Ettinger wins Canadian Open XC in Whistler to close 2016 season

Ettinger wins Canadian Open XC in Whistler to close 2016 season

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.” 

Mont-Sainte-Anne marks the end of a chapter for Ettinger

Mont-Sainte-Anne marks the end of a chapter for Ettinger

Photo credit: Rob Jones

Photo credit: Rob Jones

Racing his last UCI World Cup for the season at the iconic Mont-Sainte-Anne venue, Stephen Ettinger didn’t have the day he was hoping for on one of his favorite tracks. Settling into the middle of the pack, Ettinger finished 26th on the day. Former world champion and Olympic gold medalist, Julien Absalon took the win, notching his 32nd career World Cup victory.

Ahead of Sunday’s XCO race, Ettinger was hopeful that he would score his best World Cup finish to date, but Ettinger wasn’t able to parlay his top form into the big result he wished for.

“It wasn’t my best World Cup, and it wasn’t my worst,” said Ettinger. “It would have been a lot of fun to go out with a bang but that’s the way it goes. The emotional reserves and motivation are pretty clearing waning at this point with the way the season has played out. I think I have as good of form as I’ve ever had but it’s hard to let that shine through when shit hasn’t gone as I'd hoped the last six weeks and I've put in so many travel miles this year. It’s good to put something together at the end of the year, but it’s not necessarily the statement I wanted to make.”

The oldest venue on the World Cup circuit, Mont-Sainte-Anne delivered another challenging course with steep climbs and rooty, rocky descents. In its 24-year history, this venue has undoubtedly become one of the favorites for the racers.

“I had a great time,” Ettinger said. “It was a lot of fun. The course was awesome. There were a lot of people out there yelling my name, which always feels good.”

Photo credit: Rob Jones

Photo credit: Rob Jones

As the weekend came to a close in Canada, so did a five-year relationship between Ettinger and his mechanic Daimeon Shanks. Coming full circle, the long-time friends started and finished their storied journey in Mont-Sainte-Anne.

“It was cool to have Daimo there for one last big one,” Ettinger said. “We’ve been doing this together for five years. It’s definitely the end of a chapter for us. Our friendship is not over by any means. There will be a lot more time we spend together, but this chapter definitely had a bookend in a lot of ways. This year kind of marks the end of a chapter for me and the end of a chapter with Daimo. It was a little bit of an emotional day, but it was fun to race, the course was awesome and the people were great. It’s always fun to bike race in Canada. Today meant a lot.”

Wishing he was packing his bike to head to Brazil instead of his home in Bellingham, WA, the American has instead been reflecting back on his journey the last four years.

“It’s been a day and a week that has given me a lot of time to reflect,” said Ettinger. “I’m really proud of what I’ve done over the past four years. I don’t know what the next four years hold, so finishing here today - there was more to it than just finishing the race. Now it’s about getting home, enjoying Whistler and getting some down time.”

The next and final race of the 2016 season for Ettinger will be the Whistler Canada Cup on August 19, one day ahead of the XCO race in Rio.

“It will be a fun weekend in Whistler,” Ettinger said. “A lot of friends will be there. It’s two days before the Olympic race, so not the place I'd hoped and worked to be, but I’ll be riding in the alpine on Sunday the 21st instead, enjoying a beer on the first day of the off season.”

Ettinger looking forward to the iconic Mont-Sainte-Anne World Cup

Ettinger looking forward to the iconic Mont-Sainte-Anne World Cup

Stephen Ettinger will be lining up for one of his favorite races on the UCI World Cup circuit this weekend in Mont-Sainte-Anne, Canada. Hosting its first World Cup in 1991, Mont-Sainte-Anne has become an iconic race over the decades for the racers and the fans from Quebec.

Ettinger first lined up in Mont-Sainte-Anne in 2008. Back for his ninth visit, the American is looking forward to being back on his favorite track that undergoes changes each year to keep things fresh and unique for the racers.

