Most athletes have to overcome obstacles in order to get to the world championships: normally it is injury, illness, or simply the stress of training, but American Peter Stetina has had much more serious events to deal with before arriving in Florence. Earlier this month, Stetina's father Dale was seriously injured in a cycling accident in Boulder, and then two weeks ago his family's home was swamped by the flooding.
He's been buoyed by an outpouring of support from hundreds of friends and fans, but his nod from USA Cycling to race the Worlds was the biggest solace in a difficult few weeks.
"I really have to thank USA Cycling for the vote of confidence because I've had such a volatile fall season," Stetina told Cyclingnews. "For them to actually have the confidence that I could come to Italy and perform for my country, that was important to me. It helped a lot. The bike was the easy part, getting out to train - you have full control of your intervals, how hard you go and what you need to do that day - that was the escape in all honesty."
Stetina's father crashed while riding near Boulder when a car pulled out in front of his group on a descent, and despite the fact he was wearing a helmet, he crashed face-first and was in a coma, with doctors doubting he could pull through at all. The prognosis rapidly improved, however, and in less than a month he has progressed to a rehabilitation facility, the Craig Hospital in Denver, one of the country's premiere brain injury centers.
Yet at the same time, the family home was hit by the biblical flooding that struck Colorado, and the basement was swamped not just by flood water but raw sewage.
"We had to wear 'hazmat' masks while we were ripping out carpets," Stetina said. "All of the neighbors came to help, because they knew she was dealing with Dad."
"It's been hard, but like my friend Julian Kyer said, we just have to get through September. Then it will get good again."
A change of scenery for the future
One positive over the past month has been Stetina's new contract with the BMC squad: he will join his childhood friends Taylor Phinney and Tejay van Garderen in the squad, and is looking forward to a change of scenery after 10 years in the Slipstream organization.
"I'm so grateful to JV [Jonathan Vaughters] for helping to launch my career. I wouldn't change a thing, but the BMC squad seems like they have fun, and it will be a change of scenery and new motivation. It's the right time to take that step."
After racing the Giro d'Italia three times with Garmin, Stetina hopes to have a chance at selection for the Tour de France on BMC.
"I haven't done the Tour yet and I'd really like to," he said. "I hope to have an opportunity [for myself] in some smaller stage races, and that sounds like the plan they have. If I can have the form like I did in Catalunya I can go for a result."
Stetina hasn't been worried by the repeated digs at staff members and riders who have connections to cycling's dark era of doping, and believes in BMC.
"Garmin is a one hundred percent clean team, and they had their fair share of unwanted media this year. The problem isn't the teams, it's is the system. Instead of just getting it out all at once, it's just trickling out. Every week there's a new name from the same story. Of course there are some people who worked for dirty riders back in the day. It doesn't mean anything today - that was the culture back then unfortunately, but it doesn't mean it's the same culture today. BMC seems like an incredibly clean team to me."
"I'm not worried about it, and Tejay and Taylor don't seem worried about it."
A potentially messy Sunday
Stetina will line up with his future teammates on Sunday for the road race, along with Chris Horner, Matthew Busche (RadioShack) and his current teammates Andrew Talansky and Alex Howes, and is hoping to see one of them on the podium.
"We're a tight group of guys; Howes is going to be a groomsman at my wedding, I grew up racing with Tejay, I ran high school cross country with Taylor. Everyone's close. We are looking out for each other and want to do well. It's been a long time since USA has gotten a medal at Worlds, and this seems like a good team to turn that around."
While he agrees with the pundits that Fabian Cancellara and Peter Sagan are amongst the top favorites, he said, "with this kind of course and that much climbing, we will have to watch out for the Italians and Spaniards. They have deep teams with punchy climbers. They'll make the race hard."
There's a chance of rain for Sunday, and Stetina thinks if it does come true, the race will be even harder than usual. "It would be mayhem. That wouldn't be fun, not at all.
"The rain increases accordion effect tenfold, when everyone over-brakes in the corners and jumps out, and it adds stress. It will be messy."
But not as messy as raw sewage in the basement.