Falling a month earlier than usual on the schedule because of the Rio Olympics coming in August, the 2016 UCI XC World Championships unfold this weekend in Nové Město, Czech Republic. Although Nové Město has never hosted a world championship event before, it is no stranger to hosting a world class event as this venue has been home to many UCI World Cups. The challenging course and spirited spectators routinely keep this venue voted as on of the best on the UCI calendar. Racing his fifth world championships, Stephen Ettinger is excited to once again line up against the best racers in the world on one of the best tracks on the planet.
Racing has already gotten underway in Nové Město with the XC Eliminator and XC Team Relay events in the books. As a member of Team USA’s relay team, Ettinger was able to give the track a good look at race pace yesterday, an invaluable piece of preparation before the main event on Sunday.
“It will be the same course on Sunday,” says Ettinger. “It’s always nice to take it at speed to see where you can rest and where you can’t. You get a much better feel for the course. Plus, it’s a good opportunity to blow things out before we start really getting after it on Sunday.”
Big thunderstorms pounded Nové Město yesterday prior to the team relay event leaving the course wetter than Ettinger expected. Despite making the wrong tire choice, Ettinger gladly welcomed the inclement weather and was excited to ‘play’ in foul conditions.
“It’s always fun to do that race,” Ettinger said. “It was tough because I chose the wrong tires. I expected the soil to absorb more of the water than it did. It was frustrating, but it was good to see the course wet. And, all in all, we put together a good result to finish in eighth.”
Having a lot of experience in his back pocket on this challenging course, Ettinger knows that the punchy climbs and technical bits suit him well.
“It’s the same world cup track we’ve had in the past for the world cups,” says Ettinger. “There are a few tweaks here and there, but I’m psyched because it’s a really good track that suits me well. It has punchier climbs, lots of technical stuff with a lot of roots and rocks. If it gets wet, it’s even more up my alley. You’re always battling out there. It keeps you on your toes, which I really like. All around it’s a very engaging course.”
One week out from learning that the Rio Olympics weren’t in the cards for him this year, Ettinger is approaching the world championships with a little less weight on his back and more focus on doing the things he knows are best for him.
“Now I get to race my race,” says Ettinger. “I’ve been trying not to think too much about Olympic stuff from last week, but there’s definitely a fire burning. I don’t do well when I race angry though, it’s never been my style. I know what works best for me and that’s being relaxed, smooth and focused on being fast. When I feel fast and I’m having fun, that’s when I have my best races. That’s what breeds success.”
Ettinger has had a mixed bag of results in Nove Mesto – he’s had good days and bad days, as most racers do. As a U23 he was fourth racing his first world cup. As an elite he’s had a couple top 20’s. Last year at the world cup he was riding in the top 15 when he blew up on the last lap to end up in 21st. At the world championships this year, Ettinger is hoping be where he belongs - in the top 20.
“Worlds is always hard to land expectations,” says Ettinger. “Worlds always feels different than a world cup does. Sometimes you find people racing at the front you don’t normally see. Sometimes the guys you expect to be fast are out the back. I’ve shown in the past month that I’m definitely capable of being in the top 20 and maybe even in the top 15. If I walk away with a top 20 I’ll be happy. The top 15 would be a great day. I know that I can race against the best of them and I’ll try to be in that top 15, top 20. That’s where the expectations are right now.”
The rumor is that 50,000-70,000 tickets have already been sold. Rain or shine, mud or dust, the spectators are certain to get a good show.