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Jan 7, 2020

Former World Tour Pro, Peter Stetina joins the podcast this week to discuss his decision to leave the World Tour to race gravel in 2020.

Peter Stetina Instagram

Automated Transcript (please excuse all typos)

Greetings everybody and welcome to the gravel ride podcast. I'm your host Craig Dalton. This week on the podcast we've got professional cyclists, Peter Stetina. If you're a fan of professional road cycling, you'll probably recognize Peter's name from his time in the pro Peloton, most recently with the Trek SegraFreddo team, and if you follow the gravel cycling scene closely in November of last year, Peter dropped. What dare I say is a bit of a bombshell. He decided to forego a future in the European Peloton, which was available to him and take a crack at being a gravel privateer. Peter's contract in 2019 allowed him to dabble in a few gravel events and his impact was immediately felt at the front end of the race, having one Belgian raw full ride come second at dirty Kanza and put in a pretty stellar performance in the Leadville 100 mountain bike race. It was great to learn a little bit more about pizza process and making this decision. What is 2020 calendar is looking like and how he plans on modifying his training as a gravel athlete versus his time in the pro Peloton. With that, let's jump right in. Pete, welcome to the show.

Thanks for having me.

Well, I usually start off by asking my guests to talk a little bit about your background. I think you've been in the press enough lately that I'll do a little summary in the show notes that people can look into. But suffice it to say your announcement in November of 2019 sent shockwaves through the gravel community when you decided to not continue pursuing your prayer road career over in Europe, which was definitely an option for you and sort of embrace this alternative calendar. Let's start by talking about 2019. Obviously you put your foot in the water and gravel racing and winning BWR and racing and DK and getting second there. What was going through your mind in 2019 as you were doing double duty and what led to the decision for what you're going to be doing in 2020?

Yeah. You know, it was, um, it, it started even back in my mind at the end of, uh, 2018 last year. Um, I had had some health problems. I was actually suffering with, um, Epstein BARR virus, which is the precursor to mono all season. And it was undiagnosed and the, the road results weren't clicking, my body wasn't firing. And I was, I was struggling to get the, the contract renewal and you know, I've been doing this a decade. I felt like I had a place in, in the world tour, but it was, you know, just things weren't clicking. And I was second guessing myself and my body and the longevity in the sport. And, um, I kind of saw these races, you know, starting to gain traction. And, you know, I, I started thinking, you know, I wanna I want to experience these. And, um, and then, you know, Trek came back to me and they said like, yeah, you had a good to season, you represent the USA at the world's, like you had some good Italian classics, like, let's jam again.

You, you know, we trust you. And so I, you know, I was gonna I was able to sign on again with Trek, but I kind of said, you know, Hey, like some of these events are big in the U S and they make sense and I want to try him. And this is actually totally independent to what the guys over at ETF were doing. I had no idea they were planning this even though Alex houses one of my best buds. Um, you know, he's one of my groomsmen in my wedding. He didn't tell me that was going down. And, uh, um, so it was kinda funny how I, I went to Trek and I said, Hey, I want to do these. And the road team, you know, it's, it's Italian run more or less over in Europe. Uh, they went to Trek marketing in Wisconsin and they just were like, Hey, you know, Pete is kind of putting his foot down.

Like he's, he's really adamant about doing this. And Trek Wisconsin said, hell yeah, that makes sense. Like, these races are legit here. Um, and that same week, funnily, funny enough, um, ETF announced their alternative program so it looked like it was, you know, kinda together, but it definitely wasn't at all. Um, it was just circumstance. And, um, and so then, yeah, this year I basically, I, I raced a full world tour calendar. I think I had 82 race days in the world tour plus, um, a handful of alternative events, which was, uh, the Belgian waffle ride, the dirty Kanza Leadville 100 plus. Um, just a couple of local events. A couple of grasshoppers as you guys in North Cal know, and also some bike monkey events like fish rock. Was that difficult with your, sort of, the team management over in Italy to make space for you in the calendar to come back and do that many events?

