Home: Shorewood, Ore.
Job: Elite cyclist, Hagens Berman Cycling Team. He rode in the 2010 Nature Valley Grand Prix bike race in Minnesota in June.
Weekly training: 20-30 hours; between 30 and 100 miles per day. To keep up with calories burned, Peterson takes in between 4,000 and 6,000 calories per day.
Salary: I'm not a professional contract cyclist, so I don't get paid. But I do get my equipment paid for as well as any race fees and travel fees, airplane tickets and clothing. I work in the off-season (fall and winter) for an archeology company as a lab assistant.
Education and biking background: I got a degree in journalism at the University of Oregon and I was on the school's rowing team. I got hurt over-training in rowing and my back needed a couple weeks of recovery. My parents got me a road bike [to ride while I was recovering]. Within a week of having that, I entered my first road bike race and won. So I decided to switch sports.
At 20 years old, did you feel like you were behind other bikers in getting into the sport? In Europe, they start cycling at around age 13, sometimes they even go to a special athlete's school. For an American cyclist, it's more typical to get into it later. There isn't a strong history of the sport here, and it's not a [high] school sport. The average age for a pro would be late 20s, early 30s.
How did you land your current job? You have to win races and get points to be upgraded from category five [the lowest] to four, three, two up to one. Then you can race in the professional races and send out a résumé like you would for any other job. My goal is to make it to a U.S. professional team, and if I'm good enough, eventually race in Europe. The odds are not very good: there are 150 pros or less in the whole country.
How do you learn how to improve and care for yourself in such an individual sport? You're always changing what you're doing, learning what your body can take. My first year, I trained way too hard and had no energy left to race. I got really sick and ended up not racing at all. So the next year I got a coach who made sure I didn't train too hard, getting more protein, vegetables and fruit. Then I got another coach who gave me more up-to-date training techniques. Even after four years, I'm still learning and making mistakes.
During a race, how do you handle being so closely packed in with the other racers? You have to ride super close to each other because you want to get as much of a draft as possible. If you're not real aggressive about staying close to the wheel in front of you and blockading your spot, someone else will steal that spot and you'll find yourself in the very back or in the wind. You get used to bumping handlebars and occasionally rubbing someone's rear wheel with your front wheel. You just can't get too jittery.
What's your take on all the doping scandals in pro cycling? I think cycling has gotten a bad rap because it's one of the only sports that actually does any drug testing. I think it's slowly getting better; I hope that continues and the sport becomes clean. It's infuriating competing against someone who's a doper because they have an extra leg up, but they're cheating.
How did the Nature Valley Grand Prix in Minnesota compare to other races you're in? The NVGP is one of my favorite races; I did it last year, it was the first professional race I had ever done. The crowd at the races [in the Twin Cities] is huge! It's nice to get out of the rainy Northwest and into the hot and humid Midwest in the middle of summer.