Welcome to part two of peloton's exclusive interview with Peter Stetina shortly after he 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.
Did the Dolomites stand out to you when you were racing?
Yeah, I've never done anything in the Dolomites before so, it was pretty amazing. I've done a little bit of racing in Italy, but never a ton. I've always asked guys "So what are the Dolomites like? They're just the Alps, right?" They pretty much are the Alps, but they're this special region and they're these steep rocky peaks…they are really impressive. When we were just rolling along once in a while, we could see these mountains in the background coming closer and closer. They are awe inspiring. It's a cool mountain range. It's unlike any mountain range in the world that I've seen yet. They have their own special vibe.
When you were racing you did have time/energy to look around?
Yeah, sometimes. The break would roll, and there'd be a climb halfway through the stage, before the leaders started attacking. You do have a couple of minutes to kind of look around when you're eating and conserving energy. It was really cool, because I did a photo shoot afterwards with Castelli, and I got to go back and kind of re-ride some of the passes from the stage in the Dolomites - not racing, not suffering, not in the zone. I could look around, stretch my neck a little bit, and take it all in - actually take in the enormity of it. They really are impressive, but you can't really see that in a race. You see the peak, and you realize it's a really cool craggy peak shrouded in mist and snow, but during the race, you don't look at the consecutive mountains behind that, and that's when you can see the layers and how deep the mountains go. That was really cool.
How did you like the monster dirt climb of the Colle delle Finestre?
That was just fun. It was the last real climb of the Giro - I mean the final climb that day into Sestriere wasn't really a climb. It wasn't that hard, but the Finestre more than made up for that. It was pretty epic with the dirt and the sheer size of the climb. I ride dirt roads a lot back home in Colorado. There are a ton of dirt roads in the mountains, so I'm comfortable on dirt.
There were so many fans, and it got so narrow towards the top, that we were having trouble getting around the cars of a guy we were catching. Some guys had to yell at the cars to scoot into the fans a little bit, because there was only room for the riders' handlebars and the car - the fans were so packed in there. It was beautiful weather, not a cloud in the sky. It was really iconic. It was fun, you could push yourself that much, deeper because it was the last one.
How about the other monster - the Monte Zoncolan?
That was cool. It was a bit of a cluster coming into it, because they had taken out the Crostis. I didn't miss that though, because the day after, the Queen Stage through the Dolomiti, was so hard anyway, I think if people had been more tired from the Crostis it would have been horrible. It was already horrible. So, the Crostis was out. We were going to go halfway up the Crostis and take a different way down before the dirt started, but the people who camped out to watch the Crostis were protesting, and they were going to stop the race.
So, the organizers made a smart move and completely cut the Crostis out of the race. We found that out with about 20k to go toward the Crostis, so all of the sudden the race is 30k shorter or something. No one was quite sure what was happening and all of a sudden we turn right instead of left. No one was quite sure what was going on. I think some of the Italian teams did, because they knew the courses. Liquigas went to the front, and then you realized just from the movements of others that it was go time.
We hit the Zoncolan. It was impressive. We had these mountain bike type of gears on. I had a 36X32 which is tiny. The thing with the Zoncolan is that it doesn't really level out, and if it does, it levels out for 30 seconds maybe two or three times up the whole climb. You think - Oh, it's only 10k to the finish! - Usually you're taking your last gel or whatever, but this was, crazy. You go up for 1k, and you climb for a good five, ten minutes sometimes if it's the steep section, and then you see a kilometer sign pass by, and you realize how long it is actually going to take.
Christophe was still hurting, and we thought he was just having some bad days, but it turns out he was getting pretty tired. I think he peaked a little early this year, because he had such a good first week and such a good classics season with Fleche and Liege. On something as steep as the Zoncolan, I couldn't do what I did the day before on Grossglockner and pace him up and try to help pull him up, because it's so steep you have one speed.
