US rider Evelyn Stevens will commence the longest stage race of her professional career on Friday at French race, the Tour de l'Aude. Five months into her first season as a full-time professional, the HTC-Columbia rider is hopeful the ten-stage event will mark the next step in her burgeoning career.
"I've spoken with [my team manager] Ronny Lauke about this, the thing about stage races they're day-after-day, so you can learn something one day and then apply it on the next stage," Stevens told Cyclingnews from France, where she will link up with her HTC-Columbia teammates this week. "I think it's really going to help with the steep learning curve I'm already on."
Stevens was signed by HTC-Columbia following a breakthrough season in 2009. A guest rider for US domestic team's Lip Smackers and Webcor, she claimed the overall titles at the Fitchburg Longsjo Classic and Cascade Classic. Now a firm feature in the women's peloton, she is pleased with her progress so far and is looking forward to the challenge l'Aude represents.
"It's been going well so far. I think the biggest change has been just being part of the HTC-Columbia set-up. It's just a really professional organisation for all the riders and staff.
"I've raced in Belgium for the first time, Holland for the first time - my first race here was the Ronde van Gelderland - and I'm starting the Tour de l'Aude this week," she said. "I've never done a 10-stage race, so that's going to be a new experience, too. It will be hard, but we'll have a strong team. My goal is just to be the best teammate I can be, I'm sure it will be a great experience."
While Stevens' personal ambitions for the Tour de l'Aude are modest, she heads into the race with good form. Her season began in the US, where she claimed a stage win at the Redlands Classic, her first for HTC-Columbia. She also contributed to teammate Ina Yoko Teutenberg's defence of her Redlands title.
"Starting on the West Coast was great," she said. "It was good to spend time in California with my teammates and the rest of the team. We did Redlands and I was really pleased to be able to help Ina to the win and, for me, I was great to get a stage win."
Stevens travelled to Europe in mid-April and made an immediate impact in her first Spring Classics campaign. She claimed fifth at her first World Cup event, La Flèche Wallonne Féminine.
"I was pleased with fifth at Flèche Wallonne, because it's such a tough race," she said.
She then backed-up her World Cup result ten days later at Luxembourg race GP Mameranus, where she finished second to Emma Johansson (Red Sun Cycling Team).
Despite the strong start to her season, Stevens is patient in her expectations and remains focused on establishing a basis for the future of her career.
"Every race I've done I've really enjoyed. That's the great thing about bike racing, you never know exactly what you're going to get. Every race is getting better," she said. "You do a course and you get to know it, so you can come back in a stronger position the next year. I'm definitely looking to the future."