After the heart breaking news that he was not going to represent Team USA at the Rio Olympics, Stephen Ettinger knew he needed to rethink the remainder of the 2016 race schedule. For the previous four years, Ettinger's sole focus was his quest to make the Olympic team. With that event no longer on the race schedule, it was time for Ettinger to get back to his roots, to get back to having fun racing backs again. It was time to move in a different direction, go on a different journey. It was time for Ettinger to do something he’d never done before. Like the BC Bike race.
Four days into the stage race in British Columbia, we ask Ettinger a few questions about his decision to skip the Lenzerheide World Cup, what makes BC Bike Race special, the conditions and courses and what it will take to win the overall.
Now that you have gotten a few days of racing under your belt in British Columbia, are you still satisfied with your decision to race BC Bike Race instead of the world cup?
Ettinger: I’m pretty pumped on what’s going on. I am super stoked on my decision to go to BC instead of Switzerland.
It’s been a pretty powerful week. In a lot of ways I’ve reconnected with my roots a little bit. It’s been an opportunity to recall why I love racing. For a long time it’s felt like a job. This has been an event that’s given me the opportunity to hit the reset button. And I needed that more than I realized.
British Columbia is known for its heavy rainfall and muddy conditions. What have you experienced so far this year?
Ettinger: The first couple of days there was a lot of rain. We started in Cumberland on Victoria Island where it was super wet. Day two was in Powell River. It didn’t rain overnight so the trails were primo. Day three in Earls Cove it rained really hard early in the morning. There was torrential rainfall on the start line, but then it stopped immediately after we started. Twenty minutes into the race the sun came out, but we spent the entire day on jeep roads and double track. It was nasty. Everything was super wet.
Because of the loam in the soil and the large amount of rain they get here, it does drain pretty quickly. At least the single track dries quickly but the dirt jeep roads had a lot of ruts and holes in them. You couldn’t tell how deep the puddles were. Some were two inches deep and some were a foot and a half deep. We were basically racing at high speed across dirt roads. It was kind of scary. There wasn’t a lot of redeeming stuff that day.
Today there was a lot more single track. We had rolling single track with dirt roads off and on. We finished the day with an amazing single track descent that was just perfectly tacky soil.
How does racing BC Bike Race compare to racing the world cups in Europe?
Ettinger: BC Bike Race is a lot more organic. The race in and of itself is so much less bout the race and more about the experience. There are 600 people here and most are just trying to survive it. When you’re in that kind of environment it breeds a more relaxed atmosphere.”
Some of these trails get really remote. When you’re out on the trails each day with the same guys every day, it kind of gives you a sense of shared camaraderie. Spencer (Paxson) [Kona Bikes] is a close friend but most of these guys I’ve never met before. It gives you a shared experience together, you’re suffering together. For as much as you want to beat these guys, you need them to get through each day unless you’re ready to go out and suffer alone through each stage. You need these people to help you get to the finish line and you help them get to the finish line. It’s casual. The awards are casual. The start is casual. There’s not any weird start line drama. Nobody is rubbing their lucky charm. We’re all in it together. It’s this journey together. We’re hooting and hollering on the long descents and suffering together on the long climbs.
You finished second on day one to four-time BC Bike Race competitor Cory Wallace (Kona Bikes), second on day two to Paxson, second to Squamish native Quinn Moberg (Rocky Mountain) on day three and third behind Wallace and Paxson on day four. You sit ten seconds behind Paxson in the overall. What will you have to do beat Paxson or Wallace?
Ettinger: I know Spencer is riding really well now. He’s going to have to have a meltdown. He’s riding really well right now. He’s a diesel. It will be hard for me to ride away from him. Maybe on the Whistler stage on day seven I can attack and use some of that cross country power I have, but he also has that. He’s such a good bike handler. We’ve been really well matched these past few days. Neither of us has tried to go out and swing it really hard. We’ve been playing it conservatively knowing we are really well matched, and it plays to our advantage to work together a little bit.
The person I’m more worried about is Cory. He’s so strong right now. He’s an international man of mystery. He’s their marathon stage race kind of guy. He’s this quiet, very unassuming kind of guy, but he’s a power house. Today I had a higher five-minute power segment than I did at worlds. He effortlessly rode away from me during that time. It didn’t look like he was trying. He just rode away. Motored. But he’s also been having total meltdowns because he’s flatted, crashed or breaking chains. He’s still going to be the person to watch.
Today is the time trial. It’s the shortest stage of the race at 15 kilometers. The previous stages have been about 60. The TT is going to be short but hard. Hopefully the TT is short enough we can keep it close.