“Part of the reason we keep coming back is because they always do such a good job year after year after year of putting together a really good course,” says Ettinger. “It’s a new track this year with some parts of the old course. Each year it adapts and changes. This year they have installed a new trail and we run sections in a different direction than we have in the past. The legendary Beatrice descent, the technical rock garden that runs under the gondola, is still there.”

And the locals know how to throw a bike party.

“Mont-Sainte-Anne always seems to draw a good crowd,” Ettinger continues. “It’s kind of remote so we won’t see the kind of crowds like Albstadt or Nove Mesto, but there’s usually ten to fifteen thousand people out there over the weekend. Everyone here loves it. They get so into it. They throw a big party the whole weekend, and it’s fun to be a part of it all.”

In the previous eight years of racing, Ettinger’s results have fluctuated between the upper teens and the lower twenties. Based on his form from last weekend’s Boston Rebellion, Ettinger is optimistic about landing a result in the top 15 this Sunday.

“Last weekend I had really good legs,” says Ettinger. “It’s just going to be better this weekend. I’d love to put up my best ever result here.”

As the 2016 season is nearing the end for Ettinger, the Ridebiker athlete is nostalgic when it comes to being back at Mont-Sainte-Anne with his mechanic and close friend Daimeon Shanks.

“This is the last race Daimo and I will do together before he starts law school in the fall,” Ettinger says. “Mont-Sainte-Anne was one of the first trips we did together and it’s appropriate it will be the last.”

Parting shot.

 

 

 

 

 

Ettinger takes home a third and fourth from Boston Rebellion UCI HC

Ettinger takes home a third and fourth from Boston Rebellion UCI HC

Nearing the end of a big block of travel, which will bring the 2016 season to a close, Stephen Ettinger capped off another weekend of racing at the Boston Rebellion in Walpole, Massachusetts with a fourth place in the cross country race and a third place in the short track race. Racing in the United States to prepare for the Mont-Sainte-Anne World Cup next weekend, German Markus Schulte-Lünzum (Focus XC Team) and teammate Swissman Florian Vogel scored first and second in the cross country race on Saturday with Canadian Derek Zandstra (Scott 3 Rox Racing) crossing the line in third.

In the cross country race, Ettinger got caught up in traffic early but was able to work his way through to the front of the race by the end of lap one. Once he made it to the leaders, they made quick work of putting daylight between themselves and the rest of the field.

“On that course there wasn’t much space to move up at all,” said Ettinger. “I worked diligently to make it up to the front group of five. As soon as I bridged across, we didn’t see anyone else the rest of the day. We put minutes into the field – there was a lot of air between ourselves and everybody else. It was fast at the pointy end of the race.”

For most of the hour and forty two minute race, Ettinger played his cards right and was patient as he sized up his competition before making his move on the final lap. Ettinger was caught and subsequently put in another attack in a bid for victory. But his lead was brought to an end by an obtrusive rock.

“I felt like I was as strong as anyone in the group and probably riding better than everybody else,” Ettinger said. “So going into the final lap, I rode to the front and applied a bit of pressure and immediately opened a little gap. On that course five to 10 seconds was a lot. It was really pedally, but it had lots and lots of corners so there was nowhere to really grab time back.”

“I was thinking “this feels great”, but they clawed their way back,” continued Ettinger. “So I tried again. When I did that I came bombing into a corner and too late saw this two-inch rock that I put my front wheel right on. It was a blown out, off camber corner. I laid myself down. That was that. The race was over for me at that point. I was kicking myself for my little momentary lapse. I was in a really good spot, feeling good, feeling confident, and I dropped the ball on that.”

Although Ettinger didn’t get the result he wanted on the day, he didn't walk away empty handed. His fourth place finish propelled him to the top of the US Cup standings, earning him the coveted heavy weight belt that comes with the US Cup title.

“It felt good to earn that belt,” said Ettinger. “It was something on the radar earlier in the year, but I didn’t realize I was going to have as good a shot at the overall as I did. It’s a cool memento to go home with. The belt will probably go on a wall in my house.”

In the short track race on Sunday, Ettinger was able to go one place better with a third place finish. Zandstra pocketed the win and German Luca Schwarzbauer (Lexware Mountainbike Team) finished second on a fast course that saw a larger group stay together to the finish.

