For nearly ten years, Stephen Ettinger lived in Montana riding mountain bikes and studying at Montana State University in Bozeman. This weekend Ettinger returns to Montana for the Missoula XC – an HC categorized UCI event. After a two-month hiatus from domestic racing during which he represented Team USA at three UCI World Cups, Ettinger is excited to be reunited with his Ridebiker Alliance crew and to have a local cheering squad on the sidelines.

“I’m really excited to see old friends from the cycling world,” says Ettinger. “Plus my best friend and his girlfriend will be making the drive. And it’s a Ridebiker event, so it will be good to be there represent that program.”

Ettinger has lined-up for the Missoula XC race for the previous three years. He has scored a podium spot at each of those three events - two thirds (2015, 2013) and a second (2014). Howard Grotts (Specialized Racing), the pocket rocket from Durango, CO, has claimed the title each of those years.

On a course that features a big climb and fast descent that clearly suits Grotts, Ettinger believes the rest of the field will likely be battling for second and third.

“I usually do well on this course,” Ettinger says. “I do well and I really enjoy it, but it’s hard to stop Grotts. He’s got an extra 2%, maybe even 5%, on the climbs that the rest of us can’t match. He’s a little guy and he just goes uphill super well.”

“That being said, Grotts may not show up since he’ll be racing marathon worlds the following weekend,” Ettinger continues. “It could be me and guys like Raph Gagne (Cannondale 360Fly p/b Sugoi), Keegan Swenson (Cannondale Factory Racing) and Derek Zandstra (Scott 3 Rox) battling it out. Regardless of who’s out there, it will be a good field and a good race.”

The weather forecast for the weekend is calling for potential thunderstorms, which could play into the hands of Ettinger who is intimately familiar with the Montana terrain.

“Maybe this year if we get some rain, it will be different,” says Ettinger. “To change a course that’s dry and fast to slick and muddy could be exciting. I know really well what those Montana trails do when they get a little bit of water on them. It could turn it into a totally different kind of race. Either way, I’m prepared for anything.”

With the World Championships in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic only two weeks away, Ettinger has his eyes on a bigger prize but still wants to perform well in front of a hometown crowd.

“I’ll be training through this race,” Ettinger claims. “We leave for Czech in ten days. For me that’s a much more important weekend of racing. But, this is Montana – I’ve got a lot of friends here. It’s a Ridebiker event, so I want to do well. I’m not going to show up and be a slouch, but it’s hard to prioritize every race.”

To celebrate the summer solstice, the pro men’s XC race will begin at 7PM MDT on Saturday. On Sunday the pro men line up for the short track event at 12:45PM MDT.