Starting the 2016 season with the Bear Mountain Canada Cup in Victoria, Stephen Ettinger came full circle to finish his season with the Canadian Open XC at Crankworx Whistler. The 27-year old had to deflect a lot of emotional punches during the 2016 season, but Ettinger landed the last punch of his season with a solo win ahead of Canadians Geoff Kabush (Scott 3Rox Racing) and Andrew L’Esperance (Norco Factory Team).
“It was fun,” said Ettinger. “It brought me back to my roots starting a race in a gravel parking lot, but it was a UCI C1 so it was a good day to have a good day.”
On a hot day in Whistler, the front end of the race started fast, forcing Ettinger to go faster than he was ready to go. But Ettinger, racing on his Focus O1E dually, didn’t waste time moving to the sharp end of the race where he teamed up with L’Esperance to gap the rest of the field.
“These young Canadians always show up ready to roll,” said Ettinger. “We don’t always see them at the front of a US Cup or World Cup, but they know how to show up when racing happens in Canada.”
“I made it to the sharp end after about a lap,” Ettinger continued. “Then L’Esperance and I yarded the rest of the field pretty quickly. After two laps we had a sizeable gap, which we maintained the rest of the race.”
Ettinger and L’Esperance worked well together until lap four of six when the American could sense the Canadian was starting to fade.
“When he would go to the front, the pace would slow down,” Ettinger said. “I attacked a couple of times and he was able to respond. I softballed a few of them to see what he could do. The one that finally stuck was on lap five, and I opened up 20-30 seconds quickly. Then I just played it safe.”
Although Ettinger was leading the race with a comfortable gap, he wasn’t willing to let off the gas just yet. Although Kabush was a full two minutes back, Ettinger knew that the veteran Canadian would make a hard charge in the latter half of the race.
“I knew it was likely that Geoff would come through strong at the end of the race,” Ettinger said. “So I really wanted to have some air between myself and second place so that if Geoff ended up making the bridge I would have some space between us. Geoff really surged on the last two laps using his ‘old man strength’. In the end I crossed the line with about a 30 second lead.”
While the rest of Crankworx was going off at the base of the mountain at the Whistler Bike Park, the XC crowd was pretty slim. The major draw of Crankworx are the gravity events, but people are starting to pay attention to cross country.
“There is potential for this event to grow,” said Ettinger. “The promoters want to work with Crankworx to build the XC race. There are even murmurs of trying to get a World Cup in Whistler. The word is getting around that there is a spandex race going on.”
The cross country season may be over, but Ettinger isn’t ready to slow down just yet.
“The day before the race I was pretty ready to know that the mountain bike XC portion of the year is behind me,” said Ettinger. “It feels good to know that I can do some other stuff now. It’s been an emotional season, and it feels good to have it behind me.”
“I won’t take time off until after Iceman in November,” added Ettinger. “I’ll do some cyclocross, some trail riding, some trail running in the meantime. I’m ready to not have to throttle myself in training. This is my favorite part of the year. The mountains are open for exploring. I’m ready to be back in the Cascades and the Canadian coastal range to do some cool rides and trail runs.”
Living near Seattle where there is a really strong cyclocross scene, Ettinger plans to toe the line for a different type of two-wheel racing.
“I’ll do as much of the series that I can,” Ettinger said. The ‘cross calendar is yet to be determined, but I want to race in Seattle and then the UCI race in Boulder. I’m looking forward to mixing it up with some ‘cross. I need to be able to enjoy the bike after an emotional season.”