Um, yeah. You know, they, we had it in the contract and they, they had to let me do them. Um, and they supported it 100%. You know, Trek was great about it. Um, it was definitely, it was hard to mentally convince the European management that this makes sense to do because it's just, it's, it's a very unique U S scene right now and Europe world tour road racing is still fine and healthy. You don't have races like the Torah, California folding and all that. So it's, they didn't, they didn't quite understand it, but at the same time they heard, they knew from Trek and I saw that there was this movement going on and they said, yeah, why not? Um, you know, there, I was protected by having it in my contract. You know, cause we did run into a couple issues, uh, later in the year. For example, suddenly a couple guys got sick and crashed and they wanted me at tour Roman D but I already had Belgian waffle ride in my contract. And I kinda, you know, it was like, no guys, like I'm here in California at Belgian waffle ride before California. Like I can't come back to Europe again for the Roman Dee. And they fully respected that and let me race and I think they were happy when I want it, but at the same time they were kind of like, well, Stan is not doing his duty at the world tour too.

Right. It's not, not exactly putting points in the team's coffers.

Well, you know, it was just, it was a, it was a line to touch him to toe, but at the end of the day, like they really supported it. I mean they gave me the custom bikes for dirty Kanza and all the equipment I needed and I then they admitted they saw the marketing boost come out of these alternative races was, it was huge.

Yeah. It's quite, it's quite disproportionate, I think to the actual success or failure of your efforts.

Yeah. Yeah. So, um, no, it was, it was great. It was a great season and I got to kind of, you know, just tow the waters a little bit, a bit of a soft entry to see if this gravel thing really made sense and if there was this possibility there and then, you know, towards after Leadville and well are dirty cans, I started thinking, you know, like this is phenomenal. Like this scene in the outreach and during Torah California people would be yelling at me on the climbs about Belgian waffle winner. You know, it was actually, it surprised me how excited people were on that. And then, um, I did an interview for Eurosport about riding gravel cause they're like, what the heck is this? Why is a road pro playing around in the dirt? And, and so it started to gain traction and dirty Kanza I, it just expanded on that.

And then led Villa was again and it, it was, I, I just, I realized this is where I really enjoy racing. Like I said this in a print interview, but I had more butterflies in my stomach before dirty Kanza than I did before the, you know, the start of the Welter. And that said something to me deep down and, and my wife was able to point it out. Um, and uh, and so eventually I had to make the decision, you know, where, where I want to go. And you know, that was, that was a hard decision. It was, you know, the tried and true path that I've done for a decade. And, you know, there's a setup, uh, there's, there's, um, guarantees in it and there's a stability in it, um, as stable as cycling can be, I guess. But you know, there's, there's a pipeline.

Great. So you've put in, you know, you're putting your solid season on off road with these marquee events in 2019. You've been thinking about it for awhile. As you just kind of mentioned the economic decision, much like any professional, you've kind of got trade-offs, you've got security versus the unknown. You've got a big maybe infrastructure that you're involved in at the pro tour level versus making decision to essentially create your own small infrastructure to go out and pursue these things you're excited about. So I think all the listeners can kind of grapple and understand what you must have been thinking at that point. And it's a huge leap of faith to kind of come in and, um, take the private tier approach. What was that like, kind of creating a program that would meet your sort of family economic needs as well as your passion to pursue the types of events you wanted to go after?

Yeah, that, you know, that was, that was the big question Mark in my mind is, you know, is this going to be viable? I mean, I, this is where I will be happiest racing my bike. But you know, world tour pays well and it's, it's, it's a job as well as a passion. And you know, I have a family, I have two mortgages with Santa Rosa and Tahoe. Um, you know, and I have to make ends meet and, and I also, you know, to, to do myself and my sponsors, right. And to be able to fully focus and give my all as a bike racer and a brand ambassador and an athlete, it's, you know, I didn't want to be working in a cafe on the side. Like I really, you know, could I make this financially viable? Um, and I kinda had to test the waters again a little bit.

You know, I, I kinda, I softly reached out to a few companies and I got, you know, some, some big commitments early from guys that, you know, they have a, um, a reputation in the cycling industry. And I think once you have a few names on board that was able to validate my decision to others. Um, and, uh, you know, I'm lucky enough to say now that I will be able to, uh, make this thing happen. Like I'll, I'll be able to pay my mortgage and race my bike still. But eventually, you know, all my life is in California and my family and my happiness and my friends. So, you know, I, I didn't want to continue to live in Europe for the next decade. Um, so if anything, and if I can keep racing grapple for longer cause I still love racing, I'm 32, I'm at the prime of my career physically.

