Racing, Crashing, and Everything In Between: An Interview with Evelyn Stevens
Last week, Stride athlete Evelyn Stevens won the Tour of California Time Trial, a huge win as she heads into the summer season and gears up for the Olympic time trial. We chatted with her after the win about racing, staying healthy, and everything you learn along the way:
Stride: Tell us about your Tour of California Time Trial win last Friday, where was your head before the race?
Evelyn: This time trial was a big goal of mine. Our World Championships are at home in Richmond, Virginia this year, and I want to do really well at that time trial. I also want to compete in the Olympic time trial, so the Tour of California was the first box to check leading up that path. I hadn’t won a time trial in awhile, and there was really strong competition, but I was prepared.
Stride: The course was changed at the last minute and was shorter than normal, how did this affect you?
ES: The initial course at Big Bear Lake was supposed to be 24 kilometers and at altitude. The one we raced was at sea level and only 10.4 kilometers, so that’s a pretty huge change. Normally I’m better at longer time trials, so I wouldn’t automatically think I’m going to win this one. But, they say for time trials you need to be good at everything, so I just had to roll with the changing race dynamics.
Stride: Did you feel strong the whole race, or were there some barriers you had to push through?
ES: This was the first time trial in awhile that I felt really strong. I came out of the first corner and was likeoooo, I feel good. During the race, I never thought about my time or if I was winning, I just kept thinking you feel really good, your power’s good, go faster. It definitely proves what people say about being present and being in the moment… I find when I’m actually able to do that it ends in good results.
Stride: In a previous interview, you mentioned it’s your mind and heart that really allow you to deliver on big days. How do you train these emotional aspects of racing?
ES: To train my mind, I work with a sports psychologist. In cycling you fail a lot – you fail more than you win, so it’s easy to go down that tunnel of failure. But, you always have to go back to why you’re doing it and what motivates you. You have to be able to see the small wins even in the races you don’t win. Keeping my heart strong is all about surrounding myself with people who provide a positive environment… the people who keep me in my happy bubble.
"You always have to go back to why you're doing it and what motivates you. You have to be able to see the small wins even in the races you don't win."
Stride: Have these mental aspects become easier as you’ve grown into your racing career? Or are you constantly working on them?
ES: It’s a constant practice. As I’ve gone further in my racing career, my mentors and support team have become so solid. These are the people who believe in me, who I can call up and put me back on track. I’ve also noticed that I’m more grateful for my wins now. In the beginning I think I was a bit lucky, winning happened quickly. But as time has gone by, I take my wins and enjoy them for awhile. I like to say I store them in my “box of wins and good memories” that I draw on again down the road.
Stride: What is actually going through your head during a 14-minute time trial, while you’re all alone out there?
ES: Some people like to be critical, but I like to say positive things to myself. I probably sound like a self-help book, saying things like you’re doing great, you’re fast, this is good, this is good, go deeper, go farther. That’s the thing about time trials, you’re really only racing yourself. Last Friday, there were twenty-some other women racing against me, but, in a sense, they didn’t matter… it’s just me and my bicycle. It’s just about how deep can I go? How much can I suffer? And that’s the real beauty of the time trial.
Stride: You said you would donate all winnings to World Bicycle Relief before the race. Why did you decide to do that?
ES: I’m a bike racer, but I’m really a huge bike advocate. The bicycle has given so much to my life – racing and traveling, and this sense of empowerment and freedom. Not everyone has to be a bike racer. Just getting on your bike to get your groceries, to go to school, to get a little exercise. That’s so empowering. May is National Bike Month, and I wanted to do something to support that. I’m so behind the cause of World Bicycle Relief, and this was one of the few races where I actually get the prize money and have the freedom to do what I want with it. My prize amount was around $5,000, which will donate close to 40 bicycles to the WBR communities.
"I'm a bike racer, but I'm really a huge bike advocate."
Stride: You’ve been on the ground with World Bicycle Relief, right? Tell us more about your experience.
ES: I had the opportunity to go to Zambia with WBR in 2013. It was easily the most incredible thing I’ve done through bike racing. It’s much more than just a bicycle to the communities where WBR is bringing in bikes. One bike can totally change a community – for example, a milk farmer who’s walking 10 kilometers to school and can suddenly take a bike. That just massively changes their circumstances. I’ve won big bike races, I’ve traveled all over, but being in Zambia was the coolest thing I’ve done through cycling. Any professional sport is really selfish, so anytime I have a little opportunity to be less selfish, I take it.
Stride: Selfish? Interesting. Do you think racing is more selfish than other people’s endeavors, jobs and lives?
ES: Hmmm. The thing about cycling is your body is your vehicle for work. I’m always thinking how much I sleep am I getting? What am I eating? Am I walking a lot? Can I go to that person’s wedding? Probably not because I might be up too late or I have to travel extra. I have to think about everything I do, so in a sense, I think you become more selfish. I feel more selfish now than when I was an investment banker. Maybe “individual” is a better word for it. But, I’m always thinking about what’s going to allow me to perform my best. I value my relationships and community, so I’m also constantly thinking when do I need to be super selfish and when can I give a little bit?
Stride: You mentioned banking. You left that structured, corporate life about 6 years ago and it seems to be paying off. But it didn’t happen overnight… what would you say to those who are working independently but haven’t quite turned the corner yet?
ES: If you keep following what you really care about, then I find it usually works out. With my cycling career, like anything in life, there have been crashes and bumps, moments I’ve thought I’m not sure I’m going to come back from this. I had a terrible crash two-years-ago, and I remember being in the ambulance – my teeth were knocked out, I had 40 stitches in my face. I was just lying there thinking you know I’m done, I’m never doing this again. But then 24-hours-later it was what’s the next race I can do? So if you’re sticking true to what you care about and what you love, things will work out. And if you can take care of the little things around you, like health insurance, so you’re not in such a precarious situation, then you can feel more comfortable pursuing your dreams.
When I left my banking job, I had COBRA health coverage, which was so confusing and cost a ton. Then I was uninsured for awhile and then self-insured, but not really sure how covered I was. Anytime you do a job where you’re at risk, you know you could bankrupt yourself and your family, and that’s stressful. But nowadays, I know I’m covered with Stride – if I get in an accident, I can get in that ambulance and I don’t have to worry about it down the road.
"If you keep following what you really care about, then I find it usually works out."
Stride: Did you say you had 40 stitches in your face?!
ES: Yeah, I did. Most people wake up everyday and are so critical of how they look. Now, I am not nearly as critical. I looked pretty funny for a good amount of time, no teeth and 40 stitches. To deal with it, I covered my mirrors; it was so alarming to look at myself. And normally when I’m traveling, I just smile and people treat me well. But, I was flying one of the days after that crash and no one would help me. Probably because it was so disturbing to look at me. I thought OK this is a good learning experience. It gave me a lot more compassion towards people. Just because something on the outside doesn’t look nice, the inside is totally the same.
Stride: Well said, Evie. Okay, back to racing for a second. Any thoughts heading into Nationals this week in Chattanooga?
ES: I’m so excited! It’s just fun, I love Nationals. It’s the one race every year we get to fight it out for the jersey – if you win, you get to race in that jersey year-round. Everyone brings their A-game and there’s always a little stress. I just want to have my best day and prepare as well as I can.
Stride: Awesome. Have fun out there, Evie.
ES: Thanks, I will!