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The old Pete Stetina is back

Peter Stetina wonders about what could have been on the slopes of Gibraltar but grateful to be back racing after traumatic 2015 injury.

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Just over one year after breaking his patella, four ribs, and his tibia, the old Peter Stetina is back.

Stetina charged off the front on Gibraltar Road on Tuesday, taking the Amgen Tour of California’s queen stage by the scruff and launching himself into second on the stage and second overall behind Etixx – Quick-Step’s Julian Alaphilippe. The American was in the virtual lead for most of the climb, only to be overhauled in the final kilometer.

“To win, that would have been the real fairytale story,” the Trek – Segafredo rider said after the stage. “But life’s not a fairytale, so I’m really happy with the fact that I was able to make the race and show myself and show that I’m back to my old level.”

Stetina hasn’t seen his old level in a long time. Though he returned to racing late last summer, the scars left by a pole at Pais Vasco have haunted his form. His performance on Gibraltar marks a true return and offers confirmation that he’s once again the world-class climber he was before the crash.

“It’s obvious that I’ve got a little bit of a peak here right now, in form. I’m going to try to make use of that,” he said.

Stetina now turns his attention to the remaining stages and the fight for California’s leader’s jersey. He’ll have to keep an eye on Alaphilippe in Wednesday’s tricky finish at Laguna Seca, which features a steep finish ramp akin to the Etixx rider’s favored Ardennes climbs. The 28-year-old American needs to take time on the TT specialists ahead of Friday’s 20-kilometer time trial.

“I’ve been riding my TT bike as much as I can, but it’s no secret that there are guys who are really close to me still, like Rohan [Dennis], who are time trial specialists. So I think the ball is more in their court in terms of controlling the race,” Stetina said. “I hope there are opportunities to gain time before [the TT].”

Gibraltar was his best chance to take that time, but not his only one.

Sometimes victory is relative, though. Even if Stetina can’t overhaul Alaphilippe, or fend off BMC’s Denis and Brent Bookwalter, California will still be the proof of form he’s been seeking since his return to racing.

“Maybe if this race was in August I would have gone even better,” he said. “But I’m just happy I could pay the team back a bit and put on a good show.”