Stevens Q&A: ‘This is the biggest win of my career’

American Flèche Wallonne winner takes us through her historic win and talks about learning the sport and a potential Olympics berth

HUY, Belgium (VN) — Evelyn Stevens (Specialized-lululemon) climbed to her most important victory Wednesday by out-foxing Marianne Vos up the Mur de Huy to win Flèche Wallonne Femmes.

A pro since 2010, the former Wall Street investment banker and collegiate tennis player becomes the second American to win (Lance Armstrong won the men’s edition in 1996) the Belgian classic. Stevens’ Flèche win was the first for an American woman and all-but-assured her a trip to the London Olympics in July. (Currently fifth, she needs to remain in the top-10 of the World Cup rankings through round 4 next month to automatically qualify.)

VeloNews caught up with Stevens after her big win, and here’s what she had to say:

VeloNews: A huge victory for you, Evelyn. How did the race unfold?
Evelyn Stevens: The team rode a textbook-perfect race. They were so strong [on Wednesday]. I felt really good going up the Mur the first time and I learned my lesson from Flanders, when I didn’t eat enough, so I was eating a lot and staying hydrated. Clara (Hughes) went with a group up and over the Mur, which allowed me to sit there and wait. Rabobank was chasing. On the last climb before the Mur, I saw Vos go and I went with her. I sat on her wheel. I felt really good. She brought us back up to the breakaway right before the Mur. Clara went right to the front and drove it to the base of the Mur.

VN: How did the tactics play out on the Mur?
ES: I said to myself, “I have to be really smart.” I went fast up the Mur and Vos was sitting on my wheel. I made a big gamble and I let up pedaling, and let her start her sprint. Then I started my sprint. I still want to see the photo to make sure that was me who won.

VN: How important is this victory for you?
ES: This is a big race for me. I did it the first time in 2010 and I was fifth. I’ve always wanted to win it. It’s just thrilling.

VN: This is the first time Vos has been beaten in a World Cup this year. How big is that?
ES: I think we had the strongest team today. We had such a depth on our team and we rode well tactically. I was in position to finish it off. Vos is an incredible athlete and competitor. She makes every race exciting. To be able to win, it’s an honor.

VN: How would your characterize this victory?
ES: It’s the biggest win of my career. It’s a World Cup. It’s Flèche Wallonne. I rode Flanders the first time this year, and that’s an amazing race. For me, Flèche and Flanders are epic. We get to race with the men. The crowds are unbelievable. The course is so demanding. The Mur — it’s historical. For me, it’s my favorite race.

VN: What gear ratio did you use for the Mur?
ES: 11×25. I remember thinking last night, “Do I want to ride a 27?” I always think, “If you’re going for it, you have to go for it.”

VN: You’ve had a great start to the season, but what happened at Trofeo Binda (World Cup #2)?
ES: I clipped a pedal on the uphill. I felt great that day. Vos went and I was the only one to go with her. I think I got a little excited and I glanced back and I saw we had a gap. I knew it was the winning move. I went too fast through a corner and I clipped my pedal. I am still relatively new to the sport. They are learning lessons. From Flanders, too, I have learned to conserve more, to be smarter. When you make the move, you have to make the move. Cycling is the most humbling sport I’ve ever done.

VN: More humbling than Wall Street?
ES: Way more humbling than Wall Street. You can fall, but you do not actually physically crash. That’s one of the elements of the sport that is so challenging. It’s so mental. I believe that most of bike racing is mental. Everyone here at the top has great physiology, great equipment; then it comes down to who has the mind.

VN: How does this impact your Olympic hopes?
ES: If you win a World Cup and stay within the top-10 ranking [you automatically qualify]. The Olympics are massive for me. A couple of years ago, it wasn’t something that was even a possibility. I was sitting at a desk, watching the Olympics. To actually be able to participate in it will be surreal. We have three slots, so hopefully we can get four spots.

VN: You’ve come far very fast…
ES: In my first year, in 2010, I had some success, but I don’t think I realize what I got myself into. Last year, I had some good races, but I also had some really bad times, too. Last year, was probably harder for me. I have realized how hard this sport is. You can be good, but to be great, there is a lot of work you have to put in.

VN: What kind of things have you had to learn to be competitive?
ES: Descending skills, riding in the pack, the technical skills of racing your bike. You cannot go from Wall Street to being your best without taking steps, without highs and lows. You have to take everything in perspective and learn from it.

VN: You’ve become the first American woman to win the race, what does that mean for you?
ES: It’s so special. When you look at the women who’ve won this race, a lot of the same women have won it year-in, year-out. It shows that American cycling is on the way up right now. Kristin Armstrong got second at Flanders. We’re starting to make a presence over here in Europe. For me, it’s a huge honor.

VN: You were jumping for joy at the finish, have you ever been that happy before?
ES: I felt great all day. This is my most exciting win ever, easily. I never thought I would be in Flèche Wallonne, let alone win it someday.