23-year-old Garmin-Cervelo talent, Peter Stetina, is the only remaining member of Jonathan Vaughters’ original 5280-Subaru development team, which formed in 2003. At that time, Peter was just 16, and even then, it was apparent that there was a future for the wiry climber in the sport.
Eight years on and the talent that was so evident even then, is starting to come good in a big way. Stetina rode and completed his first ever Grand Tour at this May’s Giro d’Italia. He not only made it through what was without question the most difficult Grand Tour in recent memory, but he managed an impressive 22nd place overall.
peloton sat down with the rising star a few days after the Giro’s finale in Milano...
How was your first Giro?
It was fun. It was an experience. The whole point of my first Grand Tour was just to get one in your legs and reap the benefits of it afterwards. They say it changes your body, it changes you as a rider, it gives you this extra gear. My one personal goal was just to make it to Milan. Then the goals after that were to help the team in any way possible. I'm more of a climber, so of course I was more designated to help Christophe [Le Mevel] in the mountains, because our goal was to have him in the top ten on GC at the end. We had Tyler [Farrar] there at the beginning before the tragedy struck. So of course, I was pulling for him on the front for the first couple of days.
When they say it changes you as a rider, is that something at this point you can already say you feel?
[Laughs] No, I'm just tired now! Once I recover and fully absorb all the work I did, it will happen…Simply put, you can go stronger longer. You can ride that hard, hard effort, and you still have a lot left in the tank to go more. You have that endurance for three weeks. Hopefully that's what comes.
Looking back at the Giro, what moments stand out to you as memorable?
The circus with the Giro. I've heard that the Tour and the Vuelta are pretty straightforward. The Tour is just massive, because it's the Tour de France, but the Giro is where everyone says the passion lies. You can see it. Just driving to the stages, passing through every town, everyone had the pink balloons on their houses, because the Giro was passing through. The route was coming down their street, and they were celebrating. Basically, it was this never-ending stream of pink from start to finish each day, all three weeks. Whether it was balloons or streamers or t-shirts or what have you. That was really cool. All the fans on the climbs were just amazing. On the flip side, the transfers were insane, but it was just kind of the theme. It was like "Yeah, but it's the Giro, so it's ok." It's absurd, but it's ok, because it's the Giro.
Yeah, Wouter died. That's a pretty big negative.
Far below that, some of the transfers were a little ridiculous, but like I said before, it's the Giro. You do have a couple of bad days along the way as well. There are a couple of days where just sitting in the field hurts, and then guys are attacking even when they shouldn't, because you know they're not going to win that day, but they are still just making it hard on everyone. Fortunately, even on those hard days, pretty much the whole Giro, we had good weather. It seemed like this was the luckiest Giro ever weather-wise, but there were still a couple of days with rain, and that changed everything. It was dangerous, cold, and scary.
In terms of bad days, I'm really happy, because I never actually succumbed to the downward spiral where a lot of guys just got more and more tired and sunken in, so I'm taking that as a positive. Hopefully, I'm kind of built to do this. Maybe I am a Grand Tour racer - you kind of have to see after your first one. You never know whether you can do a week long stage race, a one day race, or a Grand Tour. After the Giro though, it's looking like this is what I can do.
Did you ever think at any point - I'm not sure if I can keep going?
No. I was confident. I had done the work I needed to, and we could see from the beginning that I was climbing with the leaders. I knew I could finish it, but you still have to finish it. You have to do the work. That was the mentality - you know it's going to suck, but you just do it anyway because that's the process you go through. That's why you're here, and it's a good thing that it hurts right now, because that's what makes you stronger later. That's how I took it.
Looking to what defined this Giro - of course there will always be Wouter's death, but beyond that, there were the mountains. You can probably put them down to a few key stages: Etna, Zoncolan, Grossglockner, Gardeccia, and the Finestre. Thoughts?
Don't forget the Macugnaga stage. With the rain and the climb, that day was brutal. That was one of the harder days where everyone was so tired, and with the rain, it was bad. It was always strung out and there was a lot of tension. That was the hardest day in the race for me. I finished that day so empty.
I tried to go in a move early on. I figure, I'd rather try to go for winning a stage in a breakaway than climbing 20th or whatever. You gotta try for glory, right? I tried. We had a move going, but for some reason one team wasn't represented correctly, and it came crumbling down after we did so much work to get away. We were away for a lot of the early part of the stage, so I knew I was going to pay for it. It was a 200+ kilometer stage with a mountaintop finish.
Then rains and the final climb came. I was dropped early on the final climb to Macugnaga. I was in the cars forever, but I started to come back just in time for the race to shatter some more. I went so deep. It wasn't actually going deep, you're kind of just dead man riding. Someone who finished close to me had a powermeter on and told me the numbers later - it was pretty wimpy by ProTour standards, but we still finished around 30th, because everyone was so fried. I was pulling energy out of every follicle of hair on my body. I was so empty. I didn't know how I was going to be able to do it all again the next day, but I recovered well and was able to rally and come back well for the Sestriere day, so that was good.
Were you close to the crash on the Macugnaga stage that took out Marco Pinotti and Craig Lewis?
