Peter Stetina Talks Gravel!

Rider Interview: Ed Hood is trying very hard to prove that he isn’t ‘old school’ and is open to new ideas… gravel racing! In his second interview with a road-man who has turned to gravel, Ed talks to Peter Stetina about his move from the smooth roads to the rough surface discipline.


Peter Stetina in Unbound Gravel

Some aspects of modern cycling don’t appeal to me; the fact that youngsters are lead to believe that you need a machine running into five figures £/$ to race on; disc brakes and tubeless tyres being pretty much forced upon us, ‘explosion in a paint factory’ jerseys, the UCi measuring sock lengths, I could go on. . . But one aspect that has caught my attention and which I believe embraces what cycling should be all about – competitive, sure but fun and sharing experiences without a ‘win at all costs’ mentality. Gravel.

Recently we caught up with Dutch legend, Laurens Ten Dam who has crossed the Rubicon from World Tour to gravel – and to gain another perspective on a fresh part of our sport which is here to stay we caught up with another ex-World Tour man, Peter Stetina.


With Trek-Segafredo in 2017

Stetina was a pro with the various incarnations of Jonathan Vaughters’ Garmin teams, BMC and finally Trek, riding the Dauphine, Vuelta, Giro and Tour de France during his career. The last time I spoke to him was in 2015; he’d had a horror, life threatening crash in the Pais Vasco that spring but by the summer had returned to racing. My first question was about the injuries he sustained in that crash, do they still affect him?

Peter Stetina: My leg will never be the same again but you learn to compensate and your body finds a way round it. Mentally I can’t sugar coat it, I value different things in life now and am unwilling to take the risks on the bike I used to.


With Ryder Hesjedal at the 2012 Giro

PEZ: Which performance in you road career gives you most satisfaction?
I view my career as a whole and I think my fondest memories would be the 2012 Giro where I was a team mate of Ryder Hesjedal who won that year. And being a team mate of Alberto Contador in his last Vuelta in 2017 when he won the Angliru. For me it was about experiences, not just results.

PEZ: You quit the World Tour relatively early, why?
I saw gravel starting to happen and thought that it was something I would like to be part of, getting paid to ‘do bikes’ – but on my terms. I didn’t have an immediate desire to quit and the thought of stepping away from the World Tour was a bit scary but I couldn’t get management to agree to a ‘blend’ where I rode gravel and road – as athletes at EF now do. I was a bit disillusioned with the WorldTour and decided that I best move on. . .


Unbound Gravel 2021

PEZ: How/why, gravel?
I was attracted to events like the Grasshopper Adventure Series because whilst it’s still competitive there’s that group ride vibe. Then there’s the Belgian Waffle Ride which is probably number two to Unbound Gravel – you pin a number on and it’s competitive but at the finish it’s about having a beer and connecting with people.

PEZ: A European Classic is seven hours maximum whilst Unbound was won in nine hours 22 minutes – that must have taken a bit of getting used to?
Gravel events are much more about endurance and attrition than road racing, you learn to just grind away. It’s not like to road where you make the break then attack from it; gravel is much more steady state and with no team work the best man usually wins. One of the reasons I like it is that it rejects the World Tour, ‘win at all costs’ mentality. It is changing but there’s a core group of us with the aim to continue the vibe, viewing ourselves as ambassadors – winning is good but it’s also about making deeper connections. In gravel you’re a person who races, on the road you’re a racer who’s a person. . .

PEZ: No teams so you have to organise your own sponsorships?
I’m a team of one – I organise my own funding, I have no agent, I do my own public relations and social media. It’s not just about riding the bike, you have to have a business and entrepreneurial mind set as a privateer. I have 11 sponsors but I want connected to organic organisations and relatable ‘human’ partners – I’m not a, ‘flashy caffeine shot’ kind of guy.

PEZ: There’s no support on gravel – a big contrast to World Tour with mechanics, soigneurs, physios. . .
It’s been fun to learn, you go down all sorts of rabbit holes about tyres, pressures and rim widths. And being self-sufficient is as important as how many watts you generate. You have to be able to fix things on the fly but I do have a mechanic and beer drinking buddy in Big Tall Wayne. He’s a bit of a folk hero and a great mechanic, he keeps my machine in top condition and depending on the individual event rules he might be at one of the rest stations for me.


Rock Cobbler

PEZ: Have you gone 1x transmission?
No, I’ve stuck with two chainrings – you need the spread of ratios, you’re going at near road speeds on some descents whilst climbing at mountain bike speeds. If the course isn’t extreme then 1x is OK but I prefer to have the two chainrings.

PEZ: Tubeless?
I’ve not used inner tubes since I started on gravel, my tyre sponsor is a Japanese company called IRC and my sealant supplier is Orange Seal. Working with me has rather re-invigorated IRC, they were into MTB tyres in the 90’s then faded out of the sport but it’s great working with them. I test their prototype tyres for them; whilst every race is different, I guess my ‘go to’ tyre is the IRC 42mm Boken DoubleCross. The bigger the tyre the more bump absorption they give, you don’t have suspension like you do on an MTB. Pressure depends on a lot of things – your style, your weight, the width of your rims but generally I ride somewhere between 28 and 31 psi.

PEZ: I’ve seen images of you riding with tri bars on your machine?
I rode then when I broke my wrist; aero bars are currently a social media issue, they’re obviously advantageous in a solo situation but not in a peloton. I’m actually anti aero bars – expensive 3D printed skis and wind tunnel testing don’t belong in gravel, it’s a sport where we reject elitism, we want a level playing field. It’s not all about, ‘win at all costs,’ it’s about the ‘collective adventure’.

PEZ: Do you feel the UCi becoming more involved might dilute the gravel culture?
You need rules, some athletes switch their brains off when they pin a number on. But I think in the US we’re nervous about UCi involvement, in the 90’s they got involved in the MTB scene and created XCO which doesn’t do well in the US. The fear is that they’ll try to change things, make races shorter and get into their form of ‘registration’ whilst right now anyone can ride and you don’t need a race licence.

PEZ: What’s with the Pete Stetina raccoon logo?
It’s my spirit animal, it chose me rather than me choosing it; I see a lot of myself in the racoon – it gets ferocious if cornered, it’s a bit of a trash panda – it’ll eat anything – and it’s a survivor, I came back from my broken leg and Epstein-Barr. And of course, I always have my sunglasses tan. . .

PEZ: What’s still on the Peter Stetina, ‘to do’ list?
I’m not sure I have a ‘to do’ list but I do have internal motivations – I’ve never won the Unbound, I’ve been second and third but there are so many races to ride, all varied, all an adventure. . . I just want to continue to, ‘do bikes’.

PEZ: The final and key question: how do I get hold of some ‘Pete’s Secret Stash’ craft beer?
Ha! Craft beer is my second passion but organising production of a beer takes so much planning – and sadly that beer has all gone now.

# Damn! A pleasure to speak to Peter, the ‘gravel vibe’ appeals to me even more now – I must get over to Unbound in 2023. #

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