Time trialling can often seem a rather dispassionate exercise, where calculations are made, pacing strategies are devised and plans are rigorously followed. Yet, on occasion, reasoning is thrown out the window and the irrational – instinct, heart, call it what you will – takes over. Deciding where to make that switch, perhaps, is the most important calculation of all.
As befits a former investment banker, Evelyn Stevens was keen to immerse herself in as much data as possible before and during the elite women’s time trial at the world championships in Ponferrada. In a game decided by fractions of seconds, it helps to know your market. After all, the American had missed out on a medal by just four one-hundredths of a second in Florence twelve months ago; if she was to fall short in north-western Spain, it certainly wouldn’t be for a lack of planning or information.
"I was really lucky I had Beth Duryea on my radio," Stevens explained afterwards. "I wanted time splits, I wanted to know everything so she was giving me up to date information. I knew I was in contention which is always exciting. I wasn’t sure how close it was but I knew it was for a podium spot."
Fourth at the first time split after 12 kilometres, Stevens was one of five riders within two seconds of one another at the top of the leader board, and it was quickly apparent that she would be in the shake-up for the medals.
Her odds of success had already risen before the start when her compatriot Carmen Small was forced to withdraw due to illness, but the field was still a formidable one – defending champion Ellen van Dijk (Netherlands), German duo Lisa Brennauer and Mieke Kröger, Anna Solovey (Ukraine) and Linda Villumsen (New Zealand) all lined up with designs on the podium.
By the second time check after 21 kilometres, Stevens had slipped to ten seconds behind Solovey, though she remained in fourth place. The rainbow jersey was still shimmering on the horizon at that point, and a medal of any hue remained very much within her grasp as she lay five seconds off Kröger.
Across all races on the programme to date, the short haul to Mirador in the finale has been to the Worlds time trial what Heartbreak Hill is to contestants in the Boston Marathon – a climb where the best-laid of plans have the distressing tendency to unravel. For her part, Stevens knew that there was precious little rationalising left to be done as she hit the lower slopes.
"I tried not to really think about the final climb until I got there," Stevens said. "It was 2k and really for me the finish line was at the top of the climb before you hit the descent. So I just tried to empty out my pockets and go as hard as I could.
"I think I actually closed my eyes for the majority of it, I was just in the pain cave. At that point you’re racing with heart and it’s just whatever you have left."
That effort on the climb was enough to bring her past Kröger’s time and she also made up a significant chunk of ground on Solovey on the back end of the course, hitting the line with the provisional second best time, just over two seconds down on the Ukrainian.
Missing out on the rainbow jersey by such a tight margin to a rider who only returned from a two-year doping ban last season might have been a heartbreak to match that fourth place in Florence twelve months ago. In the end, the efforts of Stevens’ trade teammate Lisa Brennauer meant that the question was perhaps moot, for the American at least. Brennauer was the only rider to break 39 minutes, while Stevens, 21 seconds back, claimed a bronze medal to go with her silver from Valkenburg two years ago.
"Last year was a good lesson that every pedal stroke counts, so I was definitely thinking about it," Stevens said. "But every year is different and I came into today’s race knowing that I had prepared as well as I could and I just wanted to execute as best I could.
"I think I did that and I got beaten, but when two people are better than you, that’s OK when you’ve done as well as you could."
It was Stevens’ second medal of the week after claiming the world team time trial title on Sunday in her final outing with Specialized-Lululemon before moving to Boels-Dolmans next year. Far from paying for her exertions 48 hours ago, she reckoned that they had only helped her cause in the individual event.
"With Lisa winning today, I think that means that the last three years the world champion has come from the team time trial event, since it started," Stevens said. "For me I think it’s the best way to prepare for the individual time trial, otherwise we have too much time hanging around. You might as well race."
And on Saturday, Stevens will have the chance to dream it up all over again the women’s road race, where she lines up with Shelly Olds and Mara Abbott in a strong American team. On a course that seems to escape ready definition, Stevens said that there was just one certainty before the off. "There’s tons of women who can win and the only thing I can guarantee now is that it’s going to be very exciting on Saturday."