Star power comes first for ex-bike messenger Stacey Peters

When Stacey Peters began working on two wheels in 1989, she wouldn't have guessed that the messenger job would change her life.

'It sounded like fun,' she says. 'I just didn't want to go to school!'

Peters, a 1987 Sunset High graduate, parlayed the job and her growing fascination with bicycles into a spot on one of the country's top cycling teams, Team T-Mobile.

Last August, Peters competed in the Women's Tour de France, the pinnacle for cyclists.

When she took the messenger job, she hadn't been on a bicycle in 10 years.

'None of my friends or anybody who knew me thought I'd be a professional athlete,' Peters says. 'I was an average, active person in high school who spent time with friends and went to parties.'

As a cyclist, she has traveled to Australia, Canada, Holland, France, Switzerland and Belgium in the past year. Her schedule this year includes trips to Belgium, Holland, Switzerland and the Czech Republic. She gets a paycheck, a sponsorship, a Cannondale bicycle and all expenses paid.

What a life!

'It is a living for a lot of people, it's safe to say, on our team,' Peters, 33, says. 'I don't make as much, but I'm a 'worker' and I get a salary, and I only 'work' half-time.'

But her role as one of the team's 'workhorses' is not glamorous.

Two of six riders on the team are workhorses, or domestiques in cycle lingo. They alternate chasing down rival riders who break out of the pack, or 'attack,' throughout the road races, typically 70 to 100 miles each. If the workhorse gives good chase, the opposing rider doesn't get too far away, and 'she'll peter out and we'll bring her back to the pack.'

The goal is to never let the opposing team send one of its riders too far ahead. Eventually, the stars Ñ think Lance Armstrong Ñ will pick their spot and attack. For Armstrong, it's in the hills. A star's finish reflects greatly, or poorly, on the team's performance.

A Team T-Mobile rider, Amber Nebens, placed in the top 10 in the Women's Tour de France, a 16-stage, 14-day event.

'We always make sure (the star's) out of the wind, well-fed, I get her bottles É ,' Peters says. 'I gave another girl one of my back tires, and I sat and waited for the tire van.'

That's racing. Someday, Peters might be the glory-chaser herself, 'if I find myself in position and I get the go-ahead from my director.'

It all started at Rose City Messenger Service, a company for which she worked off and on for five years. It 'gave me great bicycling skills and a good base,' she says.

Peters began cycling competitively in 1996, racing locally for a couple of years as part of Finlandia Cinzano. She joined teams for National Calendar Races, high-profile races, and eventually joined Safeway Saturn for even bigger races. 'The big thing is to network yourself, and I wasn't very good at it,' she says. 'I was shy.'

She hooked up with the nationally ranked team in 1999-2001, but when the dot-com had financial trouble, money for cycling was cut. And Peters lost her job, casting her into cycling unemployment. She and other former riders 'grabbed our skirts and went on the road Ñ everyone for herself.'

Soon, Jim Miller, manager of T-Mobile, called and offered her a position. It was like hearing from Santa Claus. The team had become affiliated with the U.S. national team and needed 'a worker dog.'

Enter the 5-11, 138-pound Peters, who's proud to call herself a worker dog. She's signed through 2003.

'I'm on what I consider to be the best team in the nation,' she says. 'I have to pinch myself.'

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