By Mark Johnson
On July 5, 2009, Evelyn Stevens won the four-day, Fitchburg Longsjo Classic in Massachusetts, winning the NRC event ahead of seasoned vets like Jeannie Longo, who placed third, and Tina Pic, who won two stages.
An amateur riding as a guest with the Lip Smacker pro team, Stevens, 26, moved into first on the second day’s hilly circuit race, gained more time with a second place in the tough stage 3 road race, and cinched the win after fending off crushing attacks in the final stage criterium.
What makes Steven’s performance especially noteworthy is the fact that she entered her first road race — a training clinic in Central Park—in July, 2008, and was still a Category 4 novice rider 10 months before winning Fitchburg Longsjo, the oldest and one of the most prestigious stage races on the NRC circuit.
Before the final Longsjo crit, VeloNews sat down with the 5’5”, 120-pound rider at a shady Fitchburg park to find out what makes her go.
VeloNews: You are not a pro cyclist, so what do you do for a living?
Evelyn Stevens: Actually, I just left my job. I did two years investment banking at Lehman Brothers. Did two years and then I switched; I worked at a mezzanine fund.
VN: What kind of hours were you putting in as an investment banker?
ES: Awful hours. That was two years right out of college I did that. That was pretty grueling. I didn’t bike at all then. I ran to stay in shape more than anything.
VN: How did you get into bike racing?
ES: Not this Thanksgiving, but the Thanksgiving before (2007), I went to California and my sister and her husband put me in a cyclocross race. It was my first time and I was like, ‘I love this!’ It was the Golden Gate (cyclocross race) up in San Fran, she lives out there. I came back and bought a bike that spring. I didn’t really ride it that much. And then I had a friend who encouraged me to do the CRCA women’s clinic. I did the women’s clinic in Central Park. CRCA (Century Road Club Association) is an awesome organization. That was June 2008. That was my first race.
And then I started doing some regional races and started doing well. And so I was, ‘well, this is fun.’ I won Green Mountain (stage race, in Vermont) as a 3-4. So then I did Valley of the Sun (in Arizona) in February. I actually flatted in the time trial but I won the road race and got second in the criterium. Did Redlands. Did Nature Valley. Then I did Battenkill — I won Battenkill—Bear Mountain, Housatonic, Ephrata, Jiminy Peak. All the regional races. Which was good, you know, to get your confidence up.
VN: In June 2008 did the thought pass through you mind that in a year you’d be winning a major NRC stage race?
ES: (Laughs.) No! Not at all! Although this is a fun hobby.
VN: Is it true that when you did the Green Mountain road race you caught the pro women, who started five minutes ahead of your 3/4 race?
ES: Yeah, yeah — that was so funny! (Laughs.) Supposedly they weren’t going that fast. They had a bathroom break and stuff. And some of the other girls re-passed me. But I took off on the bottom of the hill. I’m climbing along and I look up and I have my cop car and my wheel van and they have their cop car and the SRAM car and I look over and I go, ‘ahhh, this is going to be funny.’ They were nice. Two of the Webcor women came by again and they were like, ‘come on girl, you got it.”
VN: Where do you live?
ES: I lived in Manhattan four years. I actually just finished my job last week. I don’t have my apartment any more. So now I just kind of go where I go. My family actually lives in Concord, Massachusetts. A couple of the girls and myself are staying in my parents’ apartment (during the Fitchburg Longsjo race).
VN: When you were an investment banker were you doing any kind of athletic training?
ES: Not really. I ran. When I could. You know, sometimes I’d sneak out of work for an hour and run or something in Central Park.
VN: What about in college?
ES: I was a tennis player at Dartmouth. I was on the varsity tennis team. I studied government and women and gender studies.
VN: Are your colleagues from the investment banking world aware of what’s going on with your cycling?
ES: Yeah, yeah. My mezzanine fund is a small fund and they are super supportive of the cycling. They are excited. The job I did was a two-year program. Usually most people go to business school. My thought is I’ll go to B-school—bike school.
VN: When did you start training seriously?
ES: I raced that summer (2008), but I would kind of just race and ride in the park. I really didn’t understand the whole idea of training yet. Then I got this guy Matthew Koschara as my coach. We started in about the fall. He’s in New York. He’s great. I started working with him and he just put me onto a nice program that was kind of get your bang for your buck with the workout. Everyone was like, whoa, where do you train in New York? I spend a lot of time in the winter on my trainer and in Central Park and in New Jersey.
VN: What do you think about racing Fitchburg Longsjo with Jeannie Longo, who is twice your age?
ES: It is amazing! She is amazing. And inspiring to know you can keep it going in the sport for so long. There’s a lot of talent here, so it’s been a fun race.
VN: How is your sprinting?
ES: (Sighs.) It’s OK. I’m probably not the best criterium rider out there. My technical skills are, you know, improving.
VN: Tell me about the Lip Smacker team you are riding with at Longsjo?
ES: It’s lip balm. Want some? I have one on me. You should take one so you can test it out and talk about how great it is. The team is a phenomenal group of women. It’s a first-year team. I’m guest riding this time with them. So it’s my first time riding with them. It’s always hard when you are the new person, but they welcomed me in. They are strong when you are riding and you can learn so much from them when you are not racing because they have so much experience. It’s kind of kept me in the yellow jersey. I don’t know if I could have done it without them.
VN: Who do you ride with at home?
ES: I’m on a regional team back home, CRCA/Radical Media.
VN: I’d imagine after this performance you are going to get some offers.
ES: (Laughs.) Hopefully.
VN: Where do you think you’ll settle when this season is over?
ES: Maybe California? Or Colorado is where I’m thinking. One of the bike meccas. My sister lives in Northern California and she’s having a baby in August so it would be kind of nice to be out there and around her. She rides and her husband rides. They are big supporters.
VN: When did you first sense that you had some talent for bike riding?
ES: Oh, I don’t know. I mean, it came a little bit naturally I guess. My first out of town race I won, so I was like, ohhh … But it was a hill. It was Uniondale. It was a Cat 4. But it almost felt like an outlet after graduating and working. And it’s just been this great kind of fun. You get out there and there’s so much dynamics to bike racing. Even if you are strong that doesn’t always matter.