Like maybe it will be the right move in the long run. Um, but uh, I mean yeah, it was, it was a very calculated move and it's um, it's going to be a lot more sweat equity. It's a lot more of the hustle. It's, but it's also a lot more validating. You know, I'm able to work with sponsors that I have direct relationships with. I can text the president of the company and, and give feedback and, and you know, promote brands that I actually truly care about and believe in instead of, you know, the, the old pro model of, you know, here's a sponsor that we signed. Now you have to tweet about them. Yeah, yeah,

yeah. No, I think what was really interesting about your announcement was just, you know, clearly you could have continued on over in Europe and you made this decision, which I think is, uh, in a very unique moment in time and gravel where you can come and do that. Obviously we've had big name X pros who have retired and then joined the gravel cycling scene. But you made a very conscious effort to say, I'm not retiring, I'm, there's continuity in my professional cycling life. I'm just switching disciplines and creating my own program, which I think is going to be something that a lot of other athletes that may be in a similar position to you in the pro Peloton will start looking at you and thinking about that since, jeez, Peter was able to do this successfully and now instead of being on the road racing, you know, 90 days a year, he does, you know, 15 great events and he gets to spend a ton more time with his family.

Yeah. You know, well, it's going to be a lot more than 15 events, I'll tell you that. But, um, no, it's true. And it was, it was very strategic and the messaging had to be right. You know, I, I can, I could see the Twitter trolls already lining up, you know, saying, Oh, Stenton is over the Hill. He's just the lengthening the career. But that wasn't the case. You know, I had the backup of having a great 2019 season my age, my last world tour race, I was 15th GC in China and, you know, got a ton of points for, for Trek Sager Fredo like, I mean, if you look at the stats, I'm not over the Hill and [inaudible], but it was just about showing that like, I mean, I'm still competitive as hell and I want to race my bike. This isn't a retirement tour. And, and I had that one chance with that Velo news article to really set the tone.

And, and luckily enough, I did that and I, I gotta say my 2 cents. Um, and, uh, then it's, I mean, that the outpouring was, it was really validating. You know, it was, I think it was probably at least 98% positive. There were very, very few Twitter trolls. And I think of the few that I saw, I was like, someone would just chime in and being like, have you ever dreamed of being your own boss, man, and following your dream? Like kind of just shut them up. So, um, no, it was, yeah, it's great. And, and I gravel's inclusive and I hope this is a blueprint for other guys. You know, I don't want to be the only guy doing it this way, you know, I think there's, there's room for more guys. I mean the, the, the fan base and the industry is behind this and gravel's legit and, and I hope and I think there's a lot of eyes on me next year and to see if this is a worthwhile effort. Um, and, and if so, I think you may see more guys jumping this way. Um, and, and to those guys, I can just say, hell yeah, come join. Like there's, there's more room around the campfire, so.

Yeah, absolutely. So what is your 2020 calendar look like? Have you, have you scoped it out specifically yet?

Yeah, I know. I'm still finalizing things on, on here and there, but it's, uh, it's, it's all encompassing. It's, um, and it's going to be all the biggest gravel races, especially state side, which is where gravel's big right now. Um, I'm gonna start out early season with just some, some local stuff. The grasshoppers in Norco, the bike monkey, fish, rock. Um, and then, uh, my first national caliber race is going to be the land run 100 in March. Um, you're going to see me at Belgian waffle ride, dirty Kanza, the lead boat challenge, both Steamboat and Leadville. Um, grind, Duro, grind, Duro UK, Iceland, wrist. So I'll have some, uh, European trips. Um, even going to see me in Japan. I got some Japanese sponsors that are stoked and I guess, uh, gravel and cycling's, you know, it's, it's big over there. Um, and uh, I'm gonna even do a, there's a, a gravel stage race called the Oregon trail that I, uh, will be fully in. And I mean that's right up my alley cause that's, it's a full on stage race, which is my bread and butter. That's, that's all I've done for the last decade. And now it's, it's a gravel stage race, which is rad. Um, and uh, yeah, it's, uh, it's all the big dogs.

Exciting. And how, how are you going to personally define your success in 2020? What does a a good year look like for you?