“There wasn’t enough horsepower in the race to really string it out,” said Ettinger. “My mistake was waiting for other people to make moves. I put in some digs to try to string things out, to get everyone excited and fired up hoping other people would open things up. The little digs would get people to the front to start taking pulls to string it out. I was hoping one of those would stick but it didn’t.”

“I should have gone for it with two laps to go,” Ettinger said. “I should have tried to take everyone by surprise.”

With one lap to go, the field was still together. Ettinger, who was sitting in third wheel with half a lap to go, tried to make his move but was caught up in lapped traffic. The order of riders going into the final rock garden was the same order that crossed the finish line.

“It was frustrating but my fault for not putting myself in better position to begin with,” said Ettinger. “It was a good weekend of racing, but because of my own mistakes I’m left wondering “what could have been?” But it was all me, so I can’t be bitter about it.”

Racing his last race with the Ridebiker Alliance crew, Ettinger will now spend the week in New England as he road trips his way to Canada for one of his favorites on the calendar - the Mont-Sainte-Anne World Cup.

Ettinger heads east for the Boston Rebellion UCI HC

Ettinger heads east for the Boston Rebellion UCI HC

After the top American racers assembled in Mammoth, California for the US National Mountain Bike Championships a couple weeks ago, racing now lands on the east coast for the Boston Rebellion in Walpole, Massachusetts. The final race of the US Cup series, the UCI HC will draw a large international field one week ahead of the Mont Sainte-Anne World Cup next weekend.

Stephen Ettinger, who currently sits third on the US Cup standings, will be the only attendee from the top five. For Ettinger, merely finishing the race should see him move to the top of the leader board.

“This is the last Ridebiker event and the last US Cup of the season,” says Ettinger. “Raph [Gagne] and Howie [Grotts] won’t be here. It’s pretty tight at the top – the top three are only separated by eight points. I have to make it to the finish line inside the top 15 and should be good to go for the overall win.”

With big points on the line and trying to shake off jet lag before the Canadian world cup, several heavy hitters from Europe will toe the line in Walpole. The Focus XC Team has brought four of its riders – Swiss racer, Florian Vogel, currently ranked eighth in the world, Marcel Guerini, third at the 2016 U23 World Championships, Martin Gujan and Markus Schulte-Lunzum.

“It will be awesome to have a handful of Europeans here,” says Ettinger. “It could be pretty fast at the sharp end. Because it’s a course where there’s not a lot of passing, it could be a pretty big group winding through the forest all day.”

Racing through Adams Farm, the track is a mix double-track, fire roads and twisty single-track through the dense forest. It won’t be the most challenging race due to technicality, but it will be a test of speed.

“There’s not much climbing at all,” Ettinger says. “There are a couple short 20 meter punches, otherwise it’s really flat with a lot of cornering. The questions will be ‘how fast can you go’, ‘how much do you trust your tires’.

“It will come down to who is that much better than everyone else on the medium speed corners,” says Ettinger. “One meter turns into two meters turns into five meters. Small gaps open up. Someone will apply the pressure in some of the twisty stuff and that’s what decides it. If you get stuck behind the wrong wheel, it makes it tough.”

After the cross country race on Saturday, Ettinger and the rest of the field will line up for short track on Sunday. All around it should be a good, fun atmosphere of racing for Ettinger and the rest of the Ridebiker Alliance crew.

“I hope to get a win in the short track,” says Ettinger. “This will be the last weekend we will all be together before everyone heads separate directions for the fall. It will be a fun, light weekend, and we’ll all try to enjoy it as much as possible.”

Pro men's racing begins at 1pm EST on Saturday and 12:45pm EST on Sunday.

Ettinger finds more inspiration and motivation at the Cascade Cycling Classic

Ettinger finds more inspiration and motivation at the Cascade Cycling Classic

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. 

