Stephen Ettinger, who exchanged his fat tires for skinny ones in a rare turn of events, wrapped up the five-day Cascade Cycling Classic yesterday in Bend, Oregon. Ettinger, a guest rider with the Rally Cycling Team, went into the race facing a lot of unknowns. He had never met his teammates. He wasn’t sure what to expect of himself. It was his first time racing a time trial bike. He doesn’t remember the last time he stayed in host housing. And he didn’t know Adam from Joe when it came time to chase down key players from other teams. But, in typical Ettinger style, he embraced the challenge and walked away having pocketed an amazing experience.
“I had an awesome time,” said Ettinger. “I went in with no expectations and had a blast – straight up. I didn’t know any of the guys although I had one degree of separation with everyone on the team. All the guys were awesome. It was really fun to travel in that environment. The atmosphere was relaxed all week despite having the yellow jersey. Everyone was happy and laughing the whole weekend. It was a really good chemistry – a lot of fun.”
Ettinger’s teammate and roommate for the week, Tom Zirbel, won the stage two time trial. For the next three stages, Ettinger was put on break patrol duty at the front of the peloton to help the team defend the yellow jersey.
“To have been able to do some concerted work, working for something instead of surfing wheels all week was a lot of fun,” Ettinger said. “The guys were fairly forgiving with me regarding my job. The role that I was playing was pretty clear. There was a little confusion on day three when breaks started to go and I didn’t know all the players, but [Danny] Pate did a good job of telling me which breaks to chase or not.”
“It seems like they thought I did a pretty good job and at times even exceeded expectations,” Ettinger continued. “I’m bummed that Zirbel wasn’t able to stick it at the end, but we all knew that was a possibility. Regardless of the outcome, it was super fun to be a part of it.”
During the road races, Ettinger was being fed directives from his teammates, but the time trial was a whole new beast as he had no one telling him how to pace himself as he piloted a legitimate time trial bike for the first time ever.
“The time trial was hard,” said Ettinger. “People thought that as a mountain biker I would know how to pace myself, but I can’t remember the last time I did a 30-minute interval. I usually do two minutes. A lot of that. It was so different than anything I train for.”
Aside from the racing itself, Ettinger was also introduced to host housing. Ettinger’s norm when traveling for mountain biking is to stay in hotels. On the road scene, it’s very typical for teams to house the riders and staff with local families who open their homes - bedrooms, kitchens and all to the riders.
“The people we were staying with were really cool,” said Ettinger. “My dad grew up in Bend just down the street from the guy we were staying with, so he knew who I was and knew my dad and uncle growing up. They lived just down the street from each other on 12th Avenue.”
“I like that environment,” Ettinger continued. “It brings everyone together instead of staying separated in hotel rooms all weekend. It gets rid of the hotel weirdness.”
When asked about his favorite part of the week, Ettinger points to the last stage that is a more technical circuit race with punchy-like climbs.
“The last stage was more suited to my characteristics,” said Ettinger. “I survived the crit the night before and then felt the best I did all week on the last day. The two-minute punchy, undulating climbs were better for me at the end of the week versus the long climbs with two to three percent gradient that go on for 10 minutes. Those are not my jam at all. And when other people were getting tired, my strengths and fitness were able to shine through then.”
"Overall racing here was like the BC Bike Race - it gave me more inspiration and motivation. It fuels the fire for the last block of racing," Ettinger said.
Having been on the road for the better part of the last month, Ettinger’s travel expeditions continue. He has 48 hours at home in Washington state before flying clear across the country to wrap up the major part of his season with the Boston Rebellion and Mont Saint Anne World Cup.