Rookie year: A conversation with Peter Stetina

Peter Stetina is making the most of his rookie year at Garmin-Transitions.

Peter Stetina is making the most of his rookie year at Garmin-Transitions.

The 22-year-old debuted at the Tour Méditerranéen and continued in France with the Tour du Haut Var. Back on Spanish roads in March for the Tour of Murcia, his natural climbing abilities kept him with the front group over the decisive climb.

Stetina at last year's world time trial championship. | Casey Gibson photo

And last week in the Volta a Catalunya, Stetina snuck into a breakaway in stage 2 and earned the King of the Mountains jersey for his effort, eventually finishing 10th in the KoM competition.

Up next for the Boulder native is a likely trip to the even more mountainous Tour of the Basque Country in early April. VeloNews caught up with Stetina earlier this season as he shares his excitement and expectations in his rookie pro season:

VeloNews: Describe your emotions to join the team for your neo-pro season?

Peter Stetina: I am stoked. It’s been a long process waiting. I’ve had this in the works with JV since end of 2008 season, about stepping up already.

I’ve been able to look forward for over a year now. I’ve been talking to everyone, but I’ve trained with a lot of them before with the U-23 team, so it doesn’t feel like a brand-new team, but it’s more like the next step. I am really excited. I am very motivated. I trained extra-hard this winter. I need it, these guys are fast. They’re really good.

VN: What kind of differences have you noticed so far among the top pros?

PS: Everything is so professional on every level, in terms of food, massages, staff, the organizational aspects of the team. The guys are so much more professional. You can tell they’re not a bunch of college kids running around trying to win races. You can really see that his is their career. They know what they’re doing. I’m already picking up little aspects of things that never really crossed my mind. How to come into a race, how to come into training camps, getting that little extra bit out of your training. Tricks of the trade, really.

VN: Why did you decide to race one more season in the U-23 ranks? Did you want more experience, felt you were too young?

PS: I wasn’t too young to turn pro. A lot of guys go pro before they’re done with U23s. I just wasn’t ready. Hopefully I am good enough to be competitive in the big races, and when you get there, you need to know how to win. I needed one year to race for me and have a season as a team leader. I wanted to develop a little more of that aspect. Even though I might have been physically ready, I wasn’t mentally ready to step up.

Everyone I talked to, they had the same idea, take another year in the U23s so you can come in not just always being slotted into races, but with a little bit more of a useful role for the team because I will had that experience. I believe that could foster my development as well.

VN: Was there a little bit of regret in not turning pro last year?

PS: It was a little hard, because I really wanted to go pro. I talked a lot to my dad and uncle, who are always invaluable resources. I also talked to friends and other cyclists. My ex-coach, Allen Lim. Everyone was in agreement with the same idea. It was OK because I got to spend another year in the U.S., eating hamburgers and watching movies (laughs), stuff I won’t do for the next 10 years. I will still have a hamburger, but I will cook it at home because I have never had a hamburger in Europe that tastes like it’s supposed to.

VN: What are you short-term goals for the first part of the season?

PS: The big goal for the spring is País Vasco. It’s a really hard climbing race. I want to be going well there. I am on the long team for California, so that’s another big goal to make the Cali team. For an American, that’s the biggest race behind the Tour. I really want to get fully immersed into racing. I want to not only finish races, but help the team when I can, hop in some breakaways. I want to really be part of the races, not just a pack-filler.

VN: Sounds like you’re confident and not intimidated by the going up against the pros?

PS: I’ve done a little bit of racing in Europe, but never at this level. I am interested to find out how it works out. I am pretty comfortable right now. As a neo-pro, you have to have a two-year deal.

This year is just all about experience. The team is really good about it, and I think I thrive better, because it’s internal motivation.

They say, “If you get dropped, it’s your first year and that’s OK. And if you get in a break, and win a stage, that’s great, too.” I can perform how I need to perform and I can try to help the team when I can: get into early breakaways, take pressure off the leaders, and when I get caught, go back and get water bottles one more time before I get fully popped on the next hill – just that kind of thing. Just going for it. I am excited to do it.

Stetina at the Tour of Utah. | Casey Gibson photo

VN: Your father and uncle obviously had a very strong link to racing, but when did you first get the racing bug?

PS: When I was 14, I did the 24 Hours of Moab in my first race. I was in the “Y riders” team out of the YMCA in Boulder. We got on the podium in the junior division. It was fun, riding through the night, just the whole party out in the desert. I eventually got a road bike and started doing some of that. My parents never really pushed me into the sport, but once I did, they were really there to support me 100 percent.

VN: Looking into the crystal ball, where do you want to be in your professional career?

PS: I want to do a grand tour this year, if I have the legs. It’s up to me, if I am really going well, I think I can go. If not, well, the ball’s in my court. Hopefully, make it to the Tour in another year and two, start chinking away at it and moving up a few places at a time. I really want to the Olympics as an American. If not, I will change nationality because I really want to do the Olympics. I am dating a Canadian girl, so maybe that will work out.

VN: You see yourself becoming a GC rider for stage races?

PS: Yes, that’s the way I tend to ride. That’s the way JV sees me developing as a rider. I don’t have much of a sprint. I can climb and time trial pretty well. I recover well enough. I can go for a few days pretty hard. I just want to do the biggest races and be competitive in them.

That’s everyone’s dream. I will try my hardest. It’s hard to have a set goal. I cannot say I want to try to win the Tour or win the Olympics. At the end of the day, I don’t want to have any regrets, no what-ifs. I don’t want to think someday I should have stayed longer in Europe. I want to know that I got the most out of my body as I could, in a clean aspect, of course. I want to get the most of my natural ability. At the end of the day, that’s the best you can do. If another Lance comes along, well, bad luck for me!

VN: Everything is ahead of your now – what’s been the biggest surprise so far?

PS: The descents. The other day in training, I was just surfing this descent, leaning into the curves, just cruising along. Christian (Vande Velde) just comes blowing by me like a cannonball. I hopped on his wheel and I was half-chattering my wheel around some corners and was gritting my teeth to get down it.

At the bottom, I said, “dude, you flew down that thing!”

He said, “no man, I am not a good descender. I am one of the bad ones in the Tour.”

I said, whoa, I am screwed! It’s the downhills. I just have to get so good in the climbing that I don’t have to worry about the downhills (laughs). I thought I was pretty good on the descents. I hear stories, that Cancellara is unbelievable. Hopefully, I will get to witness that. You have to put that fear out of your mind, get on their wheel and maybe you will learn something.

VN: So you’re hoping that the Vuelta could be in the cards this year?

PS: Obviously, I am not doing the Tour in my first year. So I am going to come back to the States. It’s hard to look too far into the season, but in June, they have me doing either (Tour de) Swiss or Dauphiné. I have to be going well there. I get my mid-season break during the Tour and go back to the States and ride mountain bike trails. And eat hamburgers (laughs). My hope is to come back and do the Vuelta, but they haven’t told me anything about the fall. If not, there is some good racing with U.S. pro, Missouri and those Canadian races. I am young. They tell me to go somewhere, I go.