Round two of the XC World Cup played out under blue skies and sunshine in Albastadt, Germany. The physically tough track was quick to separate the eventual top two finishers, Nino Schurter (Scott) and Julien Absalon, from the rest of the field. In an exciting photo finish sprint, world champion Schurter took the win ahead of Frenchman Absalon. Having a rough day plagued by stomach cramps, Stephen Ettinger finished a disheartening 45th.
“The first half of the race was going pretty well,” said Ettinger. “I was able to settle in around 20th place. I was feeling really good, I had good legs, but I had this stomach cramp that I couldn’t kick. There was something going on from the moment I threw my leg over the bike.”
In the days leading up to the race, the conditions in Albstadt had turned the track into slick and peanut buttery mud. Ettinger, who considers himself an above average bike handler, was eager for a race in which the conditions would play a factor. Yet, on race day, the skies dried out producing sunshine instead of rain.
“The conditions were world class, which I’m actually a little bummed about,” Ettinger said. “I was hoping the weather would play a factor – I like that. I like it when it’s not just a tractor pull. My fitness is really good right now, but it would have been nice to have had that added weather element.”
The dry conditions meant raw power was more important than technical skills. Not being able to shake a rotten stomach, Ettinger wasn’t able to eat or drink properly in the first half of the race.
“I was trying to eat and drink, but it was so hard to do,” explained Ettinger. “Halfway through the race I got some water that helped quell some of the cramping. I started to get better the second half of the race, but by that point I was dehydrated, hadn’t gotten any food and was on the back foot. At this race, if you’re off by two percent, much less five or ten percent, you’re going backwards.”
“I tried to do the best I could,” Ettinger said. “I tried to manage it and roll with the punches, but it wasn’t the day I was hoping to have by any means.”
The last chance to automatically qualify for the Rio Olympics is at the La Bresse World Cup Sunday, May 29. To date Ettinger hasn’t met automatic criteria but neither has any other American man hoping to represent Team USA in Brazil.
“I’ve got one more race and that’s what I’m going to focus on,” said Ettinger. “Everything’s clicking. I had awesome legs – the legs are there, the head is there, but I just couldn’t get my stomach to calm down.”
“I was really, really hoping to be in the top 20 again, but it wasn’t in the cards,” continued Ettinger. “I’m really excited for La Bresse. It can be a super fun course and has some more redeeming and exciting parts that keep it fun out there. It’s more technical and looks like the weather can play more of a role.”