The BC Bike Race concluded on Wednesday with the final stage in Whistler. The last time we checked in with Stephen Ettinger, he was sitting in third overall after finishing with three times in second and once in third. He went on to finish third in the stage five time trial and sixth in both the Squamish and Whistler stages. His consistent racing over the seven stages solidified his third place in the final standings.
Now that the week is a wrap, we ask the stage race newbie his thoughts on his performance, his experience and about the BC Bike Race in particular. We also delve into a preview about the USA Mountain Bike National Championships, which are coming up this Friday in Mammoth Mountain, California.
Before we talk about your overall perspective, how did your race go on day seven?
Ettinger: It was fun. I’m pretty shelled, but the race went really well. I finished third overall, sixth on the last day. I blew a couple corners early. I had fairly good legs, but I made a couple mistakes early on. I was on the wrong wheel going into the first section of single track. I was behind [Fredzric] Gombert, the French guy. He was yo-yoing off the front group of three, so I got caught up in that. I was hanging back and relaxing a little and was doing the tail gunning thing. That got frustrating, so instead of tail gunning I decided to hang back and catch him on the corners and descents. Then all of a sudden when I was carrying my speed through one of these sections I blew right through a corner. I only lost five or ten seconds. It wasn’t very much, but it was enough. It set me back. I chased and was 10-15 seconds off the pace for the next 45-60 minutes. Then the front group started to go for it at the top of the first long climb. Because I wasn’t on their wheels, I didn’t really react to the pace. Then I totally ripped through another couple of corners on the descent. I didn’t have the gas to bridge back up so I was back there partying and trying not to lose too much time. I lost two or three minutes at the end of the day because I wasn’t descending very well. I didn’t have the power to muscle my way through techy descending. It’s easier the faster you got down it, but I was battling myself and battling the bike all the way down. That was frustrating but what could I do? I got caught by Tristan [Uhl] at the end. He attacked me on the road run-in but I wasn’t really chasing that wheel down very hard.
Overall, are you pleased with the race, the experience, your result?
Ettinger: I loved it. I’m so glad I chose to do it. It was a total treat. I had no expectations going into it. I thought maybe I could be on the podium but really I had no idea.
There were a few tactical mistakes that I made. On day two or three we waited for Cory [Wallace] when he was crashing and flatting because he was leading the race. But then he didn’t show us, me and Spencer, the same respect later in the week when we each had the jersey. It felt like the thing to do at the time – to wait. Maybe that was a tactical mistake on my behalf to not attack when he crashed or had mechanical troubles because when I had the leader’s jersey on day four and wasn’t riding as well, he took full advantage of that and tried to attack. Today he attacked his own teammate who was wearing yellow.
What did you learn from that?
Ettinger: It’s a new experience for me. It’s a learning experience.
In a cross country race, no one waits. I’m super new to this whole stage racing thing, but my impression from the week is that you have shared peloton camaraderie, unlike in cross country racing. You’ve got seven days of racing and something could happen to you the next day. What comes around goes around over the course of the week. This a totally new crew that I don’t know, tactics I’m not familiar with, habits that I haven’t experienced. There are things I would do differently next time.
Next time. Does that mean you would like to do BC Bike Race or another stage race again?
Ettinger: Yeah, I would like to do both - more stage racing and BC Bike Race. This was a totally cool new infusion of energy. It was a fun kind of racing. This race in particular felt really authentic and down to earth. Part of that was because I was with Spencer, and Corrine, my girlfriend, was there part of the week. A lot of the people I was around were from my local cycling community. This race is made up of people from all over the world, but there are a lot of northwest roots there.
I would love to do more of this. It’s so much fun. A totally different kind of challenge.
Shimano launched the new XT Di2 at BC Bike Race. That new piece of technology combined with the new O1E fully from Focus must have been pretty awesome.
Ettinger: The new XT Di2 is incredible. It was such a great experience racing on that in BC. The top three riders were all on XT Di2. And the new bike is amazing. Focus did such an excellent job creating that bike.
When you decided to do BC Bike Race, did you think about how that would impact your performance at US Nationals?
Ettinger: Going into this I knew racing BC Bike Race would adversely impact nationals, but I am totally ok with that. US nationals is always a race that is important to me. It’s a race having won in the past I would like to win again. Wearing the stars and stripes the whole year is such an honor, and every time I look back and see photos it creates this awesome wellness coming out of my heart. It means so much. I love it.
But, if I’m going to be honest, for the past year I haven’t been inspired to race in Mammoth again. We are going back to this incredibly historic venue, it’s exciting to go to Mammoth because so much has happened there in mountain biking. But the course isn’t inspiring. There is nothing about the Mammoth course that reflects the kind of racing that I like to do or reflects the kind of racing that XCO racing has become. It’s old school racing.
After doing BC Bike Race I have a renewed appreciation for big loop XCO racing. It was so much fun doing that kind of stuff this week but that is not XCO Olympic format. If you want to have a national championship call it what it is. The Mammoth course isn’t XCO anymore. It’s at 9000 feet. We don’t race at 9000 feet anymore. It puts a massive group of the USA Cycling population at a huge disadvantage. Even as one of the top pros in the country, I don’t have the resources to spend three weeks at altitude prepping for nationals. Maybe it comes off as me bitching, but I’m disappointed it’s at this venue because I think they can do better.
It’s great for people from Colorado and Utah. You don’t see people coming from the east coast or the north west. It’s hard to make the commitment to go knowing you’re going to suffer at altitude. It goes beyond altitude to accessibility. They’re having nationals at another historic venue next year in West Virginia but it’s three to four hours away from the nearest airport.
If you want the sport to thrive you have to put the event in a place that can people can get to and want to go race.
Aside from altitude, what else can you say about the course in Mammoth?
Ettinger: The course has a fire road climb. It’s a 15-17min loop, so the loop size is right but there is nothing challening about the course other than you’re racing up a fire road at 9000 feet. Why don’t we go do some VO2 max testing and decide the winner? USA Cycling can do better.
You said that you knew racing BC Bike Race would adversely affect you at nationals. What do you hope to achieve in Mammoth?
Ettinger: I’m going to race my ass off. I’m going to give it everything I’ve got. It’s US nationals. It’s an important and meaningful event. I’ll be bummed but not surprised if I don’t walk away with the jersey. It’ll be disappointing. I want to go and be competitive, but I don’t have the resources to train for three or four weeks to prepare at altitude.
They aren’t putting these events in places that create a level playing field. Howie [Grotts] is the only one who lives anywhere close to that altitude. He can go there and barring a flat tire or something catastrophic he’ll clean up because he lives at 9000 feet. I’m happy for Howie because it’s an honor to wear that jersey all year long. But USA Cycling can pick venues that are more accessible and inspiring and more akin to what we are actually racing on and what we need to develop young athletes. If Juniors and U23’s aren’t racing on what they are going to face racing in Europe, then what are we doing?
The pro men’s XCO race starts at 1:45pm PDT on Friday, July 15. You can watch the pro men’s STXC race live at 4pm PDT on Saturday, July 16 on USA Cycling’s youtube channel.