Evelyn Stevens is banking on hard work, consistently strong performances and her previous experience in London in 2012 to get her to the Olympic Games this summer in a position to help the US garner a gold medal. As a punchy-classics specialist with the ability to knock out a winning time trial, Stevens could be the one to deliver on the challenging courses in Rio de Janeiro.
First and foremost, however, is the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, her main target of the season.
"Yes, obviously for me, the Olympics this year is a big target," Stevens told Cyclingnews when asked if she is preparing for the road race and time trial in Rio. "It was disappointing last time not to have raced the time trial so I would love [to race the time trial, too]. For me, they are quite hilly courses and they suit my ability."
Stevens, who skipped the opening Boels-Dolmans training camp in December in favour of less travel and more time training at home, recently met with her new team at their second camp in Calpe, Spain, this week. She feels that her second year with the Dutch team will bring her a comfort and ease that will allow her to bring in more top-level performances throughout the season.
"The first year you learn your new teammates, racing, earn their respect in bike racing and figure out how everything works. This year I’m much more comfortable in the team," Stevens told Cyclingnews.
Although she hasn't locked in a schedule yet for the 2016 season, she said that she would target time trials, team time trials and that her probable schedule would include one-day hilly races like GP Plouay, Fleche Wallonne and Philly Cycling Classic that favour her ability. The latter three are part of the inaugural Women’s WorldTour, which Stevens says is a sure sign that progress is happening in women’s cycling.
"I think it’s exciting and a sign that women’s cycling is growing – that the UCI is taking the step in creating something called the Women’s WorldTour," Stevens said. "For the first year, it will be hard to know what it’s going to be like because it hasn’t happened yet. I think it will be a very exciting first year to see how it turns out, but personally I’m most excited to see [progress] from when I started bike racing [in 2010] to now. The fact that they are making these developments and taking these steps is a sign that women’s cycling is moving in the right direction."
It’s a big year for Boels Dolmans, a team that Stevens said is ‘classics heavy’ and will no doubt be aiming for wins in all the major women’s races. That also means that the team includes a number of riders who could potentially selected for the Olympic Games. It’s a scenario that Stevens is familiar with having been with Specialized-lululemon in 2012, where she and nine of her trade teammates raced in London.
"On Specialized-lululemon during the Olympic year, 10 of us went, so this is very similar," Stevens said. "It’s great. We have a variety of different winners, riding different goals that we’re able to accomplish. To have that many women targeting the Olympics will make it a lot better. More chances you have of your team represented there. I’d be representing the US but for the team, it would be an honour to have riders there."
Stevens has not officially made the Olympic team, yet, but she is among the women selected to the long list to represent the US. On that list are also Megan Guarnier, who has an automatic spot for the road race, Coryn Rivera, Mara Abbott, Kristin Armstrong, Amber Neben, Shelley Olds, Carmen Small, Lauren Stephens and Tayler Wiles.
Stephens wants desperately to be on the team that goes to Rio, for both the road race and the time trial, and she intends to prove herself worthy of being both a valuable teammate and a potential winner, which she believes are the keys to having a successful team represented at an event like the Olympics.
"Personally, I think I like to do most of my talking with my legs and my performances - so spending a lot of time in the offseason working on my weaknesses, working on my strengths and coming out strong," Stevens said.
"I think what we [Team USA] showed last year at the World Championships in Richmond was that you can add value by winning and you can add value by being a strong teammate. Personally, there is always the opportunity if I’m in a situation to win, but I also have a lot of experience racing and being a teammate."
Stevens also believes that it’s easy to get caught up in the selection process involved in forming a team for the Olympic Games, and with only four spots for the road race and two for the time trial, it is a competitive undertaking. She said she preferred to put more of her energy into building her strengths and skills. "You can focus on the end results but I would like to stay focussed on the day-to-day, each pedal stroke – that’s the most important," she said.
"You can get lost in the ‘what if this happens or that happens’ but I just always want to be a better bike racer," Stevens said. "I got a lot stronger in my areas of weakness this year and I’m taking what I developed last year into this season. I’m always challenging myself to do something a little bit different.
"A highlight is that you’re professional, paid year round, so you keep your team responsibilities but really, I just love racing and if you focus on the love of riding and getting out there to do what you love every day, it’s the highlight of it."
Stevens was a member of the US women’s team that competed in the road race at the London Games, where she finished 24th. She said that the experience of being at an international event like the Olympics is unique and that will add to her value as a member of the team in Rio.
"Considering the last time around, it was only my second year professional, so it was so new and now I have an idea of what to expect," Stevens said. "I’m targeting that Olympic team and I hope that I can make it and that I would add a lot of value. I think the most important thing is that I’ve been and I know now what to expect.
"It is unlike anything I have every experienced at a bike race; the environment at the village, the stress and the pressure, so I think having that actual experience would be very valuable for the next time around."
Several riders including Stevens’ compatriot and Boels Dolmans teammate Guarnier have already previewed the road race course in Rio. Stevens said she has not seen the courses herself but that she will likely take a trip down to preview them if she is selected to the team.
"I’ve heard quite a bit about them from others who have previewed them," Stevens said. "I love the courses. It’s exciting that the Olympics are hilly and I think the Americans have a lot of great one-day climbers. I think we have a lot of options, which is exciting. I would love to be part of a stellar American team going for it."
Asked if she sees an Olympic gold medal in her future, Stevens said, "I wish I could tell the future. For me, the time trial and road race are big focuses, and for any female cyclist that is the ultimate goal.
"Right now I see tomorrow’s hard training … and my core, stability and my strength training workouts. To get to that goal [an Olympic gold medal] I just have to focus on all these little pieces. This is the year that I have to do everything right."
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