Cycling to the Hilt: Peter Stetina

From world tour crash to becoming one of the winningest gravel racers in the world, Peter is motivated by his love for bikes and the sense of exploration that his career allows.

AUG. 30, 2023 | BY INGRID SCHNADER ELLIS
Anne Marie spinning thread at Adventure Van Expo Hood River
Peter Stetina’s whole world revolves around bicycles. When Storyteller Overland spoke to him on the phone in mid-August, he had just arrived in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, gearing up for a gravel bike race that was to be held there in a few days. Just a few days before that, he’d raced in the Leadville 100 (mile) mountain bike race.

“Especially with the high mountains open in the summer, a lot of races cram themselves into the few available summer months between snows,” Peter said.

Peter grew up on mountain bikes, completing his first race in 2001 as a teenager. But road cycling was where the money and career opportunities were, so he fell into that pretty quickly, completing a 10-year World Tour career from 2010-2020.

Peter is now one of the winningest gravel racers in the world, and when you look at his achievements now, it’s hard to believe there was ever a time when experts predicted his cycling career would be over.
Peter Stetina at the 2022 Leadville 100 MTB race. 
It was 2015, and Peter was racing one of the biggest races in Spain. Traveling in the peloton at 40 miles per hour, Peter rounded a corner when suddenly he collided with an unmarked metal pole right in front of him. The racer ahead was able to swerve out of the way just in time, but it was too late for Peter. He crashed knee first into the pole, shattering his knee cap and cracking his tibia and five ribs.

He spent two weeks in a Spanish hospital until he was stable enough to return to the US. He couldn’t walk, let alone ride a bicycle.

“At that point, a lot of teams wrote my career off and thought I would never race again,” he said.

He got by through compartmentalization. Instead of worrying about his career, he focused on healing his leg. After all, he imagined himself being active with his kids someday.

“I did physical therapy five days a week in the PT office and then weekend homework on top of that,” he said. “I did it to maybe come back to cycling but also just to have a functional knee again someday.

“But don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of what ifs and dark days too, and thinking ‘what’s next?’ It changes who you are when you have a life-altering injury like that. And you see who’s in your corner and who’s just there for convenience.”

Despite the extent of his injuries, Peter was able to make a full recovery and returned to the World Tour for four more seasons. In May 2016, just 13 months after his injury, he placed second in the Queen stage of the Tour of California.
Peter announced his departure from the World Tour in 2019 to focus on gravel racing.

"Gravel started to explode in the past four to five years, and it was an opportunity I didn't want to miss," Peter said. "It's the best career move I've ever made."

Gravel is known as cycling's inclusive discipline, Peter said. There's a space for everyone. Peter's mechanic, "Big Tall Wayne," said Peter is the kind of person who got into gravel cycling because he genuinely loves the sport and the community around it.

"One of his favorite races is the Mid South race, where there's a bigger deal made about the person who comes in last than the person who comes in first," Wayne said. "Pete makes a habit to hang out for that last finisher whenever possible. He loves to see people out there doing their best."
Peter Stetina and his Storyteller Overland adventure van at the 2023 Leadville 100 MTB race. 
When the pandemic put a pause to traditional races, Peter decided to travel to iconic locations and get course records on famous trails. This is what led him into van life and eventually to Storyteller Overland.

He started out with a used Sprinter DIY build that “got the job done,” and then in 2021, he purchased his Storyteller Overland adventure van.

“It became a really good way to see parts of the country you usually just pass over,” he said. “I got to have adventures along the way to the adventure that was the destination. That’s what really hooked me.”

Now that races are back in full swing, Peter takes his van on bike adventures, to training camps, and to races and events — although his brick-and-mortar home base is in California with his wife and 1-year-old twins.

“And my wife will be the first one to tell you that I have a pretty bad wanderlust in me. I get kind of itchy if I’m in one place too long, training or living or whatever. I’m always disappearing for a weekend here or there, even if I’m in the off season, and the van provides that outlet.”
This blog is part of a three-part series of members in our community who live life To The Hilt. Check back in the coming weeks for more To The Hilt blogs!

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