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Pete Stetina suffered a devastating knee injury in a crash during stage 1 of the Tour of the Basque Country in 2015, but a little over a year later, he returned to the Tour de France. It hasn’t been an easy road to get back to the level needed to finish the world’s biggest race, and a lot of rehabilitation was required. “I was real heavy on it [PT],” but Stetina put in the work and made it back to the sport’s upper echelon.
As a climber, Stetina’s job in the Tour de France was to be the last man in line for Bauke Mollema, the Trek – Segafredo team’s GC hopeful. “I think Trek brought me into the fold to target the U.S. races and the smaller GC races and then to help Bauke in the grand tours and big races. I’ve shown I know how to be a mountain domestique, which is not just climbing until late, but being there at the right time and being selfless.”
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Someday, Stetina hopes to even vie for a spot in the top-10 at a grand tour. “I have numbers in training to be top-20, maybe top-10, if everything was perfect. Racing has changed. It’s not just a horsepower race anymore. There’s so many crashes and it’s so nervous. Before my accident I was one of the more cautious riders so now I really don’t like risking my neck for everything. But I think I have the legs that if something does happen and things go sour, I can help fly the flag and hopefully still let the team leave with something to be proud of.”
Surprisingly, riding a bike is about the only thing Stetina can do without pain after he collided with a metal pole in Spain during that Pais Vasco stage. “Cycling is so linear; you pedal straight up and down. As long as your cleats are aligned, you’re all good.
“It’s the other things in life I’ll be missing out on. I’m never going to be playing soccer with kids or hiking fourteeners [14,000-foot mountains] or anything like that. It’s ironic that the thing that almost killed me is the only thing I can do now.” Sitting on long plane flights is also not ideal for Stetina’s knee, “After a flight it’s a lot puffier, and I have to do a solid stretch session just to get full range of motion again.”
For Stetina, physical therapy and stretching are critical for staying as pain-free as possible, even though he says they make him feel like an idiot sometimes. Physical therapy for knee injuries can be very difficult and painful. Some of the exercises seem really easy but take a lot of work. “Most often, I try to pull my heel to my butt, and I pray that one day it’ll happen, and it still hasn’t. It doesn’t fully get to my butt, but it’s enough to get over a pedal stroke. There’s also a lot of stepping on and off boxes and stuff like that.”
Getting back in shape to race the Tour required what Stetina calls “the hardest spring block you can do.” Before the Tour, he already had 49 race days. Stetina’s race season started early, at the Tour Down Under and he never stopped racing. “I did Catalunya, Pais Vasco [Tour of the Basque Country], the Classics [Flèche Wallone and Liège-Bastogne-Liège] and Romandie all before California. If the knee can handle that, it can handle to Tour.” At the Amgen Tour of California, he finished second on the climb up Gibraltar Road to the finish of stage 3. He sat in second place for two days after the summit finish. The tour of California was a very good indication of Stetina’s good climbing form. With all the race days, Stetina took some time off of PT and focused on just riding his bike.
With the Tour is over, Stetina will focus on the Tour of Utah. After that, it’s back to physical therapy — more stepping on and off boxes in hopes of getting back full range of motion. Fortunately, that wasn’t a prerequisite for the Tour.
Caley Fretz contributed to this report.