By Brian Maslach
I met Stefano for the first time and rode with him during the Haute Route Malibu Invitational in March. I was fortunate to ride with him over some of the iconic climbs and descents in the Santa Monica Mountains outside of Los Angeles. He even coached me through the time trial up Piuma Road and I've since continued to use his advice while riding.
Stefano is an unassuming, soft-spoken guy, with a wealth of experience from years as a professional cyclist. He’s the sort of person you can learn a lot from given the chance, so I jumped at the opportunity to ask him some questions.
Thanks for taking the time to chat, Stefano.
How you got into cycling and eventually racing?
Cycling for me started very early, back when I was still in Brazil. Back in the early 90’s mountain biking was a fad in Brazil. All the kids were getting MTB’s as their first bikes and around when I was 7 years old I got my first one. It was a Haro with 26” wheels. It was way too big for me, but I rode it with the saddle slammed all the way down to make it work. I got clipless pedals soon after but getting a pair of shoes that fit took a bit longer as kid-sized SPD shoes were harder to come by in the early 90’s.
From there I went to some races with a group of friends from my town. As time passed, they moved on to other things and I continued racing. When I was 12, I moved to the USA (South Florida) with my parents and younger brother and kept on racing. Around the time I was a senior in High School I turned PRO as a MTB’er and that same year I decided to start doing some racing on the road as a form of training. I guess the fitness transferred over and it didn’t take too long to adapt to road racing as I was offered a contract to race for TIAA-Cref / Slipstream. That was the first fork I ran into -- pay to keep going to MTB races or get paid to race road. As you can imagine, it wasn't a difficult choice.
You’ve ridden for some well-known teams. Can you give us a rundown of them?
As I just mentioned, my first professional contract was in 2004 with TIAA-Cref/Slipstream. In 2006 I moved over to Toyota-United, THF Realty in 2008, Kenda Pro Cycling in 2010, KHS Cycling Team 2012, CalGiant Berry Farms 2013-2015, and SCS/Guttenplan in 2016-2017.
I started my own program for mountain bike racing in 2018 and have been growing the list of sponsors and supporters.
What are your most memorable results from road racing?
Probably my win at the Canyon Falls RR in the NRC Northstar GP. The previous year I ended up in a break with 12 riders in that stage, 5 from one squad, 4 from another, and a couple solo’s like myself and I still almost ended up winning. That same day I made it a goal to win THAT stage so I was proud to pull it off the following year. I also podium’d at nationals a couple times as well.
What led to the switch back to mountain bike racing?
I chose to race domestically early in my career since life as a professional cyclist in Europe wasn’t an easy one -- before smart phones and Wi-Fi. However, after you have done all the domestic races 10-13 times it sort of becomes routine. I didn't think I would gain anything from going to Tour of the Gila a 14th time.
In 2017 there were some gaps on the road race schedule, so I did a couple of mountain bike races: Epic Rides Carson City and the High Cascades 100 NUE. These were right before I did the Cascades Stage race for the 12th time, and I had a really good time going to something different and new, and having no expectations or really knowing what I was doing.
My fitness isn’t going to change a lot, but there is a lot to learn and plenty of ways for me to develop as a mountain bike racer, whereas I was pretty close to maxed out racing on the road.
What are your goals for 2019?
Learning and improving. The next block of races I’m excited for, The Epic Rides Carson City event is one that should be good for me with a big climb that suits my strength. High Cascades 100 as well, and The Grizzly 100 is sort of a home race of sorts.
Ouch! Those are some tough races. Which other events are on your schedule?
Following Carson City, I'll be doing the Tahoe Trail 100, which I was 3rd in last year after coming back from a broken leg. Then High Cascades 100 is one of the races that made me reconsider going back to mountain bike racing full time. I was 2nd last year and I hope to contend for the top step this year.
If all goes well at Tahoe Trail, a Leadville Start would be exciting. Then I'll be doing Steamboat Springs Gravel. I have a couple options in early September followed by The Grizzly 100 in Big Bear. After that, maybe go back to Mexico for the Baja Epic Stage Race in October.
What does a typical week of training look like for you?
Depends on variables like upcoming races and what time of the season, but generally I do 15-20 hours of training per week with a 50/50 split between mountain biking and road riding.
