At this point, it’s Pete Stetina’s mind, not his body, that’s struggling to answer the question of whether or not he should race the Belgian Waffle Ride San Diego on Saturday.
His body has already answered the question: “my wrist is still broken”.
BikeNews spoke to Stetina on Monday after an x-ray showed what Stetina already knew but doesn’t like being reminded. Just over two weeks after fracturing her right distal radius during the Fuego 80k mountain bike race at Sea Otter, Stetina is healing but not cured.
“Having said that, the pain has gone down considerably,” he said, “and I’m able to ride a normal road bike. Even the bumps are better. It’s kind of this exceptional experience where I did those five or six rides and my wrist felt better after that, it’s almost like the movement helped.
Nevertheless, Stetina is still very hesitant about whether he will race BWR on Saturday. As the two-time defending champion of what he calls the “undercycling world championships,” the decision is agonizing. After speaking with her doctors on Monday and seeing her physical therapist on Tuesday, Stetina plans to travel to San Diego on Wednesday for a preparatory class on Thursday. He won’t make a decision first.
“BWR is the most technical gravel race out there,” he said. “The handling of the bike is essential. I have to be able to decide if I feel like I can handle my bike to the level I need to compete and be safe for myself and others.
Stetina considers several factors as he prepares for the trip to San Diego.
First there is the choice of material. What bike to ride and what tires to use are questions that plague an uninjured rider heading to BWR, but Stetina’s injury added a new level of granularity.
Stetina has won the last two editions of the race on a road bike with 28mm (2019) and then 30mm (2021) tires. This year race director Michael Marcxk changed the course to include a lot more dirt and off-road sections. Given that and Stetina’s wrist, the former WorldTour roadie says he’s looking at the “32 range.”
“I would usually be on a more pinner setup, but maybe I should go to a sturdier setup if I’m not as comfortable on the descents,” he said. “I try to balance the reality of rolling on my wrist against what would be best for an outcome.”
Regardless of the tire choice, Stetina will be riding a Canyon Endurace, not one of the brand’s gravel bikes.
His other main equipment problem is his brace. Stetina was lucky enough to see Tracey Airth-Edblom, a world-class hand physiotherapist in the days following his injury, and she fitted him with a custom split using Orfit technology. On Tuesday, Stetina will travel to Airth-Edblom to see if a more flexible brace is in order.
“You don’t realize how much your hand position changes during a run,” Stetina said. “Getting out of the saddle and lowering the force was a challenge.”
While it’s easy to focus, equipment choices are actually the least of Stetina’s worries. Ultimately, he must decide if the risk of running is worth the reward. As a professional cyclist who holds himself to a high standard, missing out on BWR is like missing out on a championship game. Although Stetina is part of both the Life Time Grand Prix series and the BWR Quadrupel Crown series, he actually values some wins over others.
“I think the one days are more important,” he said. “I think winning Unbound is more important than winning the Grand Prix, and I think California is more important than winning the Quadrupel Crown.”
Stetina’s almost maniacal competitiveness means he always hedges his bets. Although he says one-day wins mean more, he still looks at the bigger pictures of the two overall racing series. It was what led him to finish the Fuego 80k MTB race at Sea Otter even after knowing he had broken his wrist because he thought some points in the Grand Prix series were better than no points. .
Saturday’s BWR race presents the same conundrum.
“I have to decide if it’s worth it if I can’t compete for the podium,” he said. “But, if I jump completely, it kills my chance for the BWR quadruple crown. I have to decide how important it is. Can I potentially line up knowing that I have no chance of winning or getting on the podium but saving something for the Quadrupel Crown which is just as important to me as the Life Time Grand Price ?
Stetina is one of the busiest people in the gravel, and her 2022 schedule is jam-packed. Between the 10 events that make up the Life Time and BWR series, Stetina competes in other one-day races, as well as her own, Stetina’s Pay Dirt. He is also a future father of twins. His sponsors are supportive of any decision he makes.
And, there is a very long and very important race in Kansas in six weeks that acts as a beacon on Stetina’s horizon.
All this leads many people to ask him: why take the risk?
“Most people say don’t take risks,” he said. “Anyway, I’ll be there drinking beer with all my friends and maybe contributing my own lesson ideas and spoilers if I can’t compete.”