At this point, it’s Pete Stetina’s mind, not his body, that is having a hard time answering the question of whether or not to race Saturday at Belgian Waffle Ride San Diego.
His body has already answered the question: “my wrist is still broken.”
VeloNews spoke with Stetina on Monday after an X-ray showed what Stetina already knew but does not like being reminded of. Just more than two weeks since fracturing his right distal radius during the Fuego 80k mountain bike race at Sea Otter, Stetina is healing but not healed.
“That said, the pain has decreased drastically,” he said, “and I’m able to ride normal road bikes. Even the bumps are better. It’s kinda been this windfall experience where I did these five or six rides and my wrist felt better afterward. It’s almost like the movement helped.”
Nevertheless, Stetina is still very much on the fence as to whether he will race BWR Saturday. As the two-time defending champ of what he calls the “underbiking world championships,” the decision is agonizing. After speaking with his physicians on Monday and seeing his physical therapist on Tuesday, Stetina plans to drive to San Diego Wednesday for a Thursday course pre-ride. He won’t make the decision before then.
“BWR is the most technical gravel race there is,” he said. “Bike handling is paramount. I need to be able to decide if I feel like I can handle my bike to the level I need to to compete and be safe for myself and others.”
Stetina is considering multiple factors as he readies himself for the trip to San Diego.
First, there is equipment choice. Which bike to ride and what tires to run are questions that plague a non-injured rider headed to BWR, but Stetina’s injury has added a new level of granularity.
Stetina has won the last two editions of the race on a road bike with 28mm (2019) and then 30mm (2021) tires. This year, race director Michael Marcxk has changed the course to include much more dirt and off-road sectors. Given that, and Stetina’s wrist, the former WorldTour roadie says he’s looking at the “32 range.”
“I would usually be on more of a pinner setup but maybe have to go on more of a burly setup if I’m not as comfortable on the downhills,” he said. “I’m trying to balance the reality of riding on my wrist versus what would be best for a result.”
Regardless of tire choice, Stetina will ride a Canyon Endurace, not one of the brand’s gravel bikes.
His other main equipment concern is his splint. Stetina was lucky to see Tracey Airth-Edblom, a world-class hand physical therapist in the days after his injury, and she fitted him with a custom split using Orfit technology. On Tuesday, Stetina will visit Airth-Edblom to see if a more flexible splint is in order.
“You don’t realize how much your hand position changes in a ride,” Stetina said. “Getting out of the saddle and putting the force down has been a challenge.”
While easy to focus on, equipment choices are actually the least of Stetina’s concerns. Ultimately, he must decide if the risk of racing is worth the reward. As a professional cyclist who holds himself to a high standard, missing BWR is akin to sitting out a championship game. While Stetina is part of both the Life Time Grand Prix series and the BWR Quadrupel Crown series, he actually values certain wins over others.
“I think that the one days are more important,” he said. “I think winning Unbound is a bigger deal than winning the Grand Prix, and I think California is a bigger deal than winning the Quadrupel Crown.”
Stetina’s almost maniacal competitiveness means that he is always hedging his bets. While he says the one-day wins mean more, he is still looking at the bigger pictures of the two overall race series. That’s what led him to finish the Fuego 80k MTB race at Sea Otter even after he knew he’d fractured his wrist, as he figured some points in the Grand Prix series were better than no points.
Saturday’s BWR race presents the same conundrum.
“I need to decide if it’s worth it if I can’t compete for the podium,” he said. “But, if I skip out completely, that kills my chance for the BWR Quadrupel Crown. I have to decide how important that is. Do I potentially line up knowing I have no chance in hell to win or podium but to salvage something for the Quadrupel Crown, which is just as important to me as the Life Time Grand Prix?”
Stetina is one of the busiest people in gravel, and his 2022 calendar is overflowing. In between the 10 events that comprise the Life Time and BWR series, Stetina is attending other one-day races, as well as hosting his own, Stetina’s Pay Dirt. He is also a soon-to-be-father of twins. His sponsors are supportive of whatever decision he makes.
And, there is a very long, very important race in Kansas in six weeks acting as a beacon on Stetina’s horizon.
All of this is leading many people to ask him — why take the chance?
“Most people are saying don’t risk it,” he said. “Regardless, I’m gonna be there to drink beer with all my friends and maybe give my own course insights and spoilers if I can’t compete.”