You don't know the 22-year-old Creed, for the same reason you don't know Danny Pate, Matt Decanio, Russell Stevenson, or any of the other equally anonymous members of the Prime Alliance Cycling Team. They have passels of national titles and race wins among them. In Europe, cyclists of their caliber are heroes. In America, they are skinny, 20-something males with farmer's tans, vacuums for lungs, and a penchant for pain and heavy metal. In the course of a year they might ride their bikes 25,000 miles, the rough equivalent of a trip around the earth. They sleep in cheap motel rooms festooned with bike tires and tart locker-room odor. They travel to so many places they're not sure where they're waking up. Pennsylvania, Colorado, California, Wisconsin, they race in multi-day stage races, single-day events, and madcap looped criteriums where, in a wink, a dozen riders can collide, splintering spokes and bones. They receive the recognition accorded last month's mail. They earn salaries, but prob-ably not much more than your average school-bus driver's. The dream is simple: to be the best, the next Lance Armstrong or Greg LeMond. The means is equally simple.

"Eat or be eaten," says three-time Tour de France winner LeMond, chuckling. "There are easier ways to make a living."

Looking for an insider's glimpse into the life of America's second-tier bike racers, I wrangled access to the Prime Alliance team (it took one phone call) and came to Colorado for the August 2002 running of the Boulder to Breckenridge Saturn Cycling Classic, at the time one of America's premier races. (In a measure of American cycling's woes, there will be no Classic this summer. Saturn dropped its sponsorship.)

Much ado is made of the team aspects of cycling, of pace and tactics, team riders working together to ensure one of their members crosses the finish line first. When I ask Creed about tactics the night before the race, he pauses a tick, then smiles wickedly.