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Groad Trip: How I picked races and gear for my first gravel season

Inside the DIY life of gravel pro and WorldTour refugee Pete Stetina.

The job of being a WorldTour cyclist is extremely difficult; it really is 24-7. Weekends and weekdays mesh, and there is no “switching off” at 5pm, ever. Yet, it’s simplistic. In the pursuit of bodily perfection and speed, all other variables are taken care of by team staff so you ultimately have to focus on one thing: Going fast and racing your bike. You have plane tickets and hotels booked, equipment provided, and bikes shipped.

My new life on the gravel scene is completely different. I’m still training as hard as I can, doing all the above, and more. Getting this project off the ground has had me wearing many hats, often working from the time I wake up to the time I go to bed. The hustle is real! I’m literally starting a new business.

Once I made the decision to follow this path, I realized I needed to find some partners to support me in this adventure. I suddenly became my own PR person, sponsor coordinator, agent, part-time mechanic, and overall team manager. It’s been a steep learning curve but I’ve had some help.

“Gone are the days of team managers securing invites and delivering my race number to my hotel bed!”

I’m lucky enough to call Gary Erickson, the founder of Clif Bar, a good friend. His story is something I’ve drawn inspiration from. On a ride last fall, I told him I was contemplating this move. He told me to follow my own white road, and without hesitation said Clif would support me in this new endeavor: It fits in the ethos of their company. This was an important lesson for me; finding that natural fit.

I realized that I am creating a brand. What do I stand for? What story do I want to tell? I really had to be conscious of that in all negotiations, and sometimes that means choosing the better fit versus a prospective sponsor with more cash.

The people behin Clif and Sportful are friends as well as sponsors. Photo: Dan Cavallari

I also reached out to Canyon Bikes and Sportful. I didn’t have a prior relationship with Canyon, but I’d seen their bikes and disruptive style up close at the Belgian Waffle Ride, and had placed them at the top of my private wish list. On the other end of the spectrum, Sportful and I go way back and they’ve always been close friends. Both companies saw my vision and went out on a limb for me. That was all I needed.

I suddenly had three very strong and respectable partners behind me and I got the confidence to make the leap. They shared my enthusiasm for this new project, and opened more doors for me, introducing me to others in the industry and aiding me in gaining the support needed to make this adventure viable.

It’s been a juggle, as it is tempting to go after as many sponsors as I can get, but I’ve promised to do my utmost to represent each of them. I realized I can’t have my race jersey looking like a t-shirt from a 10k run. I need to keep my deliverables manageable and focus on quality.

I believe I’ve found the sweet spot at nine partners. It’s enough to make ends meet yet manageable enough to give everyone the attention they deserve. All my partners are companies and individuals I have a personal relationship with. I can text them directly to discuss race plans, help with R&D, and brainstorm silly videos. It’s a lot more work but so far, a lot more rewarding.

Canyon is another big sponsor for 2020. Photo: Dan Cavallari

I simultaneously set out on connecting with the race organizers who have shaped this amazing movement as I also had to make sure I actually got to the races. Gone are the days of team managers securing invites and delivering my race number to my hotel bed!

I began compiling a wish list of gravel races and building a season calendar. I was quickly overwhelmed and torn; there are so many gravel events now and they’re all different and they’re all amazing! I could race every weekend from February through October if I wanted (my wife doesn’t).

I reached out to a few organizers here and there and asked them if they’d consider letting me join in on the fun, divulging my plans for my transition. I have found this tribe to be down-to-earth and honest. Many were quick to let me know that yes, even though I’ve raced the Tour de France, my s**t still stinks like everyone else’s! You know what, I respect them even more for that.

Some events I have directly registered for, and others I have luckily relied on mutual sponsors to allow me one of the start spots they get for buying into the event’s expo. As I’ve gotten to know some organizers better, I have to say that I’m not worried about pros ruining gravel, because the guys and gals making this movement happen care too damn much to let it be ruined.

Deep down I am still a thoroughbred racer I suppose, as I seem to be inept when it comes to bike maintenance. My chain is never clean and I’ve subscribed to the dump-more-of something-wet-on-it philosophy until I find a bike shop. I’m really trying, though, I promise. I’ll start most races with a clean bike.

I do my own stunts… but not all of my mechanic work. Photo: Dan Cavallari

Some of my sinful pro habits just can’t be overcome though, so I have to confess that I have a mechanic. In my defense, he is a really close friend, and aside from his wizardly skills, I’ve recruited him in part because I just want to hang out with my bike-loving buddy. His name is Big Tall Wayne, and he will be coming to a few events with me this season. If you see him, introduce yourself. He’ll be the nicest guy in the expo ready to offer any tip while simultaneously smashing you in a beer-chugging contest. Challenge him, I dare you.

Big Tall Wayne is my friend and my mechanic. We share similar views on gravel.
Big Tall Wayne is my friend and my mechanic. We share similar views on gravel.

Now that the season is almost underway and a lot of the groundwork has been laid, I have one major outstanding quandary that I hope you readers can help me with. When you register for these events, you’re asked for your team name or sponsor. I’m not sure what to say. I don’t think “Canyon – Clif – Shimano – Sportful – IRC – Wahoo – Floyd’s of Leadville – Athletic Brewing – Stumptown Coffee Roasters” even fits in the box. I’ve toyed with the idea of giving each sponsor a race, i.e. at BWR I’d be Peter Stetina (Canyon), and at DK I’d be Peter Stetina ( Shimano, etc).Maybe all results should just read Peter Stetina (Privateer) or even be blank. I’m also considering I’ll just make something totally random up, because why the hell not? Mid South may see Peter Stetina (Angry Penguins) and SBT GRVL may have Peter Stetina (Team Mustache Rides). Please DM me your thoughts on my Instagram @pstetina; I’m all ears.

Clif Bar’s Gary Erikson told me to follow my own white road. Or, in this case, groad. Photo: Dan Cavallari