Extra Wattage for Worlds: An Interview with Evelyn Stevens
Stride: World Cycling Championships started on Sunday. How does it feel racing on your home turf here in the United States?
Evelyn: It’s huge, this is the first time World Champs have been in the U.S. since 1986. To have this happen during my career is really special. I spend the majority of the season living out of my suitcase, always out of my comfort zone. I’m thrilled my competitors get a small taste of what American cyclists experience in Europe.
Stride: How does the turnout from U.S. fans affect you psychologically?
Evelyn: I’m hoping it gives me extra wattage – in non-cycling terms, extra umphh, more power on my bike. I love putting on a show [laughs]… when I was a kid playing tennis, I always played better on court #1. It’ll be surreal racing in the U.S. kit because I’ll automatically have fans. They’ll see my American kit and get fired up.
Stride: Is there one race at Worlds that you’re most focused on?
Evelyn: Tomorrow's time trial. In previous years, I’ve taken silver, bronze, and fourth by 2 one-hundredths of a second. If I win this race, I’ll automatically qualify for the Olympic time trial. And it’s the only race like that.
Stride: Do you have an advantage on this Richmond, Virginia course?
Evelyn: I would love more climbs – I like to suffer on big open roads and big climbs. The course doesn’t perfectly suit me, but that’s what makes a good bike racer – finding greatness on any course.
Stride: Do you feel psyched coming into Worlds based on your summer performances?
Evelyn: It’s been a really interesting year – I haven’t won a lot compared to seasons past. But I’ve also targeted this race and focused on things I’ve struggled with, like riding in the peloton. That’s built confidence, and I feel strong right now.
Stride: Can you talk about your pre-race ritual?
Evelyn: On Monday, I’ll pre-ride the time trial course, taking it in and targeting where I’ll attack. Then I’ll put my headphones on, read my book and relax. I only have a certain amount of energy, and I can’t use it early. To compete really well I keep that ball of energy in a zen-like state. Especially this year, with so many people I know in Richmond, I have to balance seeing people while staying inside my bubble. Basically, from Sunday night until Tuesday morning, I’ll be riding that course perfectly in my mind.
Stride: Regarding your ball of energy, have you learned to focus better as you’ve matured in your career?
Evelyn: I’m a high-energy, intense person – when I channel that correctly, it’s extremely powerful and beneficial. But if I try to be on all the time, I do things poorly. I have to target things. Right now, I’m so focused I can’t invest properly in relationships; it’s better to avoid those situations. It’s the same learning to not bring work home. If you’re constantly on your phone checking email, that’s like me getting amped about the race. You can’t bring that energy into your relationships.
Stride: Do you get nervous?
Evelyn: Oh yeah, 100%. Maybe even more now. When I started, I had nothing to lose, I was just this new kid. Now I know more, which adds to the nervousness. But, if I’m not feeling nervous, that’s a really bad sign. One of the biggest skills I’m working on is simply acknowledging my anxiety but not thinking about it. I notice it –yep, okay there it is – and then I move on, rather than let it spin or brew inside of me.
Stride: What’s your biggest fear in racing?
Evelyn: I fear crashing a lot. The suffering doesn’t make me nervous, it’s the failure of my bike, or my bike handling, or the bike handling of the person in front of me. I try to never think about it – if you hold negative thoughts in your mind, they’re more likely to happen. Crashes are part of the sport, so I have to let go… I’m not in total control.
Stride: When you’re at the make or break point in your race, and you’re hurting, how do you get over the wall?
Evelyn: If I finish a race with anything left in the tank, I’ll have trouble sleeping that night. I just remember that I’ll suffer even more later if I don’t suffer in that moment. Sometimes, this makes me go too aggressively… I don’t always wait very well. It’s such a fine line – being patient but knowing when it’s time to go. I would rather race for the win than for the podium – risk it all and get nothing, knowing that I fought for a big reward.
Stride: Will you experience a “funover” once the World Championships are over?
Evelyn: I’ve learned the only way to get better the next season is to come down. I used to just go go go, but now I love the chance to not be riding my bike. There’s something thrilling about waking up and not putting on your spandex, not following the training plan, not worrying if you slept 10 hours or not. Just being a normal person.
Stride: Has racing changed what you want to do when you’re done racing?
Evelyn: I’m competitive, and I want to be in a competitive environment. I feel the need to go back into structure for a little while… I’d love to go into the private equity field. I haven’t used excel in 7 years [laughs], so I’ll be behind. My time away from corporate life has shown me what I don’t want to become – we are so busy all the time! We don’t need to be as busy as we make ourselves – there’s this mentality that being busy makes you important, and I don’t want that. And I don’t want to be controlled by my devices.
Stride: I imagine these are things you’ll have to fight in private equity?
Evelyn: Yeah, it’s amazing how often we’re out in the world but we’re looking at our filtered feed. I noticed when I am by myself I look at my phone a lot more. I was alone for a few weeks in Nice and set a rule – I wasn’t allowed to use my iPhone from 8PM to 8AM.
Stride: What did you find yourself doing more of?
Evelyn: I read more. Disconnecting makes your sleep better. Looking at screens before bed isn’t good for you.
Stride: In your transition from banking to cycling, there was a lack of support. How did you do it?
Evelyn: I definitely had those moments am I going to make it? I was lucky because I worked in investment banking and I saved, so I had that safety net. And my parents gave me the greatest gift of all – they payed for college, so I had no debt. Because of that I’ve had so much freedom to patiently pursue the path that I want. Since becoming a cyclist, so many people have helped me. Right now, I’m staying at the Phinney’s house in Boulder and borrowing their car. When I’m done cycling, I’m going to have an extra car, a spare bedroom and a revolving door to bring people in [laughs]. The only way I could’ve done this is with the support of others.
Stride: What about sponsorships?
Evelyn: I never started cycling for the money, I just loved being on a bicycle. I’ve really struggled with sponsorships – I only want to be sponsored if I’m 100% behind the cause. I didn’t feel comfortable being sponsored early on because I didn’t feel deserving of it. But then you realize you’ve built this image, this is your job and how you make money. I’ve taken some sponsorships, but I’ve been very picky about them.
Stride: When you were getting started, were there big psychological hurdles you had to get over?
Evelyn: Yes [laughs]. When I was in Europe, no one asked me what I did, but back in the States people always did. I would say I was racing my bike, and people looked at me like I had three heads. I didn’t think I had a big ego, but I found myself trying to justify it. What helped the most was going to the Olympics. You hate to find validation in other people, but the Olympics is something people understand.
Stride: What’s the greatest health risk in the United States right now?
Evelyn: Inactivity and bad food. If I don’t eat well and exercise, I feel terrible. I can only imagine the people who are drinking caffeine all day then alcohol at night then taking sleeping pills and eating processed foods… AND not exercising. Ughhh! I come back to the States and spend a minimum of $100 to get fresh food. It’s expensive to be healthy in the U.S., which is super challenging. I understand I’m very privileged, but we all need a little bit better food and more fresh air.