Ettinger satisfied after US National Mountain Bike Championships

Ettinger satisfied after US National Mountain Bike Championships

Photo by: Bill Freeman Photographs

Photo by: Bill Freeman Photographs

The USA Cycling National Mountain Bike Championships unfolded at the Mammoth Bike Park in the majestic Sierra Nevada mountain range this past weekend in California. On Friday afternoon the pro men’s race was dominated by Howard Grotts (Team Specialized), the young climber from Durango, Colorado and Team USA’s sole representative for the Rio Olympics. Rounding out the podium was Keegan Swenson (Cannondale 360 Fly p/b Sugoi) and Russell Finsterwald (SRAM TLD Racing). Todd Wells (SRAM TLD), another Durango resident, finished a mere two seconds in front of Team Ridebiker’s Stephen Ettinger for fourth and fifth.

Grotts, who lives at 6500 feet in Durango, also handedly won the short track event on Saturday claiming the win ahead of Wells and Finsterwald. For the first time in his career, Ettinger was a DNF.

Ettinger, a previous national champion in both the cross country and short track events, says that leaving the national championships without earning a medal for either event was something he’s not accustomed to. Although the national championships weren’t a priority for him this year, lining up in Mammoth was never not an option.

“I’m glad that I went,” said Ettinger. “It would have felt weird skipping it, but leaving without even being on the podium in either race is kind of weird. Winning nationals is always amazing and such a cool feeling, not just for myself but for Daimo and Adam Pulford – it’s not just for me. That being said, to have expected much more than what I walked away with would have been kind of silly. I’m not happy with the result, but I’m satisfied. I had a super fun weekend.”

"In the short track race, I went into complete oxygen debt," continued Ettinger. "I didn't have the high end to follow the attacks so I tried to pin back the lead group after they got away. I went way too deep. I started coughing which then turned to dry heaving. It was physically painful. Pulford said that I looked like a fish out of water."

Having just come off a seven-day BC Bike Race at sea level, Ettinger knew going into nationals that he wouldn’t have the same top end as his competitors. Yet, Ettinger wouldn’t have had it any other way.

“I went out there and gave it my all,” Ettinger said. “I didn’t have the gas to stick with the lead group right away. Keegan and Finsty didn’t put that much time into me lap after lap, but they were able to open it up early on. They had more punch. Howie, he was another story. Had I not done BC Bike Race and focused on nationals, there might have been a different outcome. But the experience I had in BC was so important and inspiring. It would have been lame to have skipped BC and focused on just nationals.”

As a pro with a lot of experience in his back pocket, Ettinger knows where his strengths lie. Racing at 9000 feet isn’t for him. But racing the US National Championships in West Virginia at Snowshoe Mountain in 2017 could be Ettinger’s ticket to another stars and stripes jersey.

“I’m already thinking about nationals next year,” said Ettinger. “It’s in a place that could be a really good venue for me. In mountain biking you go into every race wanting to win because, unlike road racing, we don’t have so many race days. But, you still have to prioritize just the same. This year wasn’t a priority for me, but next year could be really different.”

With BC Bike Race and nationals behind him, Ettinger is now looking forward to ticking off another ‘first’ - a five-day stage race on the road. On Wednesday, July 20 in Bend, OR Ettinger will line up with the Rally Cycling Team for the 37th edition of the Cascade Classic.

“I was originally supposed to race with Rally back in the spring, but our schedules never meshed,” Ettinger said. “Now we’re going to plan B. I won’t have a lot of rest time before the start, but I’m in a good place emotionally. Historically, when I’m in a good place, I tend to recover well.”

So what expectations does the mountain biker have for this roadie stage race?

“I’ve done some road racing but never a stage race of this caliber,” said Ettinger. “But I’ll do whatever the team asks me to do. Well, maybe I won’t be doing a leadout in the crit.” 

Ettinger finishes third overall at BC Bike Race ahead of US MTB National Championships

Ettinger finishes third overall at BC Bike Race ahead of US MTB National Championships

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.

 

 

Fun, organic racing prevails at BC Bike Race

Fun, organic racing prevails at BC Bike Race

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.

For more in-depth race reports, stage results and imagery, head over BC Bike Race's homepage.

