The Tour de Romandie is done and dusted. Friday I start the Centenary Giro d’Italia, an epic affair on many accounts. For me, Romandie served as the final sharpening phase after some focused altitude training at my cabin in pristine Lake Tahoe, California. I last raced the Giro in 2013 when we had all the foul weather and even a cancelled stage due to heavy snowfall. Romandie last week was a similar scene. We had one day thoughtfully altered by the organizers due to freezing temps and wet slushy roads, in which I wore many layers and the thickest gloves I own. Post stage I cowered in the shower, with my hands shoved in my armpits, honestly wishing for the numbness to return and burning to fade. Sadly, it dawned on me this didn’t even crack my top three coldest days racing a bicycle. So, settle in readers for some story time: Peter Stetina’s three coldest days on a bike.
3. 2016 Tour de Romandie, stage 4: The day started out fine, but in Switzerland, a region characterized by valleys and craggy peaks, weather can turn on a dime. This stage finished with a double ascent of a categroy-one climb above Aigle. We climbed, raced down the other side, and then re-climbed to the finish. Suffering in foul weather can often be attributed to improper clothing choices, and this was a textbook case of that.
The race was on as we hit the climb the first time. Most of us stripped down to the bare minimum as our core temperature rose from the effort (our already wet clothes would weigh us down to the point of hindering performance as well). I was a little off the back over the summit, the team cars were scattered all over the mountain, I had one option: get back down to the valley and pedal-friendly flats before I cooled off completely. That didn’t happen. On the treacherous wet descent, with only arm warmers to roll up, I was soon shaking like a Raver on LSD. I never regained contact but did warm up the second time on the climb to the finish by forcing myself to go hard even though the result didn’t matter.
Peter Stetina at the Tour de Romandie (Photo ©bettiniphoto)
2. 2016 Liege-Bastogne-Liege: While Romandie ’16 was a case of improper wear, I’m proud to say I nailed it perfectly for LBL. This comes in at #2 simply because of the sheer magnitude of what we did to our bodies: 265kms (~7 hours) in freezing temps and snowstorms. I never got too cold, but I did wear everything I had: wool socks, tight, impermeable swim-cap style booties, thermal undershirts, 2 hats, and my smartest move, latex medical gloves underneath my winter glove to create a waterproof layer on my hands (lightweight too!) Take notes, class.
1. 2012 Volta Catalunya, stage 3: I’m pretty sure this race is the worst for any rider who was there that day. This was before the Extreme Weather Protocol and the organizers, determined to honor the host cities, were unwavering to re-route us despite the forecast. We awoke that morning to pissing rain in the valleys and sipped our morning coffee to webcams of the finish climb in a total whiteout. I could just make out the snowplows scraping away. We layered up, the breakaway went eventually, and we settled into our slog through the Spanish Pyrenees.
Midway through the stage, we began the Col de Tosses, a 20km climb to 1700m, and sure enough freezing rain turned to thick snowflakes and slush on the roads. As we began the descent, the only visible track was from where the car tires following the breakaway had passed minutes earlier. I was shivering so badly that my only goal in life was to hold the bars straight. I told myself that every minute I went down it would get a little warmer. Oh, the tricks we play with ourselves! Multiple riders broke down and just pulled over.
I was shivering so badly that my only goal in life was to hold the bars straight.
Upon reaching the valley below, instead of flat, we had another 50kms of 1% downhill grade. So we layered up our sopping, frozen bodies and, if one sat in the group and was pulled along by the draft, proceeded to hardly pedal. Was I to ride hard and waste energy or save precious watts but freeze!? I’m sure all my colleagues thought the same. I remember about 40 riders stopped with hypothermia. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to us, the team buses couldn’t even make it up the finish climb due to the ice. The organizers never had a contingency plan, so on the penultimate climb, in the middle of the snow and fog, the commissar pulled ahead of the breakaway, stood on the side of the road with his arm raised, and declared himself the finish line.
Some riders were lucky enough to make a meek 50m sprint, others were oblivious. Thus they deemed a winner on the day and nullified the GC times. However, the odyssey didn’t end there: We were now stopped on top of a mountain and the warm team buses were 40kms away on the other side. It became a mad scramble to pack into full team cars. We raided our already pilfered rain bags for anything and everything. We double buckled, the extra body heat welcome. I remember upon arriving at the team hotel, with chattering teeth and blue lips, my soigneur had the foresight to draw a warm bath. My hands wouldn’t work, so I slid into the water still wearing my soiled, grimy cycling clothes. A lot of the riders who dropped out fought to be let back into the race, arguing that the stage and GC were nullified anyway, but they weren’t. That wasn’t racing, that was survival. At least it makes a damn good story.
The Stetina Chalet in Lake Tahoe, California
Training in Tahoe
Here I sit in sunny Sardinia. Tahoe has had the biggest winter on record, like, since they began keeping records. 700 inches (~18m) of snow and it was still coming down during my April training block. I think it helped me in Romandie last week and if the Giro, notorious for its late May storms, rings true, it should help me there as well. At least we start in the South and slowly work our way up North into the Dolomites for the 3rd week, meaning we have two more weeks for the snows to melt. What’s the saying? April showers bring May flowers?