Someone to boss Vos?

From Central Park to the Peloton – Evie Stevens

picture – http://www.wellandgoodnyc.com

To the uninitiated it can look as if Marianne Vos is unbeatable, such is her win rate on the women’s pro tour and as we recently covered at VCSE, XC mountain biking. Vos remember has been in the sport competitively since she was a teenager and already possesses a palmares that  rider on the verge of retirement would kill for, let alone someone who probably has at least another ten years left at the highest level.

In the UK people who have become interested in the sport through the successes of the British track cycling team could be forgiven for thinking that riders have always enjoyed a clear path to international competition from an early age. In fact it was as recent as the late 90’s until there was a level of investment in track cycling in the UK that provided the platform for riders like Victoria Pendleton and more recently Laura Trott. Trott in particular benefited from the scouting that now takes place in schools up and down the country to identify potential track stars. Note that the emphasis here is on track cycling. The haul of cycling medals taken in Bejing in 2008 and London last year, in addition to many more won in world championship and world cup track events is reflective of a focus on the track that hasn’t always been shown towards the road. While the medals won on the track in Bejing grabbed most of the headlines not many remember that the first cycling gold for Britain (the first medal for the entire GB team in fact) in 2008 was won on the road by Nicole Cooke.

In pouring rain Cooke rode a superb race against a quality field that included Vos , who finished 6th, and Judith Arndt the 2004 Olympic champion. Cooke retired from road racing before the start of this season making and her open letter to the press and fans vented some of her frustrations at the differences between the way road racing is structured and perhaps more importantly funded in comparison to the men’s tour*. Cooke’s teammate in 2008  Emma Pooley has voiced similar concerns. It’s hard to imagine a rider of Pooley’s class within the men’s peloton having to deal with two of their teams collapsing through lack of sponsorship.

Cooke was perhaps Vos’ biggest rival during the late ‘noughties’ and while some of their competitors span both era’s the latest rider to try and topple Vos wasn’t even racing in 2008 despite being older by three years. Evelyn (Evie) Stevens had followed an outstanding academic career at a US Ivy League college and a spell at Oxford. From there she had gone to Wall Street leaving Lehman Brothers shortly before the bank collapsed and was working at another bank when she had her cycling epiphany. She had acquired a bike among all of the other things you accumulate when you live in a loft in Manhattan but a trip to a cycling workshop in Central Park rekindled her interest and she was soon taking on a coach.

Stevens became an amateur racer in 2009 although she can thank her sister for entering her into her first event; cyclo cross. Early on her coach found that Stevens had the power output of an elite level cyclist and as the global financial crisis began to make her question her future in banking she took the plunge to become a professional. The loft, along with the rest of the trappings of a Wall Street banker went and she was left with her bike and a bag and wondering “..what have I done?”

Turning pro in 2010 with HTC Highroad she moved to Specialized Lululemon last year following the collapse of her first team after (you’ve guessed it) they lost their sponsor. For someone who was the most successful stage race winner on the women’s world tour Stevens is also a talented time trialler winning the US national title twice and finishing runner up at last years individual world championship. Her strengths in the discipline also helped Specialized Lululemon to the team prize in Limburg. Perhaps her biggest win of the year came at the Fleche Wallone where she out climbed Vos on the Mur de Huy to win convincingly.

Absent from this years race (won by Vos, natch) due to a nasty accident in Italy Stevens showed her determination by returning and winning a stage a month later at the Gracia Orlova stage race in the Czech Republic. She finished 2nd overall this year after winning the overall in 2012 but announced herself “..back to racing, back to smiling”. No doubt disappointed to have missed the opportunity to defend her ‘classic’ Stevens will be looking to retain her stage racing titles from last year in the US and in France and perhaps to go one (or even two) places better and win the overall at the Giro Donne.

Like Marianne Vos, Evie Stevens retains a humility that belies her status as one of the top female sportswomen in the world. Like Vos the overriding sense is that she is doing what she loves and Stevens has described how her enforced absence has made her “hunger and love” for racing grow even stronger. As to who is going to be the stronger rider this year Stevens describes Vos as an “incredible athlete”. Rather like Lizzie Armitstead at last years Olympics however, Steven’s believes Vos is “human”. It will be interesting to see how the Stevens / Vos match up plays out this year. Both riders win for fun but will it be the late comer who left the world of high finance and Manhattan lofts behind for the joy of two wheels who comes out on top? What does Stevens think?

“I still haven’t found my boundary”

* The letter also covered Cooke’s views on doping in the sport

 

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