At the beginning of the year, the EF Education First WorldTour team made a bit of a splash when it announced some of its team members would be racing adventure races such as the Dirty Kanza 200 and Three Peaks cyclocross race.
Another WorldTour rider is doing the “alternative calendar” approach with a little less fanfare and a lot of success already. Trek-Segafredo’s Peter Stetina of California went back to his roots in a way when he lined up for last weekend’s Belgian Waffle Ride SoCal spring classic.
“It seemed like the right time and the opportunity to get back to my roots and have something fresh and a new challenge after 10 years on the WorldTour circuit,” Stetina said about the approach.
The rest of Stetina’s 2019 calendar will be announced as events approach, but the first stop on his alternative calendar—a week before the Tour of California—was the 133-mile mixed surface race that is not all that different than, say, the Strade Bianche that Stetina has raced several times.
As the race progressed, the field dwindled to Stetina, former WorldTour rider Ted King (Cannondale- SRAM- Roka- Velocio- UnTapped) and young gun Edward Anderson (Hagens Berman Axeon). After Anderson broke away with about a quarter of the race remaining, King and Stetina dragged back to the young rider, and then Stetina escaped on one of the course’s final rollers.
“My numbers were similar to being in the breakaway of a grand tour stage,” Stetina said about what proved to be a good training day. “Hard from the beginning, making the selection and then imagine the breakaway is coming to the line for the win instead of getting caught. It was a fun day. It was a hard day.”
After the full experience of what seems to be the future of U.S. cycling, you can bet Stetina will be back.
“The cool thing about these races is they’re extremely relatable because everyone can do them. You have age groupers and people who are just trying to finish, and when they’re doing the same course as a pro, they can really appreciate the effort we’re putting in. Also, just being around that scene and having a beer after the race with people, people can see you’re just a dude who likes to rip bikes and shred off-road like they do.”
I caught up with the Belgian Waffle winner for a few minutes before he hooked up with his Trek-Segafredo teammates for the Tour of California. You can read the transcript of our conversation below. If you missed it, I also spoke with Women’s winner Sarah Sturm.
Interview: Peter Stetina, 2019 Belgian Waffle Ride Men’s Winner
Cyclocross Magazine: You’re a WorldTour rider, but you’re doing kind of the alternative gravel thing that is becoming popular. What was your reasoning behind doing the race?
Peter Stetina: I had actually been talking about it with Trek-Segafredo since I redid my contract at the end of last year. I started out riding on the mountain bike, and I had kind of planned to end up back there. I still train on the mountain bike and I love it. I even raced cyclocross as a Junior. I did it all, but I chose either the super fat tires or the skinny tires over cyclocross as I got older.
I’ve seen the way everything is transitioning. In Northern California where I live, we have these adventure races like the Grasshopper Adventure Series and the Bike Monkey Fish Rock events that are choose your weapon, water crossings, all that. They’re a big deal in my local community and the California scene in general.
You can see that’s where the hype is and that’s where everything is going. At the same time, in the U.S. the domestic road scene is struggling a bit, while WorldTour racing is fine and healthy. It seemed like the right time and the opportunity to get back to my roots and have something fresh and a new challenge after 10 years on the WorldTour circuit.
I kind of brought up the idea to Trek-Segafredo, and the management and Trek marketing thought it made a lot of sense. I’ll be at a select handful of adventure races throughout the year that we will announce as they’re coming.
CXM: The alternative approach of doing gravel and adventure races seems to be getting popular. Are you seeing a positive return from that already?
PS: I think so. I can tell you that from winning the Belgian Waffle Ride this weekend I have had probably twice as much outreach and support on social media and media hits than I got for finishing second place on Gibraltar Mountain at the Tour of California three years ago. It’s huge. I think that just shows how much stoke is around these events right now.
The cool thing about these races is they’re extremely relatable because everyone can do them. You have age groupers and people who are just trying to finish, and when they’re doing the same course as a pro, they can really appreciate the effort we’re putting in. Also, just being around that scene and having a beer after the race with people, people can see you’re just a dude who likes to rip bikes and shred off-road like they do. It’s only a bonus.
It’s also a new motivation for me. Having a fun alternative event like this allows me to reset my mind so I can get back in the trenches on the WorldTour and really push the limit in those big races.
CXM: Speaking of beer, your keg carry was super impressive.
PS: It was full. I want all the doubters to know it’s 100 percent full.
After crushing the 2019 Belgian Waffle Ride @peterstetina showed off the strength to wheel a keg out of the building for the after party in his hotel room. @lostabbey we were beyond impressed. #winning #belgianwaffleride pic.twitter.com/Sq2K5yvmtO
— Tomme Arthur (@TheTomme) May 6, 2019
CXM: Do you have any tips on how to pull that offer? It was hella impressive.
PS: That was actually my second keg carry. I have a grand fondo up in the Lake Tahoe area, and I partner with Revision Brewing, which is famous for its hazy IPAs, and its double IPA has won gold in international competitions. I have a namesake beer that’s released every fall called Pete’s Secret Stache, which is a hazy IPA.
We were doing some promo for that the first year we launched it, and I was tinkering around in the brewery and decided to ride past their mural wall with a keg. This is the second time.
CXM: You looked super pro. You have a lot of experience racing in Europe, and Belgian Waffle is kind of like a spring classic, do you think your experience helped you be successful at that race?
PS: I think so. I’ve raced Strade Bianche a few times. I’m normally a flyweight climber for the mountains, I have that off-road experience. All pro cycling is the same where whether it’s an important climb or a narrow funnel onto a dirt road or a crucial section, the battle in a WorldTour race, bumping bars and basically sprinting into an important part and fighting for position is universal. I do have that experience.
