LONDON (VN) — Peter Stetina (BMC Racing) realizes a lifelong dream this weekend when he lines up for his Tour de France debut.
The 26-year-old Coloradan isn’t racing just for the experience. Instead, he comes to the Tour with major responsibilities as one of the key helpers in the mountains for BMC captain Tejay van Garderen.
“It’s pure excitement. It’s a childhood dream,” Stetina told VeloNews. “I grew up watching the Tour. It’s the goal of every cyclist. Once I get into the race, then I can start taking in the whole experience, and start racing bikes.”
When VeloNews spoke to Stetina over the weekend, he had just returned from an altitude training camp in the Dolomites, “to fine tune the legs and lungs for the Tour.”
Stetina will be an important teammate in the mountains for van Garderen, who hopes to improve on his fifth place GC result in 2012.
This year, van Garderen is racing the Tour as outright captain at BMC, and will count on the full support of the team.
Stetina has been close to van Garderen all season long, and said the team is quietly confident it can deliver their captain to Paris with a shot at the final podium.
“All the guys on the Tour squad really believe in Tejay. He can have a real high final placing in Paris if all goes right and he stays safe,” Stetina said. “He’s been laser-focused, and we were impressed by what he was doing at Val Gardena [altitude camp last week]. We are all excited for him, and we are going to rally around him.”
With 2011 Tour winner Cadel Evans not lining up in Leeds this year, BMC Racing has built a new core group of riders around van Garderen, with Stetina joining Peter Velits and Darwin Atapuma, among others.
“We’ve been racing a lot together this season, to make sure we’re tight. When you’re a band of brothers, it’s easier to sacrifice for the others,” he said. “We’re all on the same page.”
Stetina and van Garderen have a long history dating back to the days when they were both up-and-coming juniors on the Colorado circuit.
Once they turned pro, however, their paths went in different directions. Stetina locked into the Garmin squad while van Garderen came up through the High Road organization.
When BMC was shopping for riders last year, it was a natural step to reunite the two Colorado prospects, now at the top of their sport.
“We always did get along pretty well. We grew up racing against each other and with each other since we were 15 or 16,” Stetina said. “Once we turned pro, we were always on different programs, but now we’re really enjoying it at BMC.”
Just how far can van Garderen go? Stetina said the team hopes to surprise a few people.
“The way the Tour is laid out, it seems like a strong man’s course this year. Even that final time trial is right up his alley,” he said. “Tejay can time trial well when everyone else is tired. He’s bank on that, too. It’s a good course for him.”
Tour part of BMC deal
One of the big motivations in his move from his longtime home at Garmin to BMC Racing over the winter was the clear option of receiving a Tour start.
At Garmin, Stetina had raced three consecutive editions of the Giro d’Italia. He provided key help to Ryder Hesjedal when the Canadian won in 2012, but Stetina had never earned a spot on the Tour squad.
With BMC looking to bolster its roster with more climbers, the chance to start the Tour was part of the deal for Stetina.
“The Tour was definitely an option. Of course, it’s never set in stone. You have to show that you’re fit and ready for the Tour, but with BMC, the option [for the Tour] was there,” he said. “The team said they would work with me to peak in July and support Tejay in the mountains. That was an enticing and big goal for me.”
Stetina said that Giro experience will come in handy during the pressures of the Tour.
“Everyone says the Tour is different, but the Giro is its own monster. I can draw a lot from the Giro, with its hectic finales, and when we won with Ryder, I learned quite a bit about how to defend a race lead,” he said. “If Tejay gets into the jersey, I can draw on that.”
First in family to race Tour
Stetina will become the first of his immediate family to race the Tour, and his imminent start has special meaning inside the Stetina household, which has a long lineage of pro cycling pedigree.
Stetina’s father, Dale — a former national champion — suffered a horrible crash last summer. He returned home over the winter, and Peter Stetina said his dad will be his number one fan this July.
“He is so excited about it. He was so over the moon when the news was official. He never did race the Tour, so I am the first one in the family to experience this,” Stetina said of his father. “He will be excited to watch it on TV. For me personally, this is my goal, this is my childhood dream, and I wanted to race the Tour.”
His uncle, Wayne, was also a pro in the 1970s and 1980s.
For Stetina, Saturday’s start will see the realization of a childhood dream, but he knows there is no time for wax nostalgic.
“For me, I just got to stay safe and out of trouble that first week. It doesn’t matter if I lose a few minutes here and there, so long as I am fresh and ready for when the mountains come,” he continued. “I would love to be up there and be at the front of the race when the road is going uphill. For the Tour, it’s time to play the game and show your cards.”