10 questions with Evelyn Stevens

The former Wall Streeter turned cyclist on her new passion

By: NBCOlympics.com

In less than four years, Evelyn Stevens has transformed from Wall Street investment banker and novice cyclist to one of the world’s fastest women on two-wheels. We sat down with the Massachusetts-native to talk about her inspiring career change.

You were raised as part of a big family. Did you play a lot of sports growing up?

I’m the fourth of five children. There’s actually a twenty-year age gap between the youngest and the oldest. And being the fourth, I think my parents were kind of a little bit over and done with it. I was the, quote, unquote, pleasant surprise. [I was] trying to always get attention. So [it] definitely probably built my personality. [But] growing up in a small town with your family, there’s not a lot to do. And so for me, a sport has always been an outlet for positive energy, negative energy.

Were you a natural athlete?

I won’t actually say I was a natural athlete. I’ve always loved sport and I think my biggest strength is my drive. I ran track and played tennis in high school. I had the chance to play varsity tennis at Dartmouth College, but I was always fighting for the last position. So when I came into cycling and found this talent…I often pinch myself.

So how exactly did you get into bike racing and discover this talent?

When I was living in New York City, I was working on Wall Street. I worked at Lehman Brothers in investment banking, and I was wearing the suit every day. I was working the hundred-hour workweek. I did not sleep very often.

I went out to visit my sister in Thanksgiving of 2007. And we were in Golden Gate Park, and she goes, “hey, I signed you up for this bike race. And it’s called Cyclo-cross.” Cyclo-cross is like a hybrid of mountain and road biking. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. But I did it. It was awful. [I] crashed a lot. But I loved it. And so, when I came back to New York City, I bought my first bicycle. There’s this really strong, vibrant cycling community within the city, and once I started riding, I just became part of it. Starting around March, if you go to Central Park, say five a.m., you can see a local bike race. And so that’s where I started.

Did you find there were similarities between cycling and Wall Street?

They’re similar because they’re exceptionally intense sports. Well, I guess banking isn’t a sport, although you might actually classify it as a sport. [Wall Street] is such an intense New York City world, and now I’m in this cycling world, which is equally as intense. [When I was an investment banker], I went seven days a week for three months, just day in and day out. That Blackberry’s just buzzing non-stop at you. And to be successful as a cyclist, it’s not just the time you put on the bike. It’s how much you sleep, what you eat, your core, your this, your that. So they’re both pretty all-consuming lifestyles. And I guess maybe I like the extreme of it.

When did you realize you had what coaches would call a world-class engine?

I think the first time I had an inclination that I might be a bit better than average in cycling I was actually doing my first stage race in Vermont. Cycling [has] categories. [Category] one/two are the best and three/four are kind of the beginners. I was racing in the beginner category. And it was a day that finished up a climb. I had ridden away from my group. And so I’m riding up this climb and I see the elite level women, the whole group ahead of me. They had started at five minutes ahead of us. And I came up alongside [them]. Eventually, some of them re-passed me. But at that moment, I thought, ah, you know, maybe I should really give this cycling thing a little bit more thought.

Do you have a favorite Olympic Games that you remember watching on TV?
Yeah. I’m going to say the one that stands out the most vividly is actually the 2008 Olympics. [I was] 25, living in New York City, working at Gleacher Mezzanine, which was a small mezzanine fund, and it was just such a hectic time. I had so many friends losing their jobs. And there was just this kind of uncertainty in the air. For me, the Olympics kind of became this outlet. I remember turning it on and watching the opening ceremonies and just getting goosebumps. And I remember thinking to myself, wow, I wonder if I could do anything to get to the Olympics. I remember daydreaming. I’d be in these conference rooms. And you’re always at the top of the building. And it’s all glass. And it’d be a beautiful day. And I just remember thinking, I wish I could just fly out of here. [But] not in my wildest dreams would I have ever thought that I could potentially be competing in the London 2012 Games.

Have you ever had a chance to go to London?

Yeah, I actually did an exchange program at Oxford University and Keble College when I was at Dartmouth. So when I was at Oxford, I traveled into London a lot. But I would love to go back in the summer of 2012.

When did you decide to go all in with your cycling career?

After the summer of 2008. I got a coach, and then I really started training hard. I just had this feeling [that] this is an amazing chance. This is an adventure I can go on. Who knows if I’m going to be successful? But there was just something inside of me that said, I just have to go after it. Most of my friends were going to business school. I could have stayed another year at my job, and I just said, you know what? I’m twenty-six, this is the time I’m going to do it. So I told my roommate, who was going to business school. We gave up our apartment, and I actually gave everything away. I went on Craigslist. I said, “Hey, I have this great bed, a chair from Crate and Barrel…” And I just gave it away. It was one of the most surreal and interesting experiences. Just to give away your possessions. I will never forget just sitting in this empty apartment in New York City with my suitcase, not really sure where I was going, and I just started crying. The tears just started flooding. Like, [gasp] what have I done? But, retrospectively, it was the best decision I’ve ever made. I get to live out my passion for my job.

And then you joined the US National Team soon after that?

Yeah. I got invited to race with the U.S. National Team in the summer of 2009. And we went to the Route de France. So I had left my job at the end of June 2009. [By] August 2009, I’m over in France, and I’m wearing the USA kit. And it was incredible. I just had never thought I would even be in that situation. And actually I won one of my first stages in Europe during that stage race. I think [wearing the U.S. National Kit] gave me a bit more horsepower to get up climbs, to try a little harder, dig a little deeper.

Speaking of your cycling uniform, we’ve heard you have a good luck charm.

I have a lucky sports bra that my sister gave me as a gift and I won one of my first bike races in it. And I’m very superstitious, so I try to wear it as much as possible when I’m racing. Everyone asks me if I keep it clean and I do, [but] I have hand-washed it in a hotel sink before to make sure it’s clean. It has some scars from when I’ve crashed as well.

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