Also having my mountain bike background and our roads have character out here in Sonoma County, to put it lightly. It was kind of all of the above. I just love the adventure and getting off-road. I think that’s a misconception, a lot of people think roadies can’t ride dirt. I have quite a few teammates who know how to push the limits when it gets loose. That said, I also have a couple of teammates who can’t stay upright if they’re on a dirt road.
CXM: Did you talk to Ted King or anyone about what to expect?
PS: A little bit, yeah. I talked to Ted and even the organizers. Neil Shirley was a good resource. Just kind of picking their brains about all the basic things. Is there a follow car? You mean I have to bring all my food? I have to use a saddle bag? Wait, I have to change my own wheel? I was at the bike shop the day before buying valve extenders in case I flatted.
It’s not even like cyclocross where you have pits. The gravel scene is so new. Every race is different. It’s so new that there’s not really rules yet, it’s more guidelines. Everyone is doing something different in terms of equipment and how they’re going to run support.
The Belgian Waffle Ride was great. With the lead group, there was always a follow car with a box of gels, and there was a motorbike on the dirt sectors with bottles and stuff. We didn’t get to enjoy the bacon stops, this was a full-on race. I hope I can come back and just eat bacon and do the tequila stop.
CXM: Maybe post-retirement? When you’re Ted King 2.0. How did you get the win? Like the quick and dirty 2-minute summary of how you got the win.
PS: Yeah, there was this young Axeon kid [Edward Anderson] who was damn impressive. He actually gapped Ted and me out of the gnarliest dirt sector with about an hour left to race, and he was throwing down. I didn’t think we were going to get him back. That’s where all the photos of Ted with the gaping mouth came in, we were just trying to get back to this 21-year-old lanky young dude. I guess he’s a product of the NICA program, so he’s got some off-road skills.
Luckily, we caught him before the final long climb. I was cramping with two hours to go in the SoCal heat. As a pro, a lot of guys look at you to do a lot more of the work early on, and you’re targeted and raced against all day. I was fully throttled. I honestly thought I couldn’t get it. It got so long and so hard and so hot, we were all on our hands and knees.
I was actually able to gap the Axeon guy on the final climb, but then I got caught behind some of the short course Wafer riders in the final dirt downhill, and he came back. I had one last hit on a roller coming into the finish in the last 10 minutes of the race. It was not decided until the final kicker in the final miles.
I scraped the bottom of the barrel. I had to pull out all the tricks. The tactics and the smack talk, I started playing with his mind and everything.
CXM: What bike did you ride? What tires did you ride? And how did you make those decisions?
PS: I raced my Trek Madone Disc road racing bike. I had a normal handlebar instead of an aero handlebar for some better grip. I had race wheels that were tubeless 28mm. So tubeless clinchers with sealant. I pumped them up hard. I had 80 in the front and 85 psi in the rear.
A lot of guys looked at me like, are you sure you know what you’re doing? A lot of guys had 30, 32mm tires. A lot of guys had 60 psi or less. Mine were hard, but I trusted Trek. Trek is taking these adventure races seriously with me. They analyzed the course and talked to some friends who had done the race before, and they told me they thought that setup was the fastest.
I did some pre-ride recon in the two days before the event just to see some of the sectors, and the bike held up. Luckily, on game day I didn’t have any mechanicals. It was touch and go; I was definitely on the back foot on the dirt sectors. But I knew if I could get through the dirt sectors, at the end of the day, it was still like two-thirds road.
CXM: Did you run road shoes?
PS: Yep. There was only one dismount on the entire course for like five footsteps. The rest of it, I cleared the water crossing with all the guys and all that.
CXM: What did you think of the scene compared to what you’re used to?
PS: It was amazing. I was really impressed with the Belgian Waffle Ride organization. The website, the messaging, the camaraderie and community around it, it blew me away. Everyone was really appreciative of me as a pro roadie coming there. It was really nice to be embraced. Everyone is in this adventure scene together. Everyone gets to do this gnarly adventure together, but they’re all going to face their demons alone. It was really fun to be a part of.
Then afterward, there was a full-on pro finish. It was like a pro race. There was a clean-up area behind the podium with like professional photographers. There were drones and motorbikes with cameras on course. The beer was flowing after the race. The waffles before. It’s definitely a bucket list event for anyone who hasn’t done it.
CXM: Finally, you’ve done a lot of races in your career, but this one was a little bit new. What did you learn from the experience?
PS: I re-learned how to suffer. I don’t know, I feel like every race I learn to suffer to a new level these days. What was new? I found there were some muscles I didn’t know I had that got sore while off-roading with road bike handlebars.
I don’t know if I learned anything new, but I got an appreciation and a confirmation that this was the right call. Not even in terms of winning the event, but in terms of participating and having it be a fun day and an insane training day. My numbers were similar to being in the breakaway of a grand tour stage. Hard from the beginning, making the selection and then imagine the breakaway is coming to the line for the win instead of getting caught.
It was a fun day, it was a hard day. It was everything I wanted out of an event. I can turn my eyes to California now. I get back with the rest of the road team and have a win on my shoulders to lift me up and get back in the trenches and suffer more with them.
CXM: Thank you so much for taking the time to chat, I know you’re super busy. Good luck at Tour of California and hopefully we’ll see you at more adventure rides down the line.
PS: No worries man. It’s been full gas here. Thanks for the chat.