Tom Peterson is a North Bend native who climbed to the top level of professional road cycling. Career highlights include winning the Young Rider Classification at the 2006 Tour of California, the King of the Mountains Competition at the 2009 Herald Sun Tour, and winning Stage 2 of the 2009 Tour of California. Tom finished the Giro d’Italia, and the Vuelta a España 3 times where he was 25th in the General Classification in 2010.
Tom is now in the process of transitioning to a new career that seems a bit unlikely for a top-level bike racer: he’s becoming a nurse.
As part of his transition to nursing he has joined Joe Holmes as a coach at Tête de la Course Cycling. Tom’s top-level professional experience is a unique complement to Joe’s coaching and training experience which includes a decade of directing cycling teams at both the amateur and UCI Continental level, and 15+ years as a rock climbing instructor. Joe says: “Together, I think we have a rare combination of experience that will benefit a lot of cyclists.”
Tête de la Course Cycling has gotten attention for the past few years as a result of Joe Holmes’ mentorship of Logan Owen (who has won 10 Cyclocross National Championships in a row, eight as a junior and the last two as a U23, and this summer as part of Team Axeon, won stage 3 at the Tour of Utah). This year Joe also started coaching Logan’s girlfriend Chloe Dygert who just won the 2015 UCI Women Juniors Individual World Time Trial and Road Race in Richmond, VA. She is the only American woman to win both the road and time trial world titles in the same year.
I chatted with Tom about his pro cycling career and the transition to a new life, and with Joe about his work with junior racers, and the addition of Tom to Tête de la Course Cycling.
Velocity: Tom, tell us about how you got into cycling and progressed to the pros. Who were some of your key influences and mentors?
Tom: When I was young my father really pushed my two brothers and me to be competitive athletes. We started ski racing for Team Alpental Snoqualmie (TAS) when we were younger and eventually that transitioned into mountain biking. We needed one carpool for the three of us and my father had always wanted to get into mountain biking because he said it took him all day as a hiker to get as far as a mountain bike went in an hour. So I guess that was the moment to try mountain bikes. I pursued mountain biking until 15 or 16 and that’s when my oldest brother started to guide me. He had begun college at UW and was riding with their collegiate team, and he also was riding with Recycled Cycles. So I started to tag along and eventually was accepted onto the RCR team, which back then was a pretty solid team. When I was with Recycled David Richter took me under his wing, wrote coaching plans for me, and he was the most influential person during that time period. There were many other people on Recycled including Robert Trombley who spent a lot of time helping me along.
I eventually won the junior national championship road race with Recycled Cycles, and that was very important for them and myself. The next year they invested quite a bit in me, but I decided to switch to the Broadmark Capital cycling team. Broadmark had a team that was travelling quite a bit and they had a great record of getting young guys into the pros. With that said, I sent out a resume to every pro team. I got a positive response from Jonathan Vaughters with the TIAA-CREF team. I felt bad about the team switch after Recycled had done so much for me, but I was a selfish young guy at the time so I didn’t really spend much time thinking about it. I know those guys shed a few tears when I left, and looking back I really enjoyed the time I spend with them and am forever thankful for what they did for me.
After Jonathan got me up to speed with his offer, I had dinner with them at the Univest Grand Prix and the owner team TIAA-CREF, Doug Ellis, was there. That was a mindblowing experience in hindsight, but at the time I was caught up in myself and didn’t see it for what it was: the beginning of my pro cycling career. The next year I ended up going to Europe and racing all the big US races including the tour of California and the Tour de Georgia.
Velocity: Tell us about your life as a pro. What were some of the positives and negatives? What factors led you decide to re-evaluate?
Tom: The positives were seeing the world, learning the lifestyle, and learning how to persevere in such a humbling environment. Accepting defeat, being selfless, and just waking up and doing what needs to be done. I guess life-lessons are the take-away positives. I did get free equipment, so I was racing on good gear, and I mean I was paid a livable wage, that always helps to keep a guy happy. I met a lot of very interesting like-minded people. I shook Arnold Schwarzenegger’s hand… That’s got to be worth something. I met McDreamy (Patrick Dempsey), too.
The negatives were those rainy days, or the day you wake up and don’t want to see your bike. The one that really hit me was being stuck in Europe day in and day out. The feeling that my life was passing before my eyes and I hadn’t started working on the part that I was going to be spending the rest of my life working at. I guess the idea that I was delaying what needed to be done: college so that I could have a normal job in America—because I’d always known that the rest of my life was not going to be spent in Europe. Most of my colleagues had similar sentiment, but they kind of milked it until the end. I knew I had enough money to spend some time just going to school to get my degree, and that I could easily transition into the American way, and so I started thinking about it more and more and eventually decided at the end of the Giant-Shimano contract (end of 2014) that I was not going to look for any more work as a professional cyclist.
