It's been awhile since Peter Stetina crossed the finish line in a pro bike race while posting up with a victory salute. The 29-year-old Trek-Segafredo rider says his last individual win came in France when he was still racing in the under-23 ranks.
So when Stetina crossed the line first during stage 3 at the Cascade Cycling Classic on Friday as part of the US National Team, he checked off a few of the boxes that had convinced him to come to the race.
"We came here to get a bit of fire in our belly and have a little fun remembering why we fell in love with cycling in the first place, which is hanging out in Bend in the summer with some of your best friends. It's been a bit of a reunion tour. We're just not stressed and enjoying it," said Stetina, who joined Trek-Segafredo teammate Kiel Reijnen, Cannondale-Drapac's Alex Howes, Axeon Hagens Berman's Logan Owen, Team Illuminate's Cam Piper and amateur riders Cooper Rombold and Dillon Caldwell on Team USA team this week in Bend, Oregon.
"This is my first individual win, except for some local stuff and the Tahoe Trail 100 last weekend, since my under-23 years in France," Stetina said. "I won a mountaintop then. Usually in the WorldTour I'm racing for one of the big leaders like Bauke (Mollema) or Alberto (Contador), so it's fun to rekindle that flame no matter where your are in the world."
Howes sparked the flame during stage 1 on Wednesday, playing off a late attack from Reijnen on the final climb to take the opening victory and first yellow jersey of the race. A lack of time trial machines during stage 2 cost them all time in the GC, so the rest of the week is focused on stage wins and having fun.
"They kind of suckered me into it because they needed another guy, but it's been a lot of fun so far," Howes said. "My roommate is driving the car and my girlfriend is in the feed zone, so it's a lot of fun. We've all liked Bend for a long time. I've done this race a few times, and we had U23 nationals here. It's always a treat coming back here."
Reijnen, who initiated the idea of putting together a composite team under the USA banner for riders who needed to fill a hole in their calendar, said things have gone swimmingly so far with two stages win in three days.
"We came here to smash it up," Reijnen said. "Me, Pete and Alex are great buddies. We go back a long ways so we all know how to race with each other, and we're definitely all in for each other. It's been fun having some young guys on the team, too.
"Our hope in coming here is that it would be received as a positive thing, and we hope it brings the level of the race up and we hope it brings out more fans," Reijnen added. "We're here to be part of the race, not bend the race to what we want. It's a nice little build up to Colorado [Classic in August] to get some altitude before I head up to higher altitude, and it's just an excuse to race with some of my best friends."
When word spread that Reijnen was putting together a team to compete at Cascade, Owen, who won a stage at Volta as Alentejo in February but has since been plagued with injury and illness, immediately reached out for a spot.
"I was hoping to come here with my team this year, but for whatever reason we ended up not coming," Owen said. "I talked to Kiel because I knew they were getting a team together for the national team, and I just asked if I could join. I love coming down to this race. I think it's like my fifth or six year in a row coming. It's just a fun trip."
Owen's trip is not all about fun in the sun, however, as he's using the race to prepare for the upcoming Tour of Utah, where Owen won a stage in 2015. Following Utah, he'll attend a USA Cycling team pursuit training camp with an eye toward making the 2020 Olympic team for Tokyo.
The race is a nice block of training for the others as well, with Reijnen and Stetina looking at the Vuelta a España later this summer and Howes focused on Colorado, the Tour of Alberta and then the WorldTour races in Quebec and Montreal.
He was happy to be the 10th Cannondale-Drapac rider to claim a win this season, even if Cascade is not quite the Tour de France.
"We've had a good season overall. Rigo [Uran] is flying, Pierre won a stage at the Giro, Talansky at California," Howes said before being reminded of his own victory on Wednesday.
"Stage win at Cascade, that's right up there with Rigo's Tour stage win," he said dryly. "But we've had a good time and it's nice to hear the news with the new sponsor coming on. Smiles all around."