Washington will have one of its own in the Tour of America: 28-year-old Paul Pearson of Bethesda.
Pearson is a "domestique" or "cannon fodder," one of the expendable members of the Tour's 15 teams who ride their hearts out during a race in order to put the teams' best cyclists in good positions for sprints during the race and for the furious final sprint.
He'll ride with the U.S. Pro Team, which is led by Jonathan Boyer, the first American to race in the famed Tour de France and a major figure in the revival of U.S. professional cycling. His team -- which will wear red, white and blue uniforms with stars -- is one of four American teams in the race (three professional and one amateur).
Pearson began bike racing in Rock Creek Park on Sundays while a student at Bethesda's Walter Johnson High School. He has raced professionally now for less than two years and is one of only 30 or so professional American cyclists.
It's a "low-paying, great outdoors life" that last year took him to Holland, Australia, South America and Canada. He's married to another cyclist, 19-year-old Sue Leggett, a rising amateur rider. They live across the street from a velodrome in Trexlertown, Pennsylvania.
Riding bicycles, at least for the moment, is their whole life.
Both have been riding about 80 to 100 miles a day since January, first in Florida and then in a Texas training camp with hundreds of U.S. amateur and professional cyclists preparing for this year's racing season. "The tour will get the season off with a bang," says Pearson.
He says he's paid less than $8,000 a year, plus transportation to training camps and races. Sue is a member of an affiliated amateur team and receives expenses only.
He's training hard, working on hill climbing, distance and interval training -- with frequent sprints. He's also doing a lot of "motor pacing," behind motorcycles for one to four hours a day, to increase his speed and stamina.
"I'm mostly a criterium and track rider," he says. "I'll race indoors 9at the velodrome track0 on a Friday night and then I'll race in criteriums on Saturday and Sunday." Criterium races are usually about 60 miles around a short circuit. A local example is Baltimore's U.S. Professional Championship along the Inner Harbor, in which Pearson plans to race on June 5.
Like most competitive cyclists, he can burn up 5,000 to 7,000 calories a day. "I guess I eat about three times what a normal person eats, and I take vitamins," says Pearson. "But I don't have a special diet or anything."
Cyclists generally don't train for a particular race but for a season, Pearson says. "I'd like to have high points, in the Tour and in Baltimore, because the races are so big and the prizes so big. But I'm just excited to be in the Tour."