 

Mixed emotions for Ettinger at XCO World Championships

Mixed emotions for Ettinger at XCO World Championships

Photo credit: Rob Jones

Photo credit: Rob Jones

In front of a crowd of over 23,000 screaming fans in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic, the UCI XCO World Championships concluded with the elite men’s race. Swissman Nino Schurther scored his fifth world title, tying the number of elite world titles of Frenchman Julien Absalon, with a dominating performance over local favorite Jaroslav Kulhavy and Absalon, who finished second and third respectively. Stephen Ettinger was the second American on the day in 50th place.

Ahead of the race, Ettinger didn’t have the positive feelings in his legs that an athlete wants to have in the lead-up to one of the biggest races on the calendar. But always the optimist, Ettinger was still confident that he would have a good day on a track that is just straight-up fun.

“I didn’t feel terrible, but I just didn’t have any spark,” said Ettinger. “I couldn’t get the legs to go. I was afraid of that because of the sensations I had coming in. It was really frustrating to have people riding past me at the start. You feel you’re at ninety percent and you know it. There’s nothing you can do. You can’t open that extra gear up. Maybe it’s the travel that caught up with me. I have traveled a lot in the last eight months. Or maybe it’s the weight of the last four years. The past month has been so emotional.”

Photo credit: Rob Jones

Photo credit: Rob Jones

Still trying to shake off the discouraging news that he was left off Team USA for the Rio Olympics, Ettinger flew to Czech with a lot of jumbled emotions still swimming in his head. But with the world championships on the line, the most important race next to the Olympics, Ettinger was hoping to switch off and tune in to the task at hand.

Unable to get the result he wanted, Ettinger ended his race with mixed emotions. On the one hand he was understandably disappointed by his result. On the other hand, he was absolutely exhilarated by the vivacious atmosphere that pulsated around the entire track.

“It was good, but it was not the race that I wanted to have,” said Ettinger. “It wasn’t the race that I’m capable of having. That being said it was one of the most unreal experiences I’ve ever been a part of racing a bike. This was my eighth worlds and none of them even compares. The crowd was totally on another level. The grand stands were packed and then the crowd was four people deep around the course. It was bonkers.”

Able to take a step back from all that has happened in the last week, the last month and the last four years, Etttinger is coming to terms with just how much emotional stress, added up day after day, year after year, affects the body and soul.

“I’m growing to appreciate how much stress adds up,” Ettinger said. “The past four years have been full on. The blinders have been on. My mom said I haven’t seemed happy. She said, ‘you’re trying to be relaxed and care free but you haven’t had that same spark’. There’s been a huge exhalation emotionally. In some ways it feels really good, and in some ways it’s hugely frustrating because the reason it’s happening is because I’m not going to Rio. It is what it is though. You have to take it for what it is and take it in stride. 

“It’s about going back to the journey and figuring out what the journey is,” added Ettinger. “This is part of the journey. Learning this about myself and recognizing what has been going on the past four years and how demanding that has been. That’s part of the journey. It’s all good. There’s a huge decompression going on right now and I could feel it out there racing today.”

Photo credit: Rob Jones

Photo credit: Rob Jones

Racing in front of a raucous crowd was an exceptional experience for Ettinger, and so was ripping around on his new FOCUS O1E that uses the state-of-the-art Focus Optimized Linkage Design (F.O.L.D.) rear suspension.

“The new bike is unreal,” exclaimed Ettinger. “It’s so good. It’s so fast, so reactive. It does everything that you want it to confidently. It wants to climb, and then as soon as you point it downhill it wants to rip. I’m psyched. It’s an amazing, amazing bike. They did a phenomenal job." 

Without a trip to Brazil in August, Ettinger is now readjusting his racing schedule to do things he’s never had the opportunity to do before. 

“Now I get to do some different stuff to try to get the spark back,” Ettinger said. “I’ll be racing BC Bike Race come Thursday, which I have never done before. Then I’ll head to Mammoth for US nationals. Straight from there I’ll race on the road with Rally Cycling at the Cascade Cycling Classic. A few days after that I’ll race the Boston Rebellion and Mont-Sainte-Anne World Cup before wrapping things up with the Leadville 100. It will be a busy six weeks.”

