For the last few years, Evelyn Stevens has been one of the fastest cyclists in the world. She has multiple world titles in the team time trial and on Sunday, she and her Europe-based professional team – Boels Dolmans – finished second at this year’s world championship in Richmond, Va.
It was only a warmup, as Stevens still has the individual time trial Tuesday (18.6 miles) and the road race Saturday (80 miles) for Team USA. She’s a legitimate contender to win one or both of the races – she’s finished in striking distance before.
But a decade ago, she had just completed a career as a good tennis player at Dartmouth but her teams never finished over .500 in the Ivy League.
“I classify myself as a pusher. Which means you just fight,” said Stevens, now 32. “I wouldn’t say I was the most beautiful, powerful tennis player. But I loved being part of a team. I loved the long rallies. [But] I was one of the weaker people on the team.”
When she moved to New York City after college to work for Lehman Bros., her sports career (aside from recreational events and long runs in Central Park) seemed to be over, until a friend encouraged her to take a women’s bike racing class.
And essentially overnight, the young woman who had never worn clip-in pedals found her athletic calling and started winning races both small and large. This was in 2008, but the funny thing is, Stevens should have known cycling was for her years earlier.
She had impressive stamina even as a 21-year-old. She’d brave the cold winters in New Hampshire and go on long runs just to burn off excess energy. Bob Dallis, now in his 14th season coaching at Dartmouth, said Stevens thrived in three-hour tennis matches. She’d crush the tennis team’s preseason fitness test every year. The target was to complete nine miles on the Schwinn Airdyne exercise bike in under 30 minutes. She would do it in 24, better even than some of the players on the men’s team.
These days, every time the bikes come out in Hanover, N.H., Stevens’ name comes up. A decade later, no one has beaten her record.
In 2009 she turned pro, and by 2012 she was on the U.S. Olympic team, placing 24th in the road race in London. She now has a collection of international titles and a pair of national championships.
“If you would have talked to me in 2009 I would not have said ‘I’m going to go to the Olympics and do this for six years,” she said by phone last week while training in Richmond. “This is my seventh-consecutive world championships, which is just crazy.”
Stevens is older than some of her Boels Dolmans teammates — 2012 Olympic silver medalist Lizzie Armitstead is only 26 — but at the same time, she’s much younger than American teammate Kristin Armstrong , the 2008 gold-medalist who’s come out of retirement at age 42. She’s targeting 2016 and the Olympics as chance to see how much more she can give the sport before considering future endeavors.
“I want to go out while I’m still really good, while I’m on top.” said Stevens, who recently moved to San Francisco with an eye on the future but has only been home a few times this year. “What I’ve learned from my career is you can do a lot of things in your life. … I loved my New York years. I love my cycling years. Whatever I do next, I’m excited to love that as well.”
And a good performance this week will go a long way towards ensuring 2016 is a landmark year. If she were to win one of the events, she would clinch a spot on the U.S. Olympic team, which would allow her to race next year with a singular goal.
“To automatically have a spot for the Olympics would be wonderful,” she said. “[In an Olympic year] people become a little more intense. It’s a very different environment the whole season because it’s the biggest event for female cyclists.”
Back at the Big Green tennis office, Dallis doesn’t always keep up with events like the women’s Fleche Wallonne or the Holland Ladies Tour – where Stevens has her name on the past winner’s list. But it’s hard to miss the Olympics – the smallest Ivy League school doesn’t have too many Olympians.
“Anytime you see a Dartmouth alum doing well, there’s a great deal of pride,” Dallis said. “We joke around — I’m the only college tennis coach who’s coached an Olympian.”
Above: Evelyn Stevens of the United States riding for Boels Dolmans races to first place in the women’s individual time trial at the 2015 Amgen Tour of California earlier this year. Stevens switched from tennis to cycling after college and found her athletic future. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)