Stetina: I'm stoked to go back to the Vuelta a Espana

After missing out on a Grand Tour last year for the first time since 2015, Peter Stetina will fly the Trek-Segafredo colours in the Vuelta a España, which starts August 24 in Salinas de Torrevieja with a 24km team time trial.

Stetina is currently competing at the Larry H. Miller of Utah with three teammates who will join him in the three-week Spanish race.

"We don't really have a direct GC leader this time," Stetina told Cyclingnews Friday evening before the start of stage 4 in Utah.

"We're going to be more opportunists, it sounds like. The climbing side of things will be Niklas Eg, myself and [Gianluca] Brambilla. The sprint side of things will be [John] Degenkolb, Kiel [Reijnen], Alex Kirsch, who is a Luxembourg strongman, and then Eddie Tuens. We also have our young guy [Jacopo] Mosca, who is hear kind of being the all-around guy," he said.

"I think stages will take a higher priority, and then if one of us can sneak into a respectable GC, that's always a nice bonus."

Stetina last competed at the Vuelta in 2017, supporting three-time champion Alberto Contador's general classification ambitions. Contador went on to win two stages and finish fifth overall.

The American missed out on all three Grand Tours last year after having started four times at the Giro d'Italia, two Tours de France and one Vuelta in the previous seven years. He told Cyclingnews he's excited to head back to Spain.

"I'm stoked to go back," he said. "I missed out on a Grand Tour last year due to my health stuff, so it's really nice to go back. That's where I've had the best races of my career."

Stetina, Reijnen, Eg and Mosca are all in Utah reigniting the engines for the Spanish Grand Tour, although Reijnen crashed hard at the end of stage 1 and had to abandon. Despite that setback, Stetina said the Utah race is perfect preparation for the Vuelta.

"It's actually really similar to conditions in Spain, with the heat and the steep climbs," he said. "This is the same style of preparation in 2017 before I went to the Vuelta. That time of year it was the Colorado race, actually, but it was the same thing. It was a weeklong altitude race in the US, and then just fly straight to Spain and get over the jetlag, and it seems to work out pretty well for the form."

Stetina is currently fifth overall in Utah, 2:02 off the pace of race leader Ben Hermans (Israel Cycling Academy). His teammate Eg is currently third at 1:06. Stetina was an early animator on the climb up Powder Mountain, attacking a select group near the bottom but eventually fading as Hermans took the win ahead of James Piccoli (Elevate-KHS) and Eg. Stetina held on for fourth on the day at 58 seconds.

As for his post-Vuelta plans, Stetina said his late-season program is still up in the air, although he'd obviously like to represent the US at the UCI Road World Championships in Yorkshire this September. Stetina told Cyclingnews he has been in contact with USA Cycling about Worlds, but there have been no decisions yet.

"All I know is we only have four spots this year with the qualification," he said. "I would love to go. I'm guessing [US road champion] Alex [Howes of EF Education First] with his newly printed jersey will want to go. It's a good course for him with the punchy style climbs. He's a good friend, so if I can go and support him, I would love to do the Worlds. But we'll see, that's a decision for USA Cycling."

Stetina is one of the US road pros who has ventured into off-road endurance racing and the growing trend of gravel rides. He won the Belgian Waffle Ride in California, placed second at Dirty Kanza and most recently finished fourth at the Leadville Trail 100 mountain bike race in Colorado – just two days before the Tour of Utah start on August 12. Stetina said the off-road races have been a breath of fresh air.

"I think that's the way the US scene is shifting, especially," he told Cyclingnews. "It's not so much in Europe, but that's where the biggest market and the most excitement is in the USA right now. I know me, personally, I grew up doing that style of races, so it's fun to go back and do them and just be relatable and feel that communal vibe that these races bring."

Stetina's main job for Trek-Segafredo is still road racing, however, but he is out of contract at the end of this season.. Asked if there was any movement on the contract front, Stetina said it was "ongoing."

"That's my agent's job," he said. "I'm focused on racing my bike right now. I'm having fun racing my bike. I'm actually having a lot more fun this year than in many seasons, with a lot of nice WorldTour races plus that alternative calendar I did. I was always keeping it fresh and always had team motivations and personal motivations. It's been a lot of fun so far."

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Growing up in Missoula, Montana, Pat competed in his first bike race in 1985 at Flathead Lake. He studied English and journalism at the University of Oregon and has covered North American cycling extensively since 2009, as well as racing and teams in Europe and South America. Pat currently lives in the US outside of Portland, Oregon, with his imaginary dog Rusty.