Um, you know, it's, there's more that's, that's a very loaded question. I mean, yeah, there's gotta be race and winds and there's gotta be podiums and those are Uber important at the end of the day for, for your persona, for your sponsors to show you're not on a retirement tour, you know, you gotta I've talked the talk, now I have to walk the walk. Like I got to start getting these big rides in. And um, but also, you know, the, the idea of being a whole encompassing athlete and something that I, I started to say earlier is just to, you know, a a more gratifying experience, you know, and, and just having this direct relationship with sponsors and hoping that they see the value that I can represent them well and be a voice for them. I mean, a big part of what I'll do is, is uh, R and D and, and some content creation.

You know, I'm not mr YouTube channel or anything, like I'm still just focused on riding my bike fast, but, you know, just, just representing my, my partners in, in a a wholesome light and you know, and showing that this is, you know, I'm not just some wa robot who cares about winning races, but you know, it's about kicking back and having a beer with everyone and the community of gravel, which is what sold me in this whole movement in the first place. Um, and uh, yeah, just to, just a very gratifying love of two wheels across all aspects.

Right. On, you mentioned this a little bit in your, your enthusiasm around the Oregon trail, gravel grinder, a stage race, but are there particular types of courses that you feel well suited to,

uh, go climbing? You know, I'm, I've made my, my career as a pure climber. So, um, you know, the more vert there is, the better. The harder courses. I was always better. Even in world tour races in, in the attrition races, the ones that are just on all day. I, I don't, I don't break. That's my actual, that's my strongest suit in cycling, so.

Okay. Yeah. Well that was certainly evident in your performance that at DK this year.


So I imagine that your, your training's going to take a slightly different form at the least through the winter and into the year. Can you talk about how you're going to modify what you're doing from what you may have done in the past for your road training?

Uh, yeah. You know, I, I've actually had got this question a lot and, and my answer's always the same. It's like, I mean, we should talk again at the end of the year. I, it says it's, it's a step into the unknown. I mean this year I had good success in gravel, basically moonlighting in these races and off of residual world tore fitness, which is the best fitness you can get. Um, you know, now I'm going to have to train a lot more. I'm not going to be stage racing anymore. I'm not going to be pushed to that limit in races the same. Um, however, you know, it's, I'll be able to train more specifically for the requirements. I'm guessing it's going to be a lot less day after day blocks. Um, a lot more long, long rides. I mean all these gravel races are between six to 10 hours more or less. Um, whereas world war training is more like four or five hours day after day after day. You know, I'm thinking I'll maybe do one or two days, but like big long Epic adventures and then recover a bit more. Um, I'm also guessing I have to put on a bit of upper body weight, you know, for more power, raw power and torque.

And how are you on the technical stuff off road?

I can hold my own. I mean, uh, you know, I grew up racing a mountain bike in Colorado. Um, I always got loose in, in dirt corners playing around out there and I'm not the best bike handler, but I'm better than your average roadie I would say. I mean, I won VWR on a road bike on 28th, so I was able to pick my way through those sections quick enough.

Yeah, that's certainly says something. So I know you're pulling together your kind of own private tier program. What are the companies that are going to be supporting you in sponsoring you in that effort and what equipment are you really excited to get on this year?

Um, yeah, you know, it's, it's cool. Well, it's, it's, it's about finding companies that align with you and your values as a person and you really have to think more about, it's, it's such a different mindset than just I pedal bike fast, I go fast, like, and I focus on going winning races, you know, which was the world tour. It's, it's who, who is Peter Stena as an, as an athlete and a, and a representative. And you know, for me that was long energy, sustainable, uh, breaking away from the mold. And you know, there's a bunch of like little key words that you could make sound real pretty. But you know, that was, that was the gist of it. You know, I'm not a flashy rock star by any means. And so you start like looking at different companies and how they promote themselves. And, and you know, a big one that kind of instigated this whole thing was cliff bar and you know, Gary Erickson is a personal friend of mine and, and hit the whole story of cliff bar and how he, you know, walked away from a sure thing to follow his dream.

