In the matter of two days, Stephen Ettinger went from up-and-coming mountain bike rider to two-time collegiate national champion.
After spending most of the year riding with the U23 USA Cycling Development Team in Europe, Canada and on the East Coast, the 20-year-old Cashmere native and junior at Montana State capped off his season by winning the Division II cross country and short track cross country titles at the USA Cycling Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championships in Truckee, Calif., on Oct. 16 and 17.
“It was incredible. It still hasn’t hit me yet entirely,” says Ettinger.
The titles follow Ettinger’s third-place finish at the U23 national competition earlier in the year.
On the first day in Truckee, a four-lap cross country race on a seven-mile track, Ettinger wasn’t exactly confident about his chances to win — even after he jumped out to an early lead.
“It was an incredibly nerve-wracking race,” he says. “I wasn’t sure how long I was going to hold up, but fortunately I cracked less than everyone else did.”
With that win, the next day’s short track race was a breeze in comparison.
“It was a fast course, and 10 minutes in I opened it up to see if anyone could ride with me,” Ettinger says. “As I came into that last corner on my final lap, it was pretty overwhelming. It all kind of hit me at once.”
Now that he’s a national champ, Ettinger is glad he has something to show for years of training.
“It really just put something tangible to all the hard work I’ve done this year and last year,” he says. “It’s really reassuring to know that it all paid off. It was an incredible way to cap off a season.
“It reinforces to me that this is something I’m going to be able to do and make a living at for a while now.”
Next up for Ettinger is some much needed time off, but he says he’ll back in training in November. And thanks to his successful 2009 season, he’s looking forward to going back to Europe for the 2010 season.