It's been quite a season for Stephen Ettinger (BMC Development Mountain Bike Team), who has been among the podium finishers at elite men's cross country races throughout the US this season. Most recently, the 22-year-old raced to victory in the under 23 men's cross country at the US Mountain Bike National Championships in Sun Valley, Idaho, last weekend.
After his title-winning ride, Ettinger was speechless. "That was unreal. I don't even know what to say."
Given a little time to recover, he had more to share. "It feels really good. This season has been absolutely incredible to this point. This win makes it even better. It was a big goal, for sure."
Ettinger has been super motivated this season and the support from his new BMC Development Mountain Bike Team seems to have helped him make a big leap forward in 2011.
"It was all or nothing this year," said Ettinger, who is in his final year as a U23 racer. He had bad luck last year at nationals, and in 2009, he was third after Colin Cares and Rob Squire.
"The support that I've gotten from BMC this year is huge. Having the support and not having to worry about the little things puts me in a much lower stress place and it's making it easier to focus on the race and do what I need to do."
"It's also a lot of cumulative work. This is like my sixth or seventh year trying to chase the national championships. It's perseverance and it works. Each year, my training has gotten harder and better. For me, it's just all coming together - all the hard work and the training over the years and the experience I've gained here in the US and racing internationally."
Ettinger, who lives in Bozeman, Montana, heads next to the US Pro XCT finals in Missouala, Montana, on Saturday. "It's a home race for me. I'm trying to hold onto my top five in the US Pro XCT rankings. I think I'm fourth right now."
Afterward, he'll get a brief break and then race the final two U23 World Cups in Europe during the second and third weekends of August. One is in the Czech Republic and one is Italy.
By virtue of finishing in the top 10 at the Dalby and Offenburg World Cups and in the top five at Mont-Sainte-Anne and by winning the U23 National Championships, Ettinger is qualified for mountain bike Worlds and will be making the trek to Champery, Switzerland, in early September.
Ettinger credited much of his recent success to the experience he gained racing abroad as part of the Under 23 national team. "USA Cycling has played a big role, especially Marc Gullickson having faith in me and taking me over to Europe and showing me how fast people really are. He showed me how hard I need to work if I want to be one of those fast guys."
He is well aware that some of his competition is switching from mountain bike racing to the road. When asked if he might do the same, he said, "I can't deny that the thought is there, but I'm having a lot of fun racing on my mountain bike."
"Next year, I'll hopefully race with the European BMC team and be living over there. Right now, I enjoy what I'm doing and I don't anticipate making that change, but I won't close the door on anything," said Ettinger. "We'll see where this thing takes me."