Velocity: It sounds like you did quite a bit of soul-searching as the pro career wound down. What prompted you to re-evaluate your career as a pro cyclist? Why not continue with pro cycling in another capacity?
Tom: Pro cycling is a very humbling sport. The amount of time you spend on it has to translate into contentment with finishing. So you spend all of this time working on these mediocre numbers and your coach sits there and pats you on the back for something you know will not get you anything except the ability to finish 20th. And you’re supposed to be happy with that. Well I started to not find contentment there. I was starting to actually train less: “let’s see how little do I need to do to still finish races.” And that ended up being a downward cycle. I finished races though, and I did what I could as a team mate. The dream of becoming a champion was gone, it was all about getting to the race, finishing the race, working with the team, and coming home to Girona and doing it all over again. I mean when you’re making six figures you can do this for a while, you can really beat your head in no matter how much you convince yourself you don’t want it.
I see myself in the US. That’s where my life will be. I want it to be normal, and I want something where I’m helping people and making a difference. Pro cycling is very limited. I worked with a lot of directors and soigneurs, and that lifestyle is not what I’m looking for. The cyclist lifestyle was interesting and I liked it and am thankful for the time I spent as one, outside of that in the cycling world: meh.
I’m not sure how I decided on the nurse course. It’s fast paced, you’re multi-tasking, and you’re positively helping people in a very big way. You’re on your feet and you have some very interesting hours of work. Career outlook is quite good as well. And of course there are opportunities to further your education: nurse practitioner, nurse anesthetist, physician assistant.
I want to help people, I’ve been a selfish pro-cyclist long enough. It’s time to pay the piper I guess.
Velocity: During your transition to nursing, you are coaching and have said you want to “spread the passion” for riding. Tell us how your approach to coaching supports that passion.
Tom: No matter how many sports I try or how many competitive activities I try, nothing can compare with cycling over the long haul. It has such a dynamic to it. I tried to get away for a while, but it just pulled me back in. I feel like it is totally different when you have to do it than when you have the option to do it. Out there on the road by myself or with friends its great, and I want to give people the opportunity to feel the same passion. I’ve gotten to the point where I can go out and spin and breathe in and out, or I can race around full of rage and vent whatever frustrations I have.
As a coach I try to keep people out of that downward spiral. The trick is to do it for yourself, not for anyone else. I’m not saying don’t ride as a teammate, but do it because you care about it and you love it. I know that this addiction can infect cyclists making them feel like they have to do it. That can be negative. Do it for the love. If that’s what you’re into, then let’s look at your numbers and get you to be as fast as possible. As for myself, my numbers are no longer recorded.
Velocity: Question for both of you–What kinds of cyclists will benefit from your experience? Is there a “sweet spot” type of riders you’d like to work with?
Tom: I think I can help juniors a lot. I know the path, and I know what to avoid. Getting kids over to Europe and helping them with a healthy, positive lifestyle can really benefit them. I think I have a little niche there, I feel like we might have a connection.
But I’m not particular. I want to spread the passion, and help cyclists accomplish their goals. Cycling has defined my life for the past 10+ years, it’s really the only connection that still attaches me…it’s a really important aspect of my life, and I want that to infect people with my passion.
Joe: I have had some good luck with some extraordinary athletes, the most obvious being Logan Owen, and now this huge success at the World Championships with Chloe. I believe what it really boils down to is whether or not there is a good coach-athlete relationship. Sometimes you have that, sometimes, for whatever reason, you don’t. Sometimes it clicks but often, no matter how you both might try there just isn’t a good connection. My approach might not work with all athletes. In fact, I have had a number of athletes, either on teams I have directed or athletes that I have coached, that we just didn’t click.
But then sometimes, it clicks. I think that I had a pretty good rapport with most of the juniors I worked with in EU with USAC. When I went to Nationals in Truckee this summer I saw a number of them and every single one of them made a point to come over and say hello and I could tell that they were excited to see me – which is always nice. It’s nice when you are able to make that connection and make a difference and enable them to learn something.
I think when I have had the most success is when I am able to ride a lot with an athlete. For example, I rode together with Logan multiple times a week since he was 13. I rode with the juniors in the European program everyday, and I even did some training races with them in the Netherlands, which allowed me to see them within the race, which is better than from the sidelines – especially for younger riders. So I was able to connect with them. Same with Chloe. I think my unique approach to coaching is to ride with the athletes.