Peter Stetina (Trek-Segafredo) is quickly burning through his nine lives as a professional cyclist.
After recovering from a career-threatening horror crash in 2015, the affable American dodged a few more bullets in 2018 to return to cycling’s big circus.
“I got the ‘Franken-Leg’ and I almost didn’t come back with some health issues and the contract cycle with all the teams folding,” Stetina told VeloNews. “I think my spirit animal might be the ‘Phoenix.’ I’ve come back from the brink a few times and keep the career going a bit longer.”
Stetina already made one miracle comeback in 2015 after he struck a metal bollard left in the race route during the Tour of the Basque Country. Surgery, therapy, and pure grit saw him return to the peloton before the season ended.
Last year, he faced smaller but perhaps more dangerous foes that nearly saw his WorldTour career cut short.
Debuting his 2019 season in Australia last month, Stetina opened up about some of his frustrations and setbacks over the past season. Now 31, Stetina admitted he was considering life without professional cycling.
“Last year, I tried so hard, people could see it in my face that I was worried and I wasn’t myself in terms of a fun person to be hanging out with,” he said. “It’s because you’re questioning your career and your identity, because it’s all you’ve done your whole life.”
The 2018 season was a bit of a shambles for Stetina, who came down with the Epstein-Barr virus, suffered a broken clavicle in May just before the Tour de France, and then was nearly squeezed out of the WorldTour when it came time to sign a contract.
“It was a continuous cycle of bad luck,” Stetina said. “The numbers just weren’t there. Then you start to wonder — maybe your body has just said no. Finally, I got the answer that I had been racing since the spring with the Epstein-Barr virus.”
The virus, which has struck several top pros, sent Stetina spiraling into a dark place where his performances were inconsistent and he couldn’t properly recover from harder efforts like he usually did. Growing worried and frustrated, Stetina finally got the diagnosis about what was wrong.
“It was a mild fatigue — I would be missing five or 10 percent off the top on random days,” he explained. “I would do everything right and recover and eat right. One day, I would super, and the next day, I couldn’t get out of my own way. It was confusing because I lost my ability to stage race.”
The diagnosis came later in the season, so all spring and summer last year, just when Stetina was supposed to be delivering some big rides, instead he was trying to figure out what was wrong. A string of sub-par results coupled with a broken clavicle meant there was no spot on the Tour de France team. And on top of that, it was all happening during a contract year.
“I was so committed and the Tour of California was my ‘Goliath,’ but things just were not clicking,” he said. “I would double-down, I’d triple-down, and it didn’t go. Then the collarbone happened right before the Tour.”
Luckily for Stetina, a few things tilted his way. With the Epstein-Barr virus properly diagnosed, he could adapt his training and racing to help his recovery. And Trek-Segafredo opened up a spot to keep him in the WorldTour for 2019.
“It was nice to have an answer, at the same time, it was late,” Stetina said of the virus. “Team USA put confidence in me, and I got to do the worlds. I focused on one-day races, because of Epstein, the recovery rate isn’t so great, but for one-days, you can perform, so I had some good end-of-season rides for the team. Trek had confidence in me, and they believed I could do it again.”
Flash forward to January, and a healthy and reinvigorated Stetina was enjoying himself at the Australian races with a new perspective on his career and his job of racing bicycles professionally. The sun was out and Stetina was ready to start his 11th professional season.
“I’m enjoying it still. It also gives you perspective now that you get older in the sport,” he said. “I’m not an ‘old vet’ yet but I am over 30, and I’ve done this for a decade now. When you’ve been through something this intense, the races don’t hurt the same. You don’t get complacent.”
“I am here with a fresh motivation,” he continued. “It’s just about enjoying the racing now. I am not going to stress on those little things, and make it hard on my family and friends. It’s about enjoying the racing and racing hard, and feeling good, and laughing.”
Stetina will hopes to have the last laugh with a big result in 2019. After all he’s been through, he admits he doesn’t know how many more “lives” he has in the peloton.