The story of American Evelyn Stevens's meteoric rise to the top of cycling has been well-documented, thanks to her fascinating journey from the world of investment banking on Wall Street to the top of the sport, but after a topsy-turvy second professional year in the sport, the 28-year-old is ready to put her hard-earned lessons to good use.
Stevens burst onto the US scene in 2009, having just taken up cycling a year prior, and she showed her talents immediately: she won the Fitchburg Longsjo Classic stage race, the longer and harder Cascade Classic and then after being chosen for the US national team, she claimed her first European stage win at La Route de France and took second overall.
Her results gained the attention of HTC-Columbia, and in 2010, Stevens became a professional cyclist. Brimming with energy and promise, she ticked off a few more wins - stages at the Redlands Classic, the Chrono Gatineau time trial, she became the US time trial champion and won a stage of the Giro Donne by soloing away from an elite chase group.
Many predicted that Stevens would emerge in 2011 as one of the top stage racers in the world, but she had a problem: she's been up and down as much as the Dow Jones Industrial Average over the past two years, figuratively and, too often, literally.
"I like to think of my 2011 season as my sophomore year. There were some really good points, but there were lots of ups and downs - and I had a lot to learn," Stevens told Cyclingnews at her Specialized-lululemon team camp in December.
Although she won the US national time trial for the second year in a row, she crashed in the road race. Where in 2010, she claimed her career's biggest win on stage 7 of the Giro Donne, in 2011, stage 7 was a disaster of crashes which put her so far behind the peloton that she and her three teammates crossed the line nearly 40 minutes behind the stage winner.
The incident was another reminder to Stevens that she has to improve her bike handling skills if she's going to make it in the world of professional cycling, and it's something she readily and humbly admits.
"I didn't realize until now how inexperienced I was, and how much I had to learn. Now I can reflect on the two years I've had in the sport, and I can look back on everything."
One of her learning experiences of 2011 was relatively poor showing in the Tour of California women's time trial challenge in Solvang, where she took fourth place.
"It was one of those time trials that, in order to compete at nationals, I had to be on top of my game, racing against the best. That was a good eye opener - it taught me I need to know the course, study for something and practice, and just hone in on that day. It wasn't the best day at Tour of California, but it set the example for what I wanted to do at nationals. That happened a lot this year - one day wasn't great, and the next day I'd have learned from it and know to do things differently."
With only two time trial spots for the US women at the London Olympic Games, and two other Americans fighting hard for the spots, Stevens is hoping to dial in every detail and put in more consistent performances.
Part of Stevens' plan to up her game was a move to Boulder, Colorado, where she now spends a fair amount of time training with the likes of Taylor Phinney (as well as being mentored by his mother Connie Carpenter-Phinney) who is constantly challenging her on her weaknesses: cornering and descending.
"He's great at what I struggle with - cornering and going downhill. We ride this bike path - when I first got to Colorado I couldn't stay with him, now I'm getting better at staying with him. There are a lot of turns and it's quick and you have to be good at controlling your bike.
"It's little things like that. I have to stay on his wheel going downhill or I'm going to get dropped."
Stevens is also focusing on focusing: in 2011, she said she tried too hard to be great at everything, while still trying to develop specific strengths. In the coming season, she wants to put all the pieces together and come out as a rider who is more mature and more consistent, and gain the confidence of her national and pro team directors to be chosen for the Olympic Games time trial and world championships team time trial squads.
"Olympic selection is a huge goal. You get put on the road team first, and from there you're selected for the time trial spots. I'd really like to do both - that would be amazing.
"My goal is if I can ride as well as I can and hopefully that will get me to the Olympics and allow me to do well at the Olympics. That's my mindset going into this year."
"I still need to qualify for London: so the hilly World Cups are going to be very important. The Giro in 2012 wasn't my finest race, but I still love it so I'm excited to race there this year."
The team time trial at the world championships will be contested by trade teams, and Stevens is setting that race as a main target, but knows that with the strength of the Specialized-lululemon team, being selected to the team of five will be a challenge. "I have to prove I'm capable of being on that team. Worlds are a big goal, and proving my skills enough to be a member of that team - it's going to be hard because there are amazing team time trialists here, but I'm going to strive for that."
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