Evelyn Stevens hasn’t followed the traditional career pathway of a pro-cyclist. Whilst many are on the bike from the age of seven, and signing a contract with their first team at the tender age of eighteen or before, Stevens graduated and got a job as an investment banker on Wall Street before buying a bike in 2008.
After spending her evenings glued to the turbo trainer, she raced her first Cat 3/4 crit race that year, signed a pro contract in 2009, and was USA National Time Trial Champion by 2010.
Now, aged 32, the Boels-Dolmans rider has stacked up an impressive trophy cabinet of time trial and team time trial wins. It was recently announced at the 2016 Beols-Dolmans Team Presentation that Stevens intends to take on the Hour Record this year as well as supporting the team and seeking time trial success.
Having an early life so very different to that of many of her team mates comes with its highs and lows. We chatted to Stevens about her experiences in the peloton – the good, the bad, and the lessons she’s learnt that could apply to all of our lives in more ways than one...
“I’ve had panic attacks going downhill... it’s important to not beat yourself up too much when you do have that moment."
One of the toughest elements of joining the peloton later in life is learning to feel comfortable hurtling around corners at the kind of speeds that can knock the air from your lungs, just inches from the wheel of the rider ahead. Stevens is honest with us – she’s found it hard: “I’ve had panic attacks going downhill" she says: “It sucks when it happens, you might lose a ton of time and feel stupid, and people don’t understand why you can’t get down that descent… but mentally you just go, and the next day you’ll be able to do it. It’s important to not beat yourself up too much when you do have that moment."
"You need fear, but not anxiety"
To help her overcome these moments, Stevens has worked with a sports psychologist who passed on some truly valuable advice we could probably all learn from – she says: “I worked at trying to identify fear and anxiety separately. You need fear, but not anxiety. For example, if you’re on a hike, and you see a rattlesnake come out at you, you need fear to get out of the way. But you don’t need anxiety to tell you ‘I’m not going to walk in the woods ever again’."
"I just say ‘pedal’ – pedal, stay positive"
“I need to react when there are crashes, but I don’t need to be worried constantly about crashing. It is a constant battle… sometimes it’s good but other times when I’m tired it’s really hard. That’s another thing for people to realise – there are going to be days when you might suck. [It’s important to] just be present. For me, I just say ‘pedal’ – pedal, stay positive."
"Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses"
Stevens is constantly working on her bike handling – she says: “Even now I go out with Neil, my coach, into a parking lot, and do drills. Weaving cones, picking things up, practicing handling my bike. All stuff the rest of the peloton did as kids. Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses - working on them and practicing is important."
Accepting the lifestyle
Another struggle for Stevens as she adopted the pro lifestyle was accepting that training was enough. Having spent, in her own words, “three months of the year working absolutely non-stop in investment banking" it was a major gear change. She says: “One of the hardest parts of transitioning to cycling full-time was that when you have a job you go in to the office every day and interact with people – now I’ve got my team and it’s wonderful, but there’s a lot of time with just you training… It was really hard for me was to feel that that was acceptable, that it was enough… I always felt like I needed to be doing more."
So what does a typical day look like? She explains: “I get up, I eat, I do my core, I get ready to ride, I train, I come home, recover, eat do more strength, recovery – so it does take your whole day. In the beginning I felt like I had to prove that… now I feel very confident in what I do. I realise that to be really good this is what you have to do."
I’m more present as a cyclist
Stevens’ background gives her a unique perspective that many pro cyclists don’t get to enjoy – she says: “I feel very fortunate that I had this background. Every race is hard. The peloton is hard, downhill is hard, but I can do it, I can get there. I love the fact that I’ve had this whole other life. It allows me to be more present as a cyclist. Even the bad things, the crashing, the not winning… when you have experience elsewhere you don’t see it as a fail… you realise this is a finite opportunity.
“Because it’s not something I’ve always done, I realise that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I think that allows me to have more joy... I'm not saying more than other riders... but personally it allows me to really enjoy the process. Even sometimes when you’re in a yukky hotel somewhere, I’m like ‘alright, I know some day I’ll be older, and I won’t be able to do this, so this is fun and when I’m back in a desk job I can reflect on this time I spent in my life’."
Always evolving, learning, thinking…
It’s refreshing to hear Stevens, who plans to attempt the Hour Record this year, refer to her cycling career as a ‘portion’ of a very full life. It's an experience, not a lifetime. She expects it to help her later in life, too – saying: “I’d love to go back into finance and business. I think I’ll be a lot better at it, now. I’ve learned so much from this experience –the travel, the different personalities, the different nationalities, what it really means to work for something – you really have a goal, and then to fail at that goal, and sometimes to succeed. It’s a really interesting thing, you’re always evolving and learning and thinking. I think I probably had a lot of tenacity before… but now I understand it a bit better and I can take it and use it in whatever I do."
We can't wait to see what Evelyn 'Evie' Stevens will achieve over the next year - and wish her all the best! See more from the Boels-Dolmans team launch here and read more about recent Hour Record attempts here.