The last 12 months have been a huge challenge for everyone involved in cycling but none more so than individual riders who operate outside of the safety net provided by team infrastructures or national federations.
One such rider is Peter Stetina, who left the men’s WorldTour at the end of 2019 to forge ahead with a gravel campaign in the United States. He single-handedly signed personal sponsors, and for the first time in his life operated as a businessman and a pro athlete. The COVID-19 pandemic effectively cut short most of his plans in 2020, but the American is bouncing back this year, and even though there’s little certainty that a full race calendar will take place – especially with parts of the US under lockdown – the former Trek-Segafredo rider is preparing to combine races with some out-of-box thinking.
“I’ve got a full calendar and I’ve got my sponsors lined up but taking two approaches with it all,” Stetina told Cyclingnews from his home in California.
“One is that the vaccine works and there are no travel restrictions. That’s my perfect world scenario and in that case, it’s almost a recreation of my 2020 plan before all the shit hit the fan.”
“The alternative is a plan also ready to go if things happen like they did last year. In all reality, I think it will be a blend of the two, but I think that I’ll have a pretty robust gravel calendar that combines existing races and some of my ideas. There’s going to be a blend of some of the nation’s biggest events and then also some international travel,” Stetina said.
The original plan was for Stetina to start racing in February with the iconic Rock Cobbler event. However, the race organisers recently confirmed that their dates will be pushed back. That means Stetina’s first race could be the Mid South, which comes later in the spring. Either way, Stetina will combine some of the more eccentric gravel races with some of the more established events. He is also set to take part in two of the growing gravel stage races this year.
“There’s the Rock Cobbler and that’s an event that’s early in the year and you race through the organiser’s living room and run up a hill with beach balls being thrown at you. It’s going to be awesome. It’s next month and it’s part of a more underground race scene. I don’t know if they’ll do that this year but there’s always something quirky in that race, like one year you ride up the stairs in his house like it’s a cyclo-cross race and then one year you’re riding through his barn. At the moment the race has been pushed back, but hopefully, it goes ahead at some point.
“At the moment though it looks like I’ll start at Mid South, that’s in the middle of March. I’ll do a couple of the Grasshopper series and then the Belgian Waffle Series. There’s Unbound, the Rift in Iceland, and the LeadBoat Challenge.
“I have my own personal event, and then the thing I’m most excited about are the rise of the gravel stage races. There’s the Oregon Trail Gravel Grinder and then the TransRockies Gravel Royale. They are four to five-day gravel races and if there was anything that I was built for, it’s these. Those races have the potential to create their own safe bubble as long as you show up with a negative test or a vaccine card. These events are really taking off at the moment. Overall, it’s about 35 race days and it’s a busy schedule.”
Because of the shutdowns in the United States last year, Stetina had to forego racing but he still made use of his time. He set a record time for the epic White Rim Trail in Moab, and as a self-titled ‘privateer’ worked tirelessly with his sponsors to create video content. The whole experience was a complete shift for a rider who once had his day-to-day schedule compiled by road teams for over a decade.
“It’s been hard. I left the road and I created this whole business and athletic side of things, and then the pandemic just locked things down for me. I had to recreate myself twice in just a few months as I couldn’t gravel race. I had to try and remain relevant for my sponsors and that took a lot of motivation and hard work but it’s been really worth it.”