Stevens Q&A: Two stages and overall victory at the Route de France

Evelyn Stevens went into the nine-day Route de France on a back foot and left with two feet on the top step of the podium

Evelyn Stevens was recovering from a hard effort at the Olympics, illness and a long few months of racing in general when she and her Specialized-lululemon teammates hit the start line at the Route de France on August 4. Though she didn’t have high hopes of winning the GC at first, Stevens rode through her fatigue in the first few stages and surprised herself by taking the win — giving her two of the three biggest women’s stage races in the world in 2012.

Stevens was understandably tired going into the Route de France. Earlier in the season, she had raced to victories at La Flèche Wallonne and the Exergy Tour, as well as third overall at the Giro Donne. At the Olympics, she helped place American teammate Shelley Olds in position for medal contention in the road race before an untimely flat derailed the Americans’ chances.

As for winning the nine-day Route de France on tired legs, Stevens credited her young teammates, who grabbed some stage wins themselves, for much of her success. Specialized riders won three consecutive stages, with Chloe Hosking and Loren Rowney grabbing stages 4 and 5 and Stevens taking the overall lead with her stage 6 win up La Planche des Belles Filles. Stevens also won the final stage of the race, a 113.9km route from Corcieux to Munster, sealing her overall victory in style.

She’ll race again this month at the Swedish World Cups — with a focus on the August 17 team time trial in preparation for the TTT world championship in September — and the Grand Prix de Plouay-Bretagne in Plouay, France, on August 28.

Stevens caught up with VeloNews on Monday morning to reflect on her Route de France win and the team’s performance as a whole.

VeloNews: What were your expectations going into the Route de France? Were you confident throughout that you could win the overall, or were there any moments of doubt?

Evelyn Stevens: My expectations were actually pretty low going into the race. The build-up for the Olympics is pretty big, so I didn’t go into [the Route de France] thinking about winning. I was a little bit sick, so I just wanted to build into it. I took some antibiotics a little bit before, but the first few days were pretty painful. I just wanted to see where my health went in the first few days, and I wanted to recover and get ready… I knew the last few days would be painful, and you never know where a GC will be made.

VN: How has the Route de France compared to your other recent races, like the Giro Donne and the Olympics, in terms of atmosphere, how much it meant to you, etc.?

ES: It was a different race. I was really glad I did it. It was actually very well run, nine days of just good racing, which is hard to come by these days. Right now it’s obviously not the Olympics, and the Giro Donne definitely drew more teams, so it was definitely a different race, but a good race.

VN: How were you feeling physically leading up to and during the race?

ES: I went into it working with [my coach] Neal Henderson. He knew I was doing this race, so it was planned that I didn’t go into day one in top form. I had been off my bike for three or four days — the only biking I did right after the (Olympic) road race was when my sister and I rented mountain bikes to watch the time trial in London. I wouldn’t say my first few days on the bike were awesome, but you can’t race all the way through in peak form.

VN: You have raced exceptionally well this whole season, from wins at La Flèche Wallonne and the Exergy Tour to a third-place GC at the Giro Donne, to setting up Shelley Olds in great position for a medal at the Olympics before her flat. How do you think your performance at the Route de France reflects on your season as a whole?

ES: I think I have a really great support team this year with Specialized-lululemon. This race taught me how to win in a lot of different situations, and it was nice to go in without a lot of great expectations. I was able to win a couple stages, but it was great to see Chloe [Hosking] and Loren [Rowney] win, especially since it’s Loren’s first season racing in Europe. You can see what a great season Specialized-lululemon has been having.