As the Olympics kick off this weekend, I can tell you where I’ll be on Sunday at 7 a.m. EST: In front of the TV, cheering on Evelyn Stevens and Team U.S.A. as they compete in the women’s road cycling race in London. Those familiar with the local New York City racing scene know of Stevens’s meteoric rise from Wall Street banker to international pro cyclist via weekend CRCA racing in Central Park. Two years ago, as her star was ascending, I had the privilege of meeting Stephens — one of the loveliest, most genuine people I’ve ever encountered — on a social ride. I’ve learned more about bike racing since then and I’ve become a fan, so it’s been fun to look back on the following blog post from Oct. 13, 2010. Go Evie and Team U.S.A!
It’s not every day that you get to share the road with a top female pro cyclist, but that’s what a recent autumn ride through the Hudson Highlands delivered. The phenom Evelyn Stevens, just back from the elite women’s time trial world championship in Australia, where she placed sixth, joined in a 35-mile social ride to benefit the New York City advocacy group Transportation Alternatives.
I don’t know much about women’s pro cycling, but I love a good story, and Stevens’s grabbed my attention when I first read it in the Wall Street Journal back in 2009. The seemingly impossible tale in brief: a young Wall Street banker buys a bike in 2007, follows a friend’s suggestion to try a Century Road Club Association women’s racing clinic in Central Park, enters a few races for fun, wins and wins, and by 2010 lands a professional contract with what’s considered the best women’s racing team in the world, HTC-Columbia.
A profile in Bicycling Magazine included this account of one of Stevens’s early come-from-nowhere outings at the 2008 Green Mountain women’s race in Vermont: “Some of the best women riders in the country, on their custom-made machines, had looked up to see a tiny, brown-haired investment banker on a cheap maroon bike, using her granny gear, pass them by.”
Stevens’s transition from banker to pro racer hinges on the discovery of a genetic gift (she’s able to generate outsize leg power relative to her weight) that converged with ferocious drive, strategic smarts and sheer joy. It’s as amazing from the standpoint of athletic achievement as it is inspiring to anyone who’s ever wondered: Have I found the thing in my life that I was meant for? On Sunday, Stevens said of her new-found calling, “It’s given me the opportunity to live out what I love.”
At a rest stop, I asked Stevens what she considered the biggest challenge of her rapid ascent. She said it’s technique. For example, she is working on gaining efficiency in the peloton (the main cluster of riders in a road race) and on her descending skills.
Earlier in the day, I had watched Stevens light up the rocket fuel on the uphill start of the Storm King Cannibal time trial, which marked her final hard effort of this season. In the afternoon, I rode about 10 miles at a comfortable pace in a group with her — before overshooting a sharp left turn on a descent and dropping pathetically behind. Let’s just say that you won’t find me in a peloton any time soon.