It's almost easier than some climbs where you're trying to keep with the favorites, and you're pushing yourself over that red zone. On this, it's so steep you only have your speed. Everyone just kinda settles into their rhythm to get to the top as fast as they can. If you go too deep, you don't ride slower, you would have to stop. I just kinda settled in, and he let me off the leash. I ended up riding around Kreuziger for most of the climb up, and it was really cool. The people and the whole aura around it was really cool, but then it started raining and hailing at the top, so I got the hell out of there as fast as I could.
How was the uphill time trial to Nevegal after the second rest day?
Yeah, I didn't have the best ride there. I still have to figure out how my body responds to rest days. I'm not going to go into too much detail. I gotta keep my secret about how it is when I feel good and bad so guys don't attack me some day in the future! [laughs]The rest days are interesting. You can't do too much so that you'll be tired, but you can't do too little because then your body is like "Oh, I can relax now." You have to keep the adrenal glands open and flowing.
I was feeling good on Nevegal though. There were so many people and so many fans that I went too hard to early. There were so many fans. Everyone had camped up there that night, and they had fire pits going with their barbecues and the beer. I actually smelled the meats and the smoking going on. The meat smoking. It made me hungry. I got hunger pains toward the end of the race, which was kind of weird.
I basically emptied myself out with the 3k to go. I could feel it halfway through - I knew that I went too early. Then you kind of play damage control for a while. It was so steep, and there were so many fans. You just keep suffering and then everything just shut down with 3k to go. Kiryienka even passed me. He was my minute man, but then he won the Sestriere stage solo, so I don't feel so bad after he beat me. He was really amazing this Giro.
In terms of recovery, do you have coaches advising you?
Yeah, we have a whole team staff at Garmin-Cervelo. We have team physiologists, and we have riders like David Millar, where this was his 20th grand tour. They share their little nuggets of wisdom with you. I have to kind of figure out and experiment with everyone's point of view and figure out what works best for me. I'm going to try something from the physiologist's side, something based on science, and then use someone else's expertise, and then listen to my own body and figure out what I need. At the end of the day, that's how you have to do it. If you're really craving pasta, then your body is obviously craving carbohydrates, so you eat more. You just have to be in touch with yourself.
You were climbing with some of the superstars of the sport at the Giro. What was that like?
It's confirmation that all the hard work I've done is paying off. Hopefully, I can be climbing top ten next year instead of top twenty. This year I was kinda getting dropped around 15th to 20th place on the Sestriere, Gardeccia, and Zoncolan stages, so next year I should be trying to get dropped between 5th and 10th place, and I'll really be in it. It was really cool. It was motivating. When you see the guys attacking it's not so ungodly fast. Sure, I can't match Contador, but when you're there, it seems more human, tangible. That's something to work for. That's what I want.
Was it intimidating?
No, you know what's going to happen before it happens. I've done enough other ProTour races. It wasn't any different, just on a bigger scale I guess.
What's next? You've gone through a Grand Tour extremely well for the first time. Are you at a point where you can start to dare to dream a little bigger?
Yeah, I mean I've never been the type of rider who has the massive breakout ride and comes out of nowhere. I've always kind of moved up slowly.. every year I've been better and better and better. The goal is to keep chipping away at it. Maybe next year I'll shoot for a top 15 or a top 10. That would be really cool. Then you shoot for a top ride and a podium. You just keep going as far as your body can take you, and you have to find the limit to what you can do with yourself.
That's the goal, but first I'm going to relax and do everything I need to do in terms of recovery too. The race hasn't finished yet. If you shut down and go clubbing, you're not going to gain anything. You have to recover right, relax, spin lightly. When you do it right, when you eat right, then you'll come back and recover better than the guys who just shut down completely. Then the Giro is over in some time in the latter part of June. That's when my Giro finishes. Hopefully I'll have gained what I need to, and then I'll be racing at the front of the races this fall and then into next spring. That's the goal.