In the first chapter, we spent time with Pete and Kiel at Lake Tahoe. It is Pete’s ‘power place’ and more than likely where he envisaged his attack on Gibraltar Road last Tuesday, five kilometers from the finish of stage 3 of the Tour of California. Part two continues where we left things, at the Stetina Chalet located at 6,224feet/1,897meters elevation.
It is time to leave the Stetina cabin and the pristine waters of Lake Tahoe and head down to Santa Rosa, Pete’s adopted hometown.
Both Pete and Kiel have called Boulder, Colorado their home at some point in their lives. Pete was born and raised there, but settled with his wife Dyanna in California for a number of reasons, but mostly because of the great training opportunities for him and excellent job perspectives for her. Pete also rents a studio in Girona, Spain where he stays when he’s racing in Europe.
Kiel and his wife Jordan left Boulder last winter, after spending eight years in the quaint college town where many pro cyclist and triathletes reside. Now the couple commutes between Girona (he lives a few blocks away from Pete) and Bainbridge Island, WA, where Kiel grew up.
Pro cyclists are like nomads, the North Americans to an even greater degree. They can change abodes in a spur-of-the-moment; the next step always on their minds: If you’re not setting yourself up for success, you’re setting yourself up for defeat.
Yet, they have a keen awareness of home or connection to a special place. Both Kiel and Pete have tattoos that in one way or another symbolize this.
Kiel's tattoo is on his right foot, a killer whale with an oversized red dorsal fin. Kiel: “As kids we would be sailing in the waters around the Island and see them often. They are one of the most magnificent and elegant creatures I have ever encountered in the wild. Having a connection to the land and water where I grew up remains incredibly important to me. I am the sixth generation in my family to have been born on the Olympic Peninsula (and surrounding islands). We grew up embracing and exploring our the Native American heritage.”
Kiel is a registered member of the Cowlitz Tribe
Peter’s tattoo is on his rib cage, on the right side. It’s a string of colorful Tibetan prayer flags. Pete: “You’ll see the Lung Ta a lot in films from the Himalaya - they symbolize the mountains. I did my research and found out that they are older than Buddhism itself. For me they allude to the mountains of Colorado, where I grew up. They flags are beautiful and make me happy. They symbolize the five elements and they are always displayed in a diagonal way and always have prayers on them, so that the wind can carry the words away.”
We set our alarms to an ungodly time to maximize the morning time and be on the road as early as possible. It’s about four hours driving to Santa Rosa. The plan is to pack up and have breakfast at a coffee shop in Truckee. If we make it to Santa Rosa in time for lunch, we’ll go for a spin in the numerous vineyards around the city.
‘Good Morning America’ is on. I know morning television from movies and TV-series, but have never seen it. The hosts discuss a number of subjects, including edible nail polish and an upcoming restoration for Princess Diana’s gravesite.
Pete and Kiel also have a fondness for implausible subjects of conversation, albeit with more sophistication and eloquence than the TV-show. Pete questions where is the buffalo in buffalo sauce. Kiel in return asks Pete what the one utensil would be that he’d bring to a deserted island. The guys discuss the qualities of the ideal coffee mug (Pete: volume, Kiel: a big handle) and speak about ‘anorexia athletica’: a condition where a person over-exercises in order to feel entitled to eat more.
The refinement of their vocabulary is striking: A sprint is not hectic but discombobulated; a country is not fascinating but enamoring; and a demanding race is a total onslaught.
Osa, Pete’s dog, lies wearily in the morning light at the front door. She has one white paw, and a few friends of Peter nicknamed her Michael Jackson. Pete: “She is unusually quiet this morning. I think she misses Loba, our other dog. Dyanna took her with her to Santa Rosa the other day. They will be happily reunited this afternoon.”
Kiel has turned on the Giro d’Italia live feed. It’s all part of the morning routine here at the cabin. The passion of the Italian commentators fills the living room.
Kiel’s wife Jordan runs an online toy store with her mother and sister and needs to fill a number of orders before we hit the road. This female ‘triumvir’ lives in three different states and manage their business digitally. Jordan is also in charge of photographing the products and overseeing inventory.
Since we’re at a cabin at elevation, there’s Wi-Fi but no cellular phone coverage. Yet, we’re connected to our teammates in Italy and running a business. Home is where the internet is!
Hanging the towels to dry.
Pete can probably pack up the cabin blindfolded. Pete: “There are a number of things that need to be done. It’s not just turning off the heat and shutting off the water. A lot of it comes down to critter management: squirrels, woodpeckers, ants and above all bears can’t wait to enter an empty house. Bears have an incredible sense of smell and they are very smart. They are hooligans: they’d break open your front door if they smell any food or waste. We need to take all our garbage with us.”
While Pete checks the last details before locking up, Kiel takes the wheels out of the Trek frames and packs everything in Pete’s red Toyota Tacoma truck. Osa patters around the cabin restlessly, perhaps wanting to say goodbye to Deja, the neighbor’s dog that we met in part 1.
The road to Santa Rosa is long and predominantly downhill. It takes us through an incredibly vast mountain landscape of rock walls, green meadows, canyons and creeks, a scene that would be the envy of any outdoors person.
