For cyclist Evelyn Stevens, actions speak louder than words.
So the 31-year-old former investment banker made quite a statement when she earned two medals at the 2014 UCI Road World Championships in Spain last week, bringing her total collection of world championship medals to five.
What has received little mention is that she won both medals — a gold in the team time trial (TTT) and a bronze in the individual time trial (ITT) — with a separated shoulder.
“It was definitely a factor,” Stevens said from her parents’ home in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, this week. “Anytime you hurt something, your body is trying to heal it. But it happened, and there was nothing I could do about it.”
Nothing except let adrenaline take over and ride hard. It’s been the Dartmouth grad’s modus operandi since she burst onto the bike racing scene in 2009 — just about the time she quit her job on Wall Street. Now on the threshold of the Olympic qualifying season in 2015, Stevens wants to compete in both the road race and time trial at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
To earn her second trip to the Olympic Games, she is aiming for a podium finish at the 2015 World Championships, this time contested on home soil in Richmond, Virginia.
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For Stevens, 2014 was an atypical season — albeit one that ended with those two world championship medals. She started slowly, skipping the early-season world cups in March. It was a breather she said — a break between 2013, when she suffered a concussion and lost her front teeth after a bad crash, and 2015, the Olympic qualifying year.
In July, Stevens did something that few female cyclists have tried. She created her own “grand tour” by combining two stage races. The goal? To prove to herself and to the International Cycling Union (UCI) that women are capable of racing more than 10 stages in a row; the longest women’s stage race is currently the Giro d’Italia Internazionale Femminile, with racing spread over 10 days. Men can compete in grand tours like the Giro d’Italia, Tour de France or La Vuelta a Espana, all 21 stages long.
Stevens’ grand tour consisted of the 10-day Giro in Italy followed immediately by the seven-stage Thüringen Rundfahrt der Frauen in Germany.
“I decided to do two back-to-back races mostly to see how it would make me feel, and if I could do it,” she said.
“I didn’t talk about the 17 days before I did it,” she added. “I thought the worst thing would be if I made a big deal about it, and I couldn’t complete it.”
Although she didn’t do as well as she hoped in the Giro, finishing 15th overall, she won Thüringen and felt stronger toward the end of the race. She thinks that her win spoke more loudly to the UCI about women’s capabilities than if she had simply lobbied the organization for longer races.
The 17 days of hard effort catapulted her into the end of her season. In early September, right before worlds, Stevens won the six-stage Boels Ladies Tour (aka Tour of Holland).
“I knew I was in good form, I could just feel it,” she said. “I knew that I could contend even though I haven’t done that great in many time trials this year.”
Then, the day before the 2014 World Championships started, she was pre-riding the TTT course with her Specialized-lululemon teammates. At the back of the six-woman paceline, Stevens saw two teammates go down in front of her. Already leaning forward on her aero bars going about 50 kilometers per hour, Stevens had no time to react. She “Superman-ed” off her bike and landed on her right side. She feared that her shoulder was broken, but X-rays showed only a separation. She made it to the starting line the next day.
“You could see in the start, my face was like, ‘Oh my, this is not comfortable,’” she said.
Once on the course, she put the pain out of her mind and helped her teammates win their third consecutive TTT world title. They are the only team to have ever won the title; the UCI did not offer a women’s TTT until 2012.
Stevens and teammate Trixi Worrack from Germany are the only two women to have ridden on all three TTT teams.
Two days later, in the individual time trial, Stevens again put pain out of her mind, along with last year’s disappointment. At 2013 worlds, she finished fourth in the time trial, only 0.04 seconds behind teammate Carmen Small.
Stevens had help. “Special thanks to @BethDuryea for being the best on the radio!” she tweeted after the ITT.
Beth Duryea is Specialized-lululemon’s part-time director and soigneur. Riding behind Stevens in the race car, she not only provided Stevens time splits, Duryea kept her motivated.
“What happens in the race car stays in the race car,” said Duryea, half joking. “I knew some things that would motivate her. There was some music played, and I think overall I was rather entertaining. Sometimes it was technical information, and other times it was just something to take her mind away from the suffering for a moment.”
Stevens laughed and said, “It was probably the most unorthodox radio out there.”
On the bike, Stevens knew she was in the top five and kept telling herself to “empty out my pocket.”
Even though she earned her second ITT world medal, she still wonders what she could have done better. She was only 2.57 seconds from the silver medal and 21.25 from gold.
“Did I fall asleep at some point?” she wondered. “Was I too afraid to go into that pain box between 20 and 26 kilometers? All this stuff goes in your head. I knew this year on that finish straight that I didn’t leave anything behind.”
Asked what makes Stevens such a time-trialing wunderkind, Duryea said, “One of the biggest assets Evelyn has is that she has an ability to suffer.”
This fall and winter, Stevens will gear up for 2015 when UCI road worlds return to the U.S. for the first time in 29 years. If Olympic qualification is similar to 2012, a top-three finish at 2015 worlds will lead to an automatic 2016 U.S. Olympic Team nomination. Stevens competed in the road race at the 2012 London Games. Although she was not named to the Olympic TT squad, she finished second at the 2012 World Championships time trial a month later.
“What I learned in 2012 was, if I want the (time trial) spot, I need to make sure I am clearly good enough to have the spot,” she said. “I don’t want it to come down to the coach’s selection.”
On the roads around Richmond, Virginia, next September, Stevens is hoping to earn both an Olympic berth and more world championship hardware: “I’ve got bronze, I’ve got silver, I’m just actually waiting to get gold on home soil.”
A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered three Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.