Thrilled to be back in his old stomping grounds of Montana, Stephen Ettinger put together a solid weekend of racing in front of his friends and family at the Missoula XC. In the cross country race on Saturday, Ettinger just missed scoring another set of antlers when he finished fourth behind Howard Grotts, (Specialized Racing), Keegan Swenson (Cannondale Factory Racing) and Raphael Gagne (Cannondale 360Fly p/b Sugoi). Grotts took the race win for the fourth consecutive year.
“I had a good engine this weekend but not any punch,” Ettinger said. “When people were attacking yesterday I couldn’t follow, and when Howie attacked today I also couldn’t follow. I think a little bit of that had to do with the training over the last two weeks. No dramas though, that’s the way it goes. It was a good weekend of racing.”
From the gun the race was fast and a group of four immediately formed at the front of the race before Grotts launched his race-winning move midway through lap four of six. On the last lap Ettinger was sitting in third position on the climb when Gagne made his move to overtake Ettinger to claim the last set of antlers.
“We had a pretty fast start, and instantly there was a group of four – Howard, Keegan, Gagne and myself,” said Ettinger. “We rode really well together the first part of the race. Then Howie attacked in classic Howie style. Four years in a row now he’s attacked in more or less the same place. He attacked and yarded us all. Bravo to him. He always puts on an impressive show here.”
“I was in third up until the final bit of the last climb,” Ettinger said. “Gagne was able to claw his way back to me. I didn’t blow up, there were no alarms bells going off, but I only had one gear all weekend. When he caught me and passed me, there wasn’t a lot I was able to do. I tried to jump on his wheel, but I didn’t have the gear to follow.”
With a course that’s tailor made for a pure climber like Grotts, Ettinger was hoping for rain to throw a new element into the race. Although it rained really hard in the middle of the day, the course was dry and tacky for the pro men’s race playing right into the hands, or legs, of Grotts.
“The rain didn’t affect our race at all,” said Ettinger. “I was hoping for rain to act as a bit of a leveler,” continued Ettinger. “Not that the descent is technical at all, but who knows how a new element could have changed things. It would have been fun to have had a ‘new’ race in Missoula.”
“So I finished fourth,” Ettinger exclaimed. “It would have been sweet to take home another set of antlers but that’s ok. I’m happy with the effort I put in.”
Ahead of the trip to Missoula, Ettinger knew that he might not be on top form as he was training through the weekend’s events. With the UCI MTB World Championships two weeks away and the Lenzerheide World Cup and potentially the Olympics coming in rapid succession, Ettinger wasn’t putting a lot of weight on results in Montana.
“I expected it,” Ettinger stated. “It was part of the plan. The whole weekend was about putting in a good race. If I could race for the win, awesome, but with the schedule coming, this was a really good opportunity to get some training in.”
“You have to prioritize,” Ettinger declared. “As much as I love coming back to Montana and would have loved to have been on perfect form here, it doesn’t make sense as the rest of the season is laid out. We still have a lot of racing and travel coming up.”
On Sunday, Ettinger bounced back to claim the second step on the podium for the short track race behind back-to-back winner Grotts.
“I went out and rode really, really hard for 30 minutes,” Ettinger said. “At the end of the day Howie had a little more punch than I did. I tried to grind my way back up but I had to keep it steady and ride in the gear that I had.”
“It was good to see a lot of friends here this weekend,” expressed Ettinger. “My family came out from Washington to watch and my best friend and his girlfriend drove down from Bozeman. It was a good weekend.”