While competing in a 2015 race in Spain, part-time Homewood resident and American professional cyclist Peter Stetina suffered a horrifying crash into a metal pole at about 40 mph.
He shattered his leg. His kneecap was "totally demolished." He tore his lateral collateral ligament and also broke five ribs. Spanish doctors told him, depending on how his leg healed, it might have to be amputated.
Luckily, that wasn't needed.
"A lot of guys wrote me off and said I'd never race again," Stetina said to the Tribune on Wednesday morning, April 18, while eating breakfast at Sprouts in South Lake Tahoe. "I treated rehab like I treated my job and training and I was lucky enough to make a comeback."
After a couple of years, Stetina is back to full strength, and says he is even stronger than before, for cycling at least.
"There's other things like hiking and running that just isn't going to happen anymore with my knee," Stetina said. "I'm lucky that cycling is linear and it's ironic that the one sport that injured me is the only sport I can still do."
Stetina, part of the Trek-Segafredo cycling team, began high-altitude training Wednesday for the Amgen Tour of California by leading a two-to-three-hour training ride toward Pickett's Junction and Kirkwood.
"I just hope I can keep up," said Daniel Knight, who drove from his home in Dayton, Nevada to ride alongside Stetina.
Knight, who calls himself a casual cyclist, follows Stetina on social media and said he didn't want to miss the opportunity to join the ride.
The 13th annual Amgen race takes place May 13-19 and South Lake Tahoe is the finish line for the grueling Stage 6 of the 645-mile, seven-stage race. Stage 6 begins in Folsom and covers 123 miles, passing through Kirkwood, cresting Carson Pass before finishing at Heavenly Mountain Resort after an epic climb up Kingsbury Grade (Nevada Route 207).
"I know this climb probably better than anyone else," Stetina said. "That is a stiff climb and that altitude gets to you. It's such a big road and it feels much shallower than it actually is. But all of a sudden, about two-thirds of the way up, you go around steep corners and it's like a false peak, it keeps going. Kingsbury is a kick in the nuts for sure."
Stetina grew up in Colorado but came to California with his wife in 2013. They bought a cabin on the West Shore in 2014 and he splits his time between Santa Rosa and Homewood. He missed Colorado, but Lake Tahoe more than filled that void.
"I missed the mountains and the first time I was up here, it was everything I missed about Colorado, but with the lake lifestyle added," Stetina said. "It's my mojo place, in terms of good vibes and good form."
Stetina, a climbing specialist, wants to win the Amgen overall title and has the "freedom" from his team, "and pressure," to fly the team's flag and go for the win.
He's excited for the opportunity. He says he needs to lose 2 more pounds and is eating "a lot of salad" in order to get there.
He's also excited to race through his hometown and have his family and friends be able to watch.
"For me this (Tour of California) a big deal, this is my home race," Stetina said. "I'm racing around the world the rest of the year and I only do two races a year in the U.S. and this is the biggest race one. It's in my home state and in Tahoe, my home, on the local roads. It's the one time a year my family can really travel and come see it. It's a home field advantage."