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Just two weeks after Australian Bridie O’Donnell set a new women’s UCI world hour record, USA Cycling announced on Monday that American Evelyn Stevens will attempt to break the record on February 27th.
The 32-year-old Boels-Dolmans rider will take on the challenge in Colorado Springs in front of a live and online audience.
This will be the fourth attempt on the women’s world hour record since a modernisation of the rules in 2014. The first to beat Leontien Van Moorsel’s 12-year-old mark of 46.065 kilometres was American law professor Molly Shaffer van Houweling who made it to 46.274 kilometres before the clock ran out. And just last month, O’Donnell added more than 600 metres to Van Houweling’s mark, rising the bar to 46.882 kilometres.
“Bridie [O’Donnell] set a really great target so it’s going to be hard,” Stevens told Ella CyclingTips. “It’s going to be one of the most painful hours of my life.”
But Stevens is no stranger to suffering. She’s a two-time national time trial champion, three-time team time trial world champion, and a silver and bronze medalist in the individual time trial at the world championships. For her, the hour record attempt will ‘just’ be a very long, flat time trial.
So why the hour record?
“The challenge,” said Stevens. “I like the idea of a big goal. I have been racing now for a while and this is something different, a new challenge.”
It’s also a means to reach a new level of fitness and prepare for what has been called the biggest year in women’s cycling yet with Olympic glory, the inaugural Women’s WorldTour title and rainbow stripes all on the line.
Last year Stevens watched with intrigue as riding partner Rohan Dennis undertook his successful UCI Hour Record attempt and the season that followed. Then, after crossing the finish line at the UCI World Road Championships in Richmond, somewhat disappointed with her time trial results, she started thinking about what she could do to prepare for the big 2016 year.
“We first talked about it at the world championships in Richmond and looked at what we needed to do to get Evie on the Olympic team and be her best in Rio,” Neal Henderson, who coaches Stevens and Dennis, told Ella CyclingTips. “We respect the record, where it is and where it’s been but we’re also using this attempt as a training goal. [As with Dennis] we hope that by developing this fitness in the front end of the season, we can carry that fitness onto the road.”
“In Richmond I felt like I was lacking power on the flats. And I thought this would be a good way to work on it,” added Stevens. “I train with Rohan a fair amount, especially at the end of last summer. One of the things I noticed about Rohan is that he can go into a whole other level of effort and I think for me, I know that with the hour record I’m going to go to a level I’ve never been to be before in terms of pushing myself physically and mentally.”
Additionally, Stevens hopes to bring more publicity to women’s cycling and to inspire more women to take on this challenge.
“While attempting to break the UCI Hour Record is exciting for me and my career, I’m also proud to help shine a light on women’s cycling,” Stevens said. “The hour record is an exciting thing. I’d love to see more women coming out to do it and keep the momentum going.”
While they managed to keep the endeavor quiet, Henderson and Stevens have been preparing for this throughout the off-season.
Stevens said she’s been training for the season ahead as usual but with a bit more time on the time trial bike and an extra trip to Specialized’s wind tunnel to dial in her position. While not a track cyclist, Henderson revealed that Stevens has trained with the U.S. track team every winter for the past four years to benefit from the high-power work and therefore is no stranger to the velodrome.
Additionally, she’s been spending a lot of time at the Polo Field track in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.
“It’s good because it’s 1000 meters, there are no cars and there is a dedicated fast lane when you need to do efforts. I have clocked a lot of hours going around that bad boy,” she said.
Perhaps her biggest change to her regular raining has been the additional focus on her mental preparations.
“I think this hour will be very, very mental. Obviously there is a physical element to it but I think it’s going to come down to being mentally strong and prepped and ready to go into that place for an hour,” Stevens said.
Her mental training has involved a lot of “floating”.
“I go to the Reboot Float Spa. It’s a sensation deprivation tank and you go in for 60 minutes. It’s good for recovery because it’s an Epsom salt bath and you just float, but for me it’s been a really nice way to work on visualisation and mental strengths and practicing what techniques might work for me while riding,” Stevens explained. “I’m very aware that this is an important element to it so I’m trying to prepare as best as possible.”
Of course, as we learned from O’Donnell in the lead-up to her record-breaking ride, a lot of what goes into the hour record attempt takes place off the bike and is anything but a solo effort. It’s paperwork, finances, equipment, and massive amounts of logistics. Luckily for Stevens however, she’s got the support of a professional team, sponsors and a very involved coach. And given that she’s been in the biological program since 2009, her lead time to prep for this event was shorter than that of Van Houweling and O’Donnell.
“Neal [Henderson] has been exceptionally helpful in doing this and USA Cycling has been really supportive. I’m also lucky to have Specialized and Boels-Dolmans. Every sponsor I have has been on board,” said Stevens. “It’s not simple and there is quite a process to go through but with anything, you have to go through the motions.”
Can she do it?
“I feel confident in my team, in my equipment and in my preparation. I’m confident in my process working towards it but there are a lot of variables going into it. I’m confident that I’m going to give it a really good try,” said Stevens, who did acknowledge the potential of failure.
“It’s terrifying. You could fail miserably at it,” she said. “But I think that’s kind of the beauty of it is, too. Anytime you do a bike race you can win or you can lose so there’s a similar idea to it. I have been focusing on it while knowing I also have a big season ahead so it’s kind of just one step along the way.”
Coach Henderson meanwhile believes that Stevens has what it takes to not only break O’Donnell’s newly set mark of 46.882 kilometres but perhaps even best the all-time distance record of 48.159 kilometres set by Jeannie Longo in 1996 using the now banned “Superman” position.
Sitting at 6,000 feet above sea level, the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center Velodrome is at a significantly higher elevation than the previous attempts. February in Colorado is also significantly colder, and the velodrome’s dome only recently finished construction.
“Altitude is good for speed but I do have to adapt to it so I’ll head to Colorado pretty soon,” said Stevens. “Temperature-wise I’m crossing my fingers for beautiful, sunny Colorado days. The dome can be heated, of course, but at this point, we’re still figuring out the finer details on how to approach it and I think after the hour, there will be a lot of takeaways.”
While both previous record-breaking rides were accomplished on a Cervélo T4 with Mavic disc wheels, Stevens will be riding a modified Specialized Shiv. Specialized tells us that the details regarding the aerodynamics, gearing, and wheels will be released next week.
Follow it live
Be sure to tune in on February 27th to watch Stevens’ attempt live right here on Ella. Stevens’ start time is scheduled for 12 p.m. MST / 8 p.m. CET / 6 a.m. AEST
Additional reporting by Neal Rogers.