Adding to the thrill of racing the new O1E at BC Bike Race, Ettinger will also shift to the new Shimano Di2 XT that is being released at BC Bike Race.

With new, uncharted territory on the race calendar and cutting-edge equipment to help raise the stoke factor on the trails, Ettinger is sure to bounce back to being a dominant force on the XC scene.

Ettinger focuses on being fast and having fun ahead of 2016 UCI XC World Championships

Ettinger focuses on being fast and having fun ahead of 2016 UCI XC World Championships

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. 

Ettinger's frustrations on being a non-selection for the Rio Olympics

Ettinger's frustrations on being a non-selection for the Rio Olympics

On Thursday, June 23, USA Cycling announced the 21-rider team for the Rio Olympics. Based on the nation’s UCI ranking, only one of those 21 spots was allocated to the men’s mountain bike team. Twenty-seven year-old Stephen Ettinger, America’s top-ranked rider in 33rd, was a non-selection for Team USA. The one and only spot was given to 23-year old and first year elite rider, Howard Grotts.

So is it potential or experience that matters? In 2012 it was experience. In 2016 it’s potential. 

Four years ago, leading into the London Olympics, Ettinger was part of the rider pool from which USA Cycling chose the two-rider team. Ettinger was not selected. Instead Olympic veteran Todd Wells and first-time Olympian Sam Schultz completed the team. Last time Ettinger was told Wells, a more “experienced” rider, was the better choice. Ettinger and Wells had similar results that year, but Wells had already been to Athens and Beijing and that mattered.

“I was told ‘you don’t have enough experience, we’re taking Todd’,” Ettinger said. “USAC explained that my trajectory was very steep and that I was likely to have great opportunities in the future but that I needed to get more experience to go next time.”

“So, I get the experience,” continued Ettinger. “I put the time in. I show my stripes but then that experience I gained and the palamares I put together bite me in the ass because I no longer have the trajectory.”

It’s the inconsistency that frustrates Ettinger the most. 

“So why wasn’t I ‘medal potential’ 4 years ago,” asked Ettinger. “Why do they think he’s any more medal capable than I was then? People’s memory is short, but I was regularly in the top five my last year as a U23 in the World Cups. And why does experience no longer matter? That being applied so arbitrarily is what is so frustrating right now.”

“The argument they gave me this time was since neither Howie or I are medal capable in Rio they have to look towards 2020,” Ettinger said. “This is the scenario I was afraid of and it came to fruition. But why it stings so badly was because in 2012 they used the exact opposite of that argument against me.”

Aside from the unpredictable nature of the selections, Ettinger’s frustration also extends to USA Cycling’s lack of follow through to make sure the United States would have enough UCI points to qualify a two-person team in Rio.

“As a country we didn’t rise to the occasion,” said Ettinger. “There were only two people who scored points. The third person to score points was Todd and he wasn’t racing internationally. It’s not that people didn’t try but the opportunity wasn’t given. We needed to have more people at races like the Pan Am Continental Championships or a team that went to Brazil for some stage racing. Anything to score UCI points.”

A year ago the United States had enough points to send two riders to Rio, but the country was on the bubble of losing that second spot if it didn’t consistently earn UCI points. It was a concern that Ettinger raised, but it seemed to fall on deaf ears.

“We as the United States should not only have one spot at the Olympics – that’s a shame,” Ettinger said. “If you put athletes in a position to help score points and be part of the system, people are going to do that. We should have done a better job to ensure we were in a position to have two spots. Why wasn’t Howie at Pan Ams? Why wasn’t Todd asked to do two world cups and take one for the team? Other people tried, but it just didn’t come together.”

By mid-spring the United States has lost its second allocation as the country fell down the nations UCI rankings. The pressure was on, but Ettinger was up for the task. He thought that his experience and his results would stand up to USA Cycling. But his Olympic dreams were dashed in a simple email that explained Grotts was on an upward trajectory and the blood, sweat and tears that Ettinger had accumulated accounted for nothing.

So it goes that Ettinger will instead turn his focus to other opportunities and events, all the while knowing where he would rather be come August 21.