Um, you know, get, he, he 100% was behind this from the beginning, you know, and that's, that's, you know, so cliff bar will be a big part of my thing. Um, Canyon bicycles, um, they're like myself, multi-disciplined. You can, they have Uber competitive road, gravel, mountain bike frames, um, always kind of cutting edge on technology. Um, real progressive mindset. Um, Sporkful clothing. I mean, that's one of my oldest relationships in the sport and they are quite technologically advanced and they're their family. Um, Ooh, who else? IRC tire. They're going to be a fun one. Um, and tire selection is so important in, in gravel, maybe the most important. I mean, if you flat, that's, yeah. Your fish a dead fish in the water. Um, and, uh, there's, uh, yeah, there's a Oh, and a Shimano. That's a big one. Um, they're, uh, they're the best.

Yeah, it's Shimano and Shimano family. You know, I'll be, um, tip to tail Shimano. So I'm talking not only the group sets, but also the, uh, the pro, uh, bars and saddles. Um, the saddlebags, the, and the Shimano shoes, uh, sunglasses and helmet, which is laser sport that Shimano owns. So I can really, um, highlight the entire Shimano family range. Um, and I'm keeping it under 10 sponsors. You know, I don't want my, my race Jersey looking like a, uh, like a 10 K running event tee shirt. You know, I want it to look professional and clean and, and fast and sexy and, you know, so I'm, I'm trying to focus on, on less than 10 sponsors where I can really support them and, and give them my all to, to make sure it's a two way street. Um, and I'm now talking with, uh, there's a couple more to be announced and I'm talking with a couple of non-endemic guys to, to really, you know, cause gravel's a lifestyle.

Yeah. That's awesome. It certainly sounds like from equipment perspective, you're going to have everything you need in your quiver to tackle things ranging from, you know, Leadville to BWR which is [inaudible].

The cool thing about gravel is it's every race is a different setup. I mean there's always a different tire gearing combo so you can really highlight an entire range and, and, and everyone's curious, you know, what, what are a, what are the best guys running and to, cause they are these the, the age groupers doing these, like they're nervous about finishing this thing. I mean, how are you going to complete dirty cancer without getting a million flats, you know, what are you going to run pressure wise, tire tread wise, all of it gearing wise. Um, and you know, so I can really, you know, speak to that. And, and also it's the, there's always a different, yeah, there's always a different combination. It's, it's really fun on the tech side.

Yeah, that was really one of the Genesis behind me starting this podcast was just my exploration of what was going to be the right gravel bike for me. And inevitably the first one I set up was not right at all when I actually got it out on the terrain in my backyard here. It really kind of evolved over time and having these conversations with athletes, product designers and event organizers has just helped crystallize how fun and interesting and how much information the average athlete needs to know and learn about gravel in order to figure out how to get the right setup. Yeah, exactly. So yeah, it will be interesting to kind of revisit this conversation at the end of the year to see how you reflect on your choices around training, the types of racing you did. So I'm excited to have had this conversation early in the year and get you on board. I wish you a ton of luck this season. We'll definitely run into each other and some of their upcoming rides in North Cal before you set off on your your world tour.

Thank you. I appreciate that.

Right on. All right. Thanks Pete.

Big thanks to Pete for joining the show this week and best of luck to him in the 2020 season. I can't wait to see how this all pans out with all these new talented athletes coming to the front end of these races. Before we go this week, I wanted to introduce a little bit of a new segment. I'm calling it can't let it go and what I can't let go of this week. Our bags for gravel bikes throughout the winter I've been using my or not handlebar bag, a frame bag from revelation and I can't underscore the utility these bags in the winter months. It's been great just having an extra layer when I get to the top of Mount Tam particularly rain gear, just being able to put it in there just in case is making me a lot happier. It's funny. As a road cyclist, I'd never would have dawned on me to put a lot of bags on my bike.

I would always in fact avoid it and my friends around the area will constantly make fun of me if I show up to a road ride with my gravel bags on them. But I have to say it's well worth the flack you're going to take when you pull out that extra set of gloves or a jacket for a big descent. It just makes sense. So I encourage you to give them a try. There's a lot of bags and a lot of options out there, but like I said, I've been pretty happy with both sizes of the or not bar bag and I'm also a big fan of the revel. Eight bags better known for their bike packing gear, but super awesome when you need extra carrying capacity. So with that, I wish you a happy new year. As a reminder, if you have any feedback, feel free to shoot me a or leave a comment on one of our social media platform channels. As always, we appreciate ratings and reviews. It really helps with our discovery and feel free to share this episode with friends that ride until next time. Here's to finding some dirt under wheels.