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Stevens sharp in Italy with Rio looming

It's all going according to plan for Evelyn Stevens, who has nabbed three stage wins in the Giro Rosa with Rio around the corner

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LEGNANO, Italy (VN) — Earlier this year, when Evelyn Stevens broke the world hour record, she set herself on a path that she hopes will end with time trial glory at next month’s Rio Olympics. If her performances this week at the Giro Rosa are anything to go by, she is right on track to take gold.

Ahead of Sunday’s final stage, the Boels – Dolmans rider is now second in the general classification, just 34 seconds behind teammate and compatriot Megan Guarnier, and already has three stage wins to her name, including yesterday’s 21.9-kilometer time trial.

“Three wins is more than I expected,” Stevens said at the start of today’s stage near Milan. “I came hoping to win the time trial and get a stage win, those were my goals. I wasn’t focused on GC at all, so I surprised myself. I’ve been training really hard and I’ve been really focused, but it’s nice for it all to come together.”

The time trial is definitely the most significant victory of the race with Rio on the horizon. She beat last year’s overall victor, Anna Van der Breggen (Rabo – Liv), and Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle – High5) both by four seconds, at the same time moving into second place overall, on a parcours comprising a long steep climb and a technical descent.

Other women seen as Olympic rivals were either not present or did not perform so well.

Unlike much of the peloton, Stevens used her time trial bike for the race. “I love my [Specialized] Shiv, I feel really comfortable on it, I spent a long time training on it for the hour and I spend a lot of time climbing on it so I don’t have any trouble pushing out power.

“My thought is Rio is climbing and it has some technical descents, so I might as well start using it now. Of course I wanted to win the time trial but you’re always thinking what is the main goal, so I wanted to get on it and see how I could do.”

Much of her current form comes from training for the hour record she broke back in February. “Here at this race I can feel the benefits of it more than any other race,” she said. “My pedal stroke’s stronger, my ability to suffer on the bike is better, it’s had a huge impact on my form.”

The 33-year-old’s first win of the race came on the uphill finish of Stage two in Montenars. There she followed an attack by Longo Borghini, overtaking her just before the line, in so doing taking the leader’s pink jersey from Guarnier.

Having lost the jersey and over two minutes to Mara Abbott (Wiggle – High5) on stage 5 — which tackled the fearsome climb of the Mortirolo — Stevens claimed her next stage win on the final mountaintop finish at Madonna della Guardia in stage 6. With Abbott fading and Guarnier up the road with van der Breggen, Stevens bridged the gap before sprinting for the win.

“We came here just focusing on stage wins, so it’s awesome that Megan is in pink and I’m second on GC, so it’s huge thanks to our team mates, there’s no way either of us would be in the position we are [without them],” she said.

Despite the Dutch-based team working well together, questions have been raised about some of the tactics deployed this week. Two of Stevens’ successes have come when Guarnier was the higher placed of the two on general classification and though neither have suggested any friction between them, the pair do appear occasionally distant.

Should any problems exist they will need to be ironed out before the Olympics. Though the American squad is likely to be among the strongest in Rio, they will need to work as a cohesive unit to beat the Dutch, the British, and the Australians, as well as some of the lone riders such as Pole Kasia Niewiadoma and South African Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio.

Stevens is out of contract with the team at the end of the year and her future remains unclear, “Next year? It’s a work in progress. I haven’t decided yet, I feel like I am still on the up, but there are so many opportunities out there. Who knows, I won’t think about it until after the Olympics.”

Whether that means she will move teams, renew at Boels – Dolmans, or even end her career, don’t be surprised if she finishes 2016 with an Olympic gold medal.