Who are your sponsors and support crew?
I have to start by mentioning Enduro Bites!!! I'm hooked on them and Beta Red Pre-Workout Formula.
Serious Cycling, Los Angeles' top bike shop, supplied me with my favorite all-time bike -- the Orbea OIZ. This thing is amazing!
Starlight Apparel and The Black Bibs take care of my clothing.
Kenda Tires keep me rolling fast.
Fizik Shoes and Saddles
Tasco MTB Gloves and socks
Switching direction, what are some of the biggest mistakes you see recreational and lower-level competitive riders make on, and off, the bike?
Biggest mistake I see is probably focusing on shiny, new equipment. Yes, one's bike needs to be in good shape, but often money would be better spent on coaching or nutrition rather than a lighter crankset. Next biggest is preparation -- don’t wait till you get to the parking lot of your event to fix something that you knew needed to be taken care of days ago.
Your home roads in the Santa Monica Mountains are some of the best I’ve ridden. So many good climbs and descents, and there’s nothing like the view of the Pacific Ocean from atop the ridge. How did you manage to end up in this area?
Back when I was on Toyota-United we used to come to Thousand Oaks for our training camps. We did that because back then the Tour Of California was in February and it gave us a chance to pre-ride all the courses and escape the cold weather where most of us lived.
Fast forward to late 2010, I meet my now wife Katie and she had been planning on moving to LA when we met, after a few talks we decided to give SoCal a go on the condition that we moved to somewhere between Newbury Park and Calabasas. If we liked it, we would stay. If not, move back to Boulder. We moved to Agoura Hills and loved it. A couple years later we bought a house in Newbury Park.
Do you have a favorite training route?
Probably not. The great thing here is a lot of the roads/climbs connect so I don’t usually have a very specific route. I usually leave the house with a training plan, and then connect roads as necessary. But Guadalasca Trail, the Backbone Trail, and Decker Canyon road are some of my most frequented areas.
I'm glad you touched on that. I've ridden most of the spectacular Santa Monica Mountain climbs and descents on the road. How are the local trails for mountain biking?
Really good! The Backbone Trail goes from Point Mugu in Malibu all the way to Santa Monica. It’s about 69 miles in length with 14,000 feel of climbing. There are a lot of other trails that branch off from it as well, so you don’t have to ride the same stuff often unless you want. The only limitation is that there aren't many flat trails here.
I know you traveled to Prescott for the Whiskey Off-Road with your family. Are they able to go to many races/events with you?
Yes! My wife Katie has a pretty flexible schedule since she’s a nutritionist with Peaks Coaching group and also a HIIT instructor at LA Fitness. The cool thing about what I am doing with mountain biking is that it allows for them to travel with me. On the road side you have a team of 7 or 8 and it is looked down upon to have your family with you at races. We would often stay at host housing as well, which further complicated things.
Now I choose my schedule and make my own travel arrangements so it allows for her and our 2-year old son to come along. Plus, it helps having her there as she can support me in feed zones, as well as help with other random things since I don’t have staff to support me like I did as part of a road team. Our son is outgoing and loves being outside around a lot of people and loud music (and cow bells).
Any hobbies when not riding?
I grew up around cars. I own a heavily modified Mitsubishi Evo that I built myself. Unfortunately, these days that car doesn’t get used much, my own fault, but that was the main hobby. If I’m not traveling or racing family ends up taking up most of my time.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
As far as in a physical location I don’t really know. We love Southern California but are not tied here. I’m sure I’ll still be riding and racing bikes at some form or another, however.
When I was younger I used to wonder what retiring from cycling would be like, or what I would do, but a few years ago it dawned on me that there doesn’t need to be a point where I stop. Cycling is great because you can do it as a 7-year old or as a 70-year old. I don’t know if care whether my son takes on racing, but cycling has always been part of my lifestyle and I look forward to sharing it with him once he is a little older.
Agreed! Riding keeps me somewhat sane and it's great to be able to share my love for it with family and friends.
Thanks for taking the time to chat, Stefano. I look forward to seeing you compete through the season and hopefully I'll get back to Southern California for more riding soon. I want to take you up on the offer to show me some of those trails!