill. On the descent, everything sticks to the bike – to the frame, the drivetrain, the tires.”

“Rain can take the race from a total fitness event into something that requires far more finesse and bike handling skills,” Ettinger added. “I think this course plays to my strength in either situation. I’m a better than average climber, and I’m a better than average bike handler. I don’t have the raw power that some courses require, but I can go up pretty quickly and feel pretty confident in my descending when it does get slick. Slippery stuff isn’t necessarily my forte, but I can ride it. I’m comfortable riding it, and I’m not scared of it.”

Ettinger will line-up in Albstadt with similar aspirations to those he nurtured in Cairns last month. A top 10 is the main objective; a top 20 would be satisfying.

“I want that auto-qualification,” said Ettinger. “I want to punch my ticket to Rio. A top 10 would do that, but if I stay inside the top 20, it will keep me inside the top 20 of the World Cup overall, which is the second qualification criteria.”

“The field here is so deep,” Ettinger added. “We have 157 guys on the start line. It’s going to be complete chaos on the first lap. I’m sharpening my elbows up so that I can stay as close to the front as I can.”

The pro men start at 2:20pm Sunday, May 22 in Albstadt. In the U.S. you can catch the action live on Red Bull TV at 5am PDT May 22 here:

For more information on the Cairns UCI World Cup, visit the website here: