BMC Racing gave Peter Stetina the race start of his dreams as a member of the nine-rider team at the upcoming Tour de France. The American will be expected to help Tejay van Garderen get a top overall placing but he also wants to perform well in the mountains and like many Tour debutants before him, soak up the madness that surrounds the three-week pursuit of the yellow jersey.
"It's my first Tour," Stetina said with a little anxiousness. "I'm just happy to be at the big show and I want to take it all in. I want to take in all the crazy fans, the whole circus, everything you watch on TV, and be apart of it."
Stetina spoke with Cyclingnews at the end of a two-week training camp held in the Italian Dolomites. He said that he's fit, having pushed on the pedals over more than 10,000 feet of climbing every day. "It's a beautiful part of the world, pass after pass."
Stetina spent a career-building five seasons under Jonathan Vaughters's wing at Slipstream Sports but toward the last season he felt like the team had categorized him as a Giro d'Italia rider. One of the reasons he left Garmin-Sharp and signed on with BMC Racing was for the opportunity to compete at the Tour. He said the new team couldn't guarantee his spot on the start line when he first signed his contract but if he worked hard and proved his worth, he would be considered.
"I've always wanted to do the Tour but they [Garmin-Sharp] saw me as a Giro rider," Stetina said. "My first Grand Tour was the Giro and I did well in that, so I was pigeonholed into being a Giro racer. Also, we did really well with Ryder [Hesjedal] in 2012 and so the Giro became almost a bigger goal for the team and that's where they started sending their A-squad.
"I'm excited to finally get my chance at the Tour, and that was a big reason I came over to BMC. I'm excited to finally show up and I'm ready for it this year. BMC was always interested in building my season around being there for Tejay at the Tour. The opportunity was made readily available to me, which is what I needed."
Stetina started the season strong at the Tour de San Luis where he placed second on the mountaintop finish during stage 2 behind winner Julian Arredondo from Trek Factory Racing. He finished eighth overall. Domestique roles at the Classic Sud Ardèche, Valence Drome Classic, Paris-Nice and Volta Ciclista a Catalunya put him in top form for the month of May. BMC Racing rewarded his hard work with a leadership role at the Tour of California.
Stetina took the position seriously, especially during the pair of mountain stages. He showed that he could climb with the best, placing seventh in stage 3 on Mount Diablo and sixth in the stage 6 on Mountain High. He finished a respectable sixth overall, and although he had hoped for more, the result helped secure his spot on the Tour team.
"It's been a good year," Stetina said. "The result at Tour of California wasn't as high of a finish as we wanted but I learned a lot of valuable aspects in terms of how to lead a team and lead a GC charge. I showed that I was climbing well and could be with the top guys, including Wiggo, who was on form."
Surviving the Tour's first week, the UK and the cobbles
Van Garderen is BMC's leader at the Tour but he goes into the race as a bit of a question mark. He surprisingly lost over two minutes in the Critérium du Dauphiné's second stage on the Col du Béal to Team Sky's Chris Froome and Tinkoff-Saxo's Alberto Contador, and finished 13th overall. He later revealed, however, that he had suffered a fractured hip during the Tour of Romandie and was re-building his form, confident that he would be ready to fight for the yellow jersey.
"The team's goal is to put Tejay as high up in the GC as possible," Stetina said. "We believe in him and he's shown that, despite having some bad luck, he's had solid form and we could see that at the Dauphiné. We all believe that he is capable of achieving a high fitness. We have a good team that have all been racing well together and we are looking forward to the race."
The team's Tour roster also includes Darwin Atapuma, Marcus Burghardt, Amaël Moinard, Daniel Oss, Michael Schär, Greg Van Avermaet and Peter Velits. Some of the riders, including van Garderen, pre-rode the mountain stages in May. Although Stetina was competing at the Tour of California during that time, he will rely on their input and course descriptions.
Some of the decisive ascents start presenting themselves during the second week, notably the stage 10 finale on La Planche de Belies Filles. The race heads into the Alps on stage 13 with climbs over Col de Palaquit and a finish up Chamrousse. Stage 14 goes over the Col du Lautaret and Col d'Izoard (the highest point of this year's Tour) before finishing in Risoul. The riders will climb through the Pyrenees on stage 16 over Port de Balès, and stage 17 goes up the Col de Peyresourde and finishes up the Saint-Lary-Soulan Pla d'Adet. Stage 18 climbs over the Col du Tourmalet before ending at the ski station in Hautacam, just three days before the end of the race.
"Of course, I want to make it to Paris," he said. "It would be an even bigger deal to finish in Paris than it would be to just get to the start line. BMC signed me up because they have faith in me as a rider. My personal goal is to be there and help Tejay in the mountains, especially during the third week.
"If the opportunity arises, I'll take my chances. It all depends on the tactics of the day and the stages."
Before getting to the mountains, the peloton needs to get through the opening three stages in the UK and the fifth stage that includes nine cobbled sections that were used in Paris-Roubaix, new twists to the race this year. Stetina fears that they could be dangerous and could hamper the team's ambitions for the mountain stages later on.
"The first five stages sound like they're going to be a mess," Stetina said. "We're starting in London and on small roads. It sounds like it's going to be hectic there and I'm praying for dry weather.
"I've ridden on the cobbled sections before. It's also going to be a mess. You can't win the race there but you can lose it."
As much as Stetina wants to soak up his debut experience at Tour de France, he'll try not to let it overwhelm him or sidetrack him from his responsibilities as a teammate. "For me, it's going to be about getting through the first week safely and not letting all the stress of being in the circus for the first time get to me," he said.
"It doesn't matter if I lose a few minutes here and there, as long as I'm ready to start playing when it starts getting hilly. I want to be able to show myself, show what I know I'm capable of, and what the team knows that I'm capable of in the mountains."