For many teams, losing a rider like Alberto Contador could be a near-fatal blow, but Peter Stetina says Trek-Segafredo has a more-than-able backup in Bauke Mollema and there is a sense of increased opportunity among the team.
"This team has done a good job of keeping everybody hungry," Stetina told Cyclingnews one day ahead of the Vuelta a San Juan start in Argentina. "I think people sense opportunity. Losing Alberto was a big loss, but I think Mollema can fill his shoes no problem.
"I think a lot of people forget that [Mollema] was going to be second in the  Tour ahead of Richie [Porte] and all those guys until he crashed on a wet downhill, which is just bad luck. The things I've seen him do in races, it's as good as anybody. So I think he can definitely fly the flag that Alberto had last year no problem."
Mollema finished 11th at the Tour in 2016 after riding in the second GC spot for six days. In 2017, he deferred to Contador and finished 17th after winning the stage to Le Puy-en-Velay. This year Mollema has his eyes set on a podium place, and Stetina plans to be there to help him after skipping the Tour last year in favour of the Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a España.
As a Californian, Stetina has also put a big star on his calendar over the Tour of California, which he says has a great route this year, and then he hopes to be selected for the Tour team to help boost Mollema as high on the podium as possible.
"Those are the big ones, so everything around the spring is leading up to those two pinnacles,” he said. “And, of course, the World Championships is climber friendly, so you have to star it."
You gotta have faith
Peaking for the Tour of California in May and then again for the Tour de France in July can be a tricky and unorthodox proposition, but Stetina is confident he can pull it off as long as his team has faith in him.
Most Tour contenders and their domestiques take their breaks in May after peaking for Paris-Nice or Tirreno-Adriatico, but Stetina will skip that program and target his home race in California. Then he'll take a break and use June racing to rebuild his form for July.
"It's possible," Stetina said of the California-France plan. “You just have to be really careful to rest. If you’re super in late May, you can't keep it rolling for two months. You feel good and you want to, but you can't.
"You have to really take your foot off the gas pedal after California, take a week and really relax," he said. "I’ll just go to Tahoe and lay on the lake, do a couple of easy rides, have a beer and just marinate and let the good form come. Then you start to build up again, and you have to use Tour de Suisse probably or Dauphine as a springboard, a stepping stone instead of showing form."
The second part of that plan requires a little faith from his team. While the Tour de Suisse and Crtiterium du Dauphine are usually benchmarks teams use to pick their Tour squads, Stetina will only be on the upswing, and he’s counting on his team to understand he'll be better for July.
"With Trek that's how we did in 2016 when I did California and the Tour with Bauke," he said. "There was definitely a little stress in June, but everyone has to keep their eye on the bigger picture. Now with the way that everything is uploaded, they can see the work you’re doing and your weight, and they know."
Starting things off at Vuelta a San Juan
Like last year, Stetina is starting his season in January, but this year he'll be in Argentina at the Vuelta a San Juan instead of in Australia the Tour Down Under. He's never raced San Juan, but he competed in Argentina's Tour de San Luis in 2014 with BMC Racing.
"I think it's pretty much the same style, with six or seven pro teams and a bunch of South American Continental teams," he said. "Hot weather racing, high desert."
Stetina is at the race with a strong team that also includes Jarlinson Pantano and sprinter Giacomo Nizzolo. They’ll be supported by Eugenio Alafaci, Greg Daniel and Ryan Mullen.
While Nizzolo will take on the multiple sprint days, Pantano and Stetina will each ride with the GC in mind.
"I think him and I will just kind of work around it together and let the legs talk,” Stetina said. “I think Giacamo is pretty keen for the sprints here, and I think there’s a lot of opportunities there. He kind of had a rough year, so he’s coming back and finessing himself into the peloton. He’s got Alafaci, who is one of his go-to guys always in the mayhem in the bunch.
"Pantano and I will just kind of - we've done enough racing together that we know how each other like to ride and we have fun in the peloton together."
A turbulent end of season in 2017
Stetina ended his 2017 season, which saw him race from January to late October, in China at the Tour of Guangxi while much of the area around his Northern California home was on fire or recovering from the devastating fires. He was flying home from Italy when news of the fires first broke.
“I’m actually lucky that 20 minutes after the plane took off and I shut my phone off is when news started to break and my wife called me,” he said. “So I was at least – ignorance was bliss for at least 11 hours. Otherwise I’d have been freaking out for 11 hours.
“I didn’t know, but when I turned my phone on upon landing in San Francisco it just blew up,” he said. “Luckily the first text I looked at was my wife, saying, ‘Our city’s on fire. I’m in San Francisco waiting for you. Just head out.’ Then you see what the heck is going on. So we got in the car and actually drove back into the fire to start the evacuation process.”
Stetina self-evacuated to his place in Tahoe, where he waited out the fires. When he returned, he helped lead several charity rides to help raise money for fire relief, but his training for Guangxi suffered.
Going grand with his gran fondo
Like many pros, Stetina is now keeping himself busy with planning for his own gran fondo. The first Peter Stetina Sierra Prospect when off in 2017, and the 30-year-old rider hopes to amp things up even more this year.
He said the gran fondo planning gives him something to do during downtime at races other than hunting about for the best wifi spot at the hotel like some of his teammates.
“The first year was a big success, and we’ve got a big growth plan that will be coming out with some fun news very soon,” he said. “We’re just finalising some last-minute tings, but it’s going to be bigger and better this next year.”
Part of the "bigger and better" will be a planned finish at the top of Mount Rose, the highest elevation pass in the Sierra Nevadas. Stetina says it will be the only US gran fondo with a mountain top finish.
“When you watch a bike race, the Queen stage is always a mountain top finish,” he said. “That’s what everyone is excited for, and now we’re the queen stage of gran fondos. We’re finishing up there and we’re going to have a party on Mount Rose.”
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