That crash almost ended my Giro too. It was really close. I was right there. It happens. A lightning storm rolled in, and it was a full on torrential downpour with little rivers in the road. It was the one day of really bad rain we had, and we were coming into the final climb. It was about 15k to the start of the climb, which wasn't that hard. It's long, but it's 5% so it's fast enough so there's drafting. It's still a big position battle though. Katusha started going flat out into the base of the climb from a long ways out, and we weren't quite sure what they were doing, because Rodriguez wasn't that high up on GC. I think he wanted a stage win to salvage his Giro. Whatever the reason, we were going flat out - 60k an hour in the rain, in the downpour.
You're going so fast, you can't see because of the rain, and your lenses are fogged, and then at this one piece of road furniture, there was no moto cop, no flag waving. They usually have a flag and a whistle, so you know it's there, but there was one piece of road furniture that wasn't tended to. It wasn't very high, so you couldn't see the sign above the field. We had our heads down in a single file line, because the race was starting to break and split. All of a sudden, you hear some shouts and a bunch of guys swerve right, some swerve left. One guy went to the right and tagged the sign, and I went to the left and tried to hit my brakes, but nothing happened. I hit a bunch of grass on the side of the planter box, I was bushwhacked, but the other guy tagged the sign - I heard the sound of carbon bike cracking immediately, and then the whole domino effect of five other riders hitting him. It turned out that was the crash that ended the Giro for Craig Lewis and Marco Pinotti, so I was really lucky that I went left.
What about the 230 kilometer, 6000+ meters of climbing Dolomite stage?
You mean the death march? Yeah, that was hard. We hit the first climb 30k in, and then it felt like we were on this false flat for ages. Apparently, 30k in, Garzelli wanted to go, and Di Luca wanted to go. All of a sudden, it was this full on end-of-race type smack down on the first climb. The field was shattering, and Contador was yelling at his team to ride steady, because it was going to be such a long and hard day. We knew what was coming up, but everyone was racing so hard, because it was the last day before a rest day, and they were excited and wanted to represent. It was the Queen stage, you know? If you got the Passo Giau there was a big prize over the top of that [the Giau was this year's Cima Coppi - the highest point], so it was full-on racing to form the breakaway.
After the break went, we just started climbing harder and harder each consecutive climb we hit. Then it was lights out, lights out, lights out. Even when some sprinters called gruppetto it was really late in the day. The race pretty much split and completely shattered over the Giau, which is still pretty early. It's like 60k from the finish from there. I was in no man's land. I got dropped just over the top of the Giau, and I caught back on, but Nibali attacked on the descent, and of course, when Nibali goes on the descent there's not much you can do. I caught what I thought was the front group, but it wasn't - the group had shredded even more on the descent. There were ten guys with me, and then ten guys with Nibali and Scarponi up the road.
That was it. You can slowly see the helicopter going further away, until it was gone. It was kind of quiet for a while - no moto cops, no fans. It was raining coming over the Fedaia and one guy would catch me, one guy would get dropped. It just felt like a training ride on closed roads for a while until finally a big group came. Everyone was so drained. No one was talking, and it was cold. No one had anything left to race up the final climb of the Gardeccia.
It was physically the hardest thing I've ever done on a bike. It wasn't actually like a race at the end. You finished. I honestly don't think that makes for such good racing. The same guys won at the end of Stage 7, which was only 110 kilometers, and it was much more exciting for TV and for the spectators. This was, I don't know how to describe it you could see the emptiness in everyone's eyes. Guys were collapsing left and right after the finish line.
You mention that, for a period, it was basically just you, by yourself, on the Fedaia. What was that like in the middle of a Grand Tour?
I didn't realize how many guys were up the road, because there was a big breakaway that day. I didn't know anything. All of a sudden, it didn't seem like a Grand Tour anymore, because there weren't as many spectators lower on the slopes. There were still some people clapping, but there were no cars around. I think some spectators had already started to turn away, because the favorites had come through. It was dark, dreary, and I was completely out of energy. The team car left to follow Christophe, who was just up the road. They handed me a Coke and a water bottle at the last moment, so I had my rations to get home. It was kind of dismal and dreary, and it wasn't very much fun at all. That section was beautiful though. It was through this canyon (the Sottuguda at the beginning of the climb of the Fedaia) with a creek. I was totally solo there. I was looking around - oh, that's nice, there are lights in the road. I looked to the side - oh, there's a waterfall. I couldn't take in the beauty though, because I was so zonked out.
Descents, that was obviously a major part of the Giro…
Yeah, descents are the scariest things in the ProTour. When I first went
pro last year with Garmin, we were at training camp in January and
Christian Vande Velde went hauling by us on this descent. No brakes,
nothing. I came up to him afterward and said "I gotta start calling you
Cannonball. You guys were hauling!" He was like "No, man. I'm a bad
descender in the field. I'm scared. I do everything I can not to get
dropped. Just you wait."
Descents are when the race splits up more often it seems. It really is.
What some of these guys pull is unbelievable. I'm not the type of rider
who will risk it, but you really can win a race on a descent. Everyone
says you can't win a race on the descent, but you can lose it. In some
of these stages, you can win the race on the descent too. It's hard, but
with guys like Nibali.. they just go so fast all the time. It's hard to
put that much faith in a one inch piece of rubber. These tire
manufactures have to have morals and values because you're putting so
much on the line in every single corner. You see when something goes
wrong, like with Wouter, he didn't do anything out of the ordinary. It
was the way he slipped out of the corner and it sent him tumbling the