Past Sacramento the scenery flattens and there’s a lot more traffic. Once we leave I-80 we reach the North Bay and enter the Napa and Sonoma wine regions. We drive through thousands of acres of vineyards. The vines are perfectly aligned, like Roman soldiers, thanks to smart husbandry. The views are stunning and it’s not hard to see why tourists from around the world travel here. The wines are excellent and the outdoors and the ocean make California irresistible.
The unloading and unpacking at Pete’s house is fast. Peter and Kiel are as efficient as the dogs are ecstatic to be reunited.
Peter and Dyanna’s house is a green one-story home in suburban Santa Rosa. Pete: “Santa Rosa isn’t a huge city. Tonight, when we go for dinner, we’ll walk to the restaurant.”
There are woodchips in both the front and backyard. “It’s really easy in maintenance," Pete says. “It keeps the weeds out.”
He’s wearing tan chinos, loafers and a t-shirt of Pliny the Elder, a world-famous IPA brewed in Santa Rosa with a cult-like following. As he carries the wheel-less bikes around the back of the house I notice the beautiful Tibetan prayer flags by the side of the house.
Kiel and his wife Jordan are inside the house and have started preparing a light lunch with the tortillas we bought along the way at El Molino Central in Sonoma. The pièce de resistance in the kitchen is a beautiful cast-iron O’Keefe & Merritt stove, which gives Jordan feigned ‘stove envy’.
Each space has its own dominant color in the house. Kelly green for the kitchen cabinets, pale yellow for the walls in the living room and brick red in the dining room, where the center piece is a handsome wooden table. Tibetan art charms the walls. There’s also an enormous wine bottle signed by the guests at Peter and Dyanna’s wedding.
We pedal to the Trek store in downtown Santa Rosa before heading out for a 20-mile loop north of the city. Kiel needs a quick check-up on his Madone and the Trek retailer is very happy to help out.
While we wait for Kiel’s bike to be adjusted, an exceedingly friendly member of the staff, Pam, offers us a glass of Spring Fling, a delicious, organic Kombucha made locally in Sonoma county by a company called Revive Kombucha.
Our ride is spectacular: beautiful, undulating roads that wind their way through vineyards with magnificent views. It’s not hard to see why Peter landed here. Pete: “We came here for the training and Dyanna’s job, but we’ve really settled in. It’s likely that we will stay here, even after my career.”
Towards the end of the ride, we pause for a photo, and Kiel, always the Islander, squats down on the roadside and plucks a few green leaves. It’s fennel, which make him very excited. Pete is incredulous, but upon smelling the fronds, he agrees.
The grand finale of our beautiful day is a visit to Ristorante Riviera, the finest Italian restaurant in Santa Rosa. Pete: “The owners have become good friends of ours. They also catered our wedding.”
On our walk over, the setting sun lights the city on fire. We walk into a red glow, it’s almost blinding.
The restaurant is stylish, with terracotta floors, a wood paneled saddle roof, high ceilings and large vaulted windows facing the trees by the Santa Rosa creek.
The walls left and right of the creek view are filled with framed cycling jerseys. There are at least 50 jerseys on display. About a dozen of them belonged to Levi Leipheimer, who’s from Santa Rosa, but there are also many national champion jersey, including one of Tom Boonen.
The white jersey (for best young rider) that Pete wore at the 2012 Giro d’Italia for a couple of days is there, framed alongside the stuffed goat for the leaders in the team GC.
The jersey collection sparks a lot of conversation.
Kiel: “Each jersey up on that wall tells a story, about a dramatic victory full of suffering, determination and eventually perseverance. But, looking at them now and knowing the back-stories and what the future holds for those riders, maybe what they really represent is the human condition. I think we love sports because they are a ‘full-bodied’ representation of the events and emotions that we all experience in life.” Then, chuckling, he remarks, “On the other hand it’s hard to read too far into it when your distracted by the tragic styling of the 90’s”.
I ask Pete if seeing all these jerseys, in particular the many GC jerseys of his friend Levi Leipheimer, give him pressure of some sort. Pete: “No, they don’t. Everyone needs to make his own destiny. I will be pleased with my career if I get everything out of it.”
In April, 2015, Pete’s career almost came to an abrupt end when he slammed into a metal pole in a bunch sprint to the line at the Tour of the Basque country. The obstacle, inexplicably exposed in the finishing stretch, left him with a broken tibia, four ribs and a thrashed kneecap.
“A lot of people thought my career was over that day. Sometimes with a break such as mine the leg is amputated. I wasn’t even walking for three months, so you lose all the muscle mass and basic movement. For a while I rode just to a coffee shop and back. I raced the Tour of Utah in August with just three weeks of real training. Think about it: I’ve had to spend so much time of my life on something that took one second of total time.”
“But I am determined not to let that crash sum up my career. I won’t let it be the singular talking point on Peter Stetina. I’m not done.”
This Behind the Stripes visit was completed before the start of the Tour of California, where Pete would take the race by the scruff on Gibraltar Road, the summit finish of the queen stage.
‘The old Stetina is back’, wrote Caley Fretz of VeloNews. He may very well be right.
Determination is what sets athletes apart and this is particularly true for Pete, and also Kiel. The two American teammates, somewhat different in nature and vastly different in cycling strengths, share the same grit.
Although cycling hardly defines them, cyclists are who they are now, and both understand the privilege and honor bestowed upon them to do a sport they love. For them, it's all-in.