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Peter Stetina guest column - 'Dad Watts' approach to Leadville Trail 100 MTB and SBT GRVL

Peter Stetina moved from the pro road peloton to gravel privateer a couple of years ago and has never looked back. One of the top off-road riders in the US, Stetina has had his 2022 path strewn with challenges – he broke his wrist in the Sea Otter Classic Fuego XC 80K in April but still rode to 21st place, organised Stetina's Carson City Paydirt in May, and welcomed twins with his wife, Dyanna, just two weeks ago.

His career as a father is well underway as he prepares to race the fourth stop in the Life Time Grand Prix series on August 13, Leadville Trail 100 MTB, where he finished fifth last year, and then drive 122 miles across the Rocky Mountains to tackle SBT GRVL the next day, where he was previously third. The doubleheader is called LeadBoat and Stetina won the title in 2021. He is tied with Rob Britton for fifth overall in the national Life Time series, 21 points behind series leader Keegan Swenson, and with a victory at the Belgian Waffle Ride North Carolina, he leads the Quadrupel Crown of Gravel series with two stops remaining. 

I type this sitting in the hospital, next to my newborn twins, as they recover from their premature birth status. These last weeks have been tough but exciting. Being ‘preemie’, we’ve had a soft drop into parenting physically, but an excessive toll emotionally. 

Physically, we aren’t as sleep deprived as traditional parents of newborns, for while they recover in the NICU (Neonatal ICU) under the care of nurses we get to go home to our temporary housing every night for a “better” night’s rest. 

Emotionally, that has been another story however. Our daughter Layla is progressing quickly and should be home in our arms this week. Our son Emery, however, had quite a few complications upon birth, necessitating some immediate surgeries. It’s been a nerve-wracking two-steps-forward one-step-back process and while I can already see the boy’s got real grit, he’s got a battle in front of him. It’s been hard to digest; what should be a magical time of bonding with one’s newborn, nursing and cuddling has been, in reality, a process in confronting a new set of problems to solve and watching oxygen monitors.

I’m not bailing on my gravel season, however, there are still some big objectives this fall, but my routine has become very different. We’ve relocated to San Francisco, California [from Santa Rosa - Ed.] for the summer and found temporary housing to be near their hospital beds. I spend most of my time in their room but carve out a short window every day to ride, mostly for my mental health. 

In fact I can’t remember the last time I hit the lap button on my Wahoo, rather I just go as hard or easy as I feel. There’s no time for stretching, massage, or any personal body care. It’s been fun but challenging to adjust to this urban landscape of traffic lights, trying to find the quickest ways through the city to some good rides while knowing I’m in a time crunch.

The biggest weekend of the season is around the corner – the LeadBoat Challenge, highlighted by the Leadville Trail 100 MTB on Saturday and the SBT GRVL race on Sunday. To prepare for this ultimate high-alpine challenge perfectly, one needs to spend weeks at high elevation to acclimate as well as string together consecutive long days. Normally this would be my bread and butter and I’m the defending champ having won this challenge in 2021.

I’m still using a scientific background and a bit of blind faith to prepare though. I have quite the base fitness built up from this spring. So once per week I am trying to escape for a longer 4-6 hour ride just to maintain the endurance. The rest of the week is built by short rides where I just sprint around the urban jungle that is SF. 

The extreme elevation is another problem however: If one cannot acclimate fully, it’s best to show up literally the day before, as it takes a day for one’s body to think “oh crap I can’t breathe!” and becomes sluggish. One can still perform somewhat one day into altitude exposure. Day 2 in SBT may be really rough, however.

More gravel to grind

I don’t expect to be in any contention for the win over the weekend, but rather to participate and hopefully still salvage some points in the all important season-long Life Time GP; every point will count. Attending these events is where the real fun lies and a race result is secondary to the experience. 

I love attending bike races more than ever before and a full 8 hours of sleep will be an added bonus! I’ve got grandma coming in to pinch hit for me while I go play bike racer at LeadBoat, and then Gravel Worlds in Nebraska (August 20), and Chequamegon MTB in Wisconsin (September 17). These will all be jet-in and jet-out in 48 hour type of adventures; no recons and minimal after-partying.

Once the whole family is home things should adjust in a more professional way for me to target the end of the season. With Dyanna on pregnancy leave, we will likely hang out in Colorado with family for more support and this will allow me to make weekend trips for Gravel Locos Pueblo, BWR Utah and Kansas, and Big Sugar Gravel. 

The Lifetime GP title may be out of reach for me due to a rough spring full of hiccups and the imperfect Leadville build, but I’m not ruling out an overall podium just yet. Plus I am currently leading the BWR quadruple crown classification and that’s something I’d love to wrap up. Now I just need to hope those fabled Dad Watts can make up for my lack of training!

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