Peter Stetina in action during the men's under-23 time trial at the 2008 UCI Road World Championships on Sept. 23, 2008 in Varese, Italy.
1976 Olympian and U.S. Bicycling Hall of Famer Dale Stetina was not in Europe to see his son, Peter, make his Tour de France debut.
Dale planned to be at home watching the tour on TV and continuing to recover from a traumatic brain injury suffered last August when he crashed on his bike on a canyon road outside Boulder, Colorado.
Within hours of the accident, Peter flew home from Europe, where he was racing with the Garmin-Sharp pro cycling team. But as he kept vigil by his dad’s bedside through September, he continued to ride. He found solace in training. It was the one thing that he had control over.
Besides, his dad wouldn’t have wanted him to quit.
“Dale was excited for him to keep racing,” said Wayne Stetina, Dale’s brother, Peter’s uncle, a 1972 and 1976 U.S. Olympian, and now vice president of Shimano USA.
Peter began a new phase of his pro cycling career in 2014. Now with team BMC, he was the team leader at his first major international stage race in May. And on Saturday, the 26-year-old from Santa Rosa, California, began his first Tour de France.
|Peter Stetina is currently racing in the Tour de France that started July 5, 2014 and will cover a total distance of 3,664 kilometers.
“It’s a childhood dream,” said Stetina by phone from a late-June training camp in the Italian Dolomites. “I’m finally going to race the Tour de France.”
His role is to help BMC team leader and fellow American Tejay van Garderen in the mountain stages. And he should do well.
“Peter is an exceptional climber — significantly better than Dale — who recovers very well in a Grand Tour,” said Wayne.
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The eldest of Dale and Anne Stetina’s three kids, Peter grew up in a city (Boulder) and family steeped in cycling culture. From 1965 to 1983, Dale won more than 200 national and international races, including the Coors Classic twice. He also held the record in the grueling Mt. Washington Hillclimb in New Hampshire for over 20 years.
But Peter was never pushed into cycling. Instead, he played soccer. At Boulder High School, he also ran cross-country, competing for a year with Taylor Phinney, a 2008 and 2012 Olympian and now a BMC teammate.
A soccer teammate convinced Peter to try mountain biking. For a couple years, he only raced mountain bikes but would occasionally hop into road races.
“I was always good at it,” said Peter. “It was fun to make a little bit of prize money on the weekends.”
Colby Pearce, a 2004 Olympian, hooked him up with Tour de France veteran Jonathan Vaughters and the first incarnation of the Slipstream cycling team (what has become the Garmin-Sharp pro team). In April 2003, Peter entered his first big road race, New Mexico’s Tour of the Gila. As a category 3 rider (intermediate), he won. At the time, he was 15 and competing against adults.
“I had no idea what I was doing,” he said. “When you do well, you naturally get hooked.”
His dad and uncle helped with training and racing advice, such as race tactics, intervals and when to rest.
“My dad and I are pretty genetically similar,” said Peter. “He knew what worked for him in the past.”
But full-time coaching never worked. Their father-son dynamic meant that they often butt heads in training.
“I love him and we get along,” confessed Peter. “But it’s hard to take his word as gospel.”
Wayne remembers Peter asking him a question while riding with his dad and uncle about 10 years ago. When Wayne replied, Dale started laughing.
“What’s so funny?” asked Wayne.
Peter sheepishly admitted that he had already asked his dad that question and received the same answer.
Peter turned pro in 2010 and quickly moved up the rankings. At the 2011 Giro d’Italia, one of the Europe’s three-week-long Grand Tours, Peter finished 22nd and third in the Best Young Rider category.
“It confirmed that I could be a Grand Tour racer,” said Peter. “It helped a lot of other people believe in me, too. But I’ve always thought I’d be capable of that ride and better.”
On Aug. 22, 2013, Peter signed with BMC for 2014, a career move that would give him the opportunity to lead the team at the Amgen Tour of California and compete in the Tour de France.
Then on the night of Aug. 31, while Peter was in France, the team soigneur banged on his hotel room door. It was midnight. Peter’s dad had been in an accident.
Dale was descending Lefthand Canyon west of Boulder with a group of cyclists when he swerved to avoid an SUV in the wrong lane. Dale hit the pavement, landing face first, reported one of the riders. He was airlifted to the hospital and remained in the ICU with a traumatic brain injury.
On the flight home, Peter did not know if his dad would be alive when he landed in Denver.
“I felt bad for the guy sitting next to me,” he said. “I was a bit of a wreck.”
His father did pull through but remained in a coma. Peter relocated to Boulder for the fall but still trained to compete in the 2013 UCI Road World Championships in Italy on Sept. 29. He placed 37th at worlds, one of only 61 to finish the road race.
“The total focus required for ProTour training and racing has definitely helped Pete cope with Dale’s crash and aftereffects,” said Wayne.
After worlds, Peter flew to Santa Rosa to marry Dyanna Becker, his long-time girlfriend, on Oct. 4. Dale missed their wedding.
“Everything was already in motion, everyone’s plane tickets were booked, the invitations were sent, the venue was paid for,” said Peter. “If we waited, there was a chance that Dad would never get better anyway. And we knew that he would want us to continue and have the party with or without him.”
They hired a videographer to capture the entire wedding. And they toasted Dale at the reception.
Peter started the 2014 season in the red BMC uniform. In May, in his first experience as a team leader, he finished sixth at the Amgen Tour of California and is proud of his climbing.
“I was one of the few guys who was actually able to attack Wiggo [2012 Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins] in the mountains,” said Peter.
Dale flew to California and was able to watch the final stage of the race. Peter was happy that his dad was back in the bike racing world, a refreshing break that was important to his recovery. Dale then spent a week in Santa Rosa with his son and daughter-in-law, and Peter rode on a tandem with him.
Dale then rode a tandem with brother Wayne on a Ride 2 Recovery, which raises money to support cycling programs for healing war veterans. Wayne has been involved with the group since 2008.
In July, Wayne will participate in another Ride 2 Recovery in Normandy, France, then travel to Paris to see the Tour de France’s final stage, where he hopes to see Peter finish on the Champs Élysées.
“For me, the start line isn’t as important as the finish line,” Peter said. “I really want to be at the Champs Élysées.
He also wants to see van Garderen stand on the podium: “Tejay has shown that he’s got what it takes, and all of us climbers around him have shown that we have what it takes to help him get there.”
Peggy Shinn is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org and has covered three Olympic Games.