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Four years ago, Evelyn Stevens was working on Wall Street. In her free time, she began racing bicycles. Well, next month, Evelyn Stevens will represent the United States at the Olympic Games in London.
Murray Carpenter has the story of her remarkable rise from beginner to contender.
MURRAY CARPENTER, BYLINE: Central Park is busy this muggy morning, but Evelyn Stevens is easily weaving her bicycle through the many obstacles.
EVELYN STEVENS: There's the horse carriages. There's the bike buggies. There's the, you know, rollerbladers, the people on their bikes training, the five gazillion joggers, the hot dog stands, the dogs. There's a lot going on.
CARPENTER: Even riding up a small hill and talking, she's breathing easily. Stevens knows these roads well. Early on some mornings, they're used for bike races, and this is where she got her start.
STEVENS: This is, you know, we're coming near the Tavern on the Green. Some of the races will have the Tavern on the Green sprint. So, yeah, this is - I remember this very clearly, always trying to get yourself in the right position and then go for the sprint.
CARPENTER: One reason she remembers it clearly is it wasn't very long ago. The last time the summer Olympics rolled around, Stevens was 25, working on Wall Street and just starting to train with the racers in Central Park.
STEVENS: In the Beijing Olympics, I was, you know, just bought a bike, and I'd just done a few - maybe my second or third bike race at that point so, you know, still a category four beginner bike racer.
MATTHEW KOSCHARA: She came into the sport with absolutely no cycling experience at all.
CARPENTER: Matthew Koschara is a former pro cyclist who coached Stevens when she was starting out. Stevens had always stayed fit. She played tennis in college, but Koschara says she had some untapped athletic potential.
KOSCHARA: It was so clear early on that Evelyn was, you know, one in a million. She certainly had the physiology, and she also had the psychology as well. And with those two, really, it just became clear that she just needed to develop as rapidly as possible.
CARPENTER: And develop, she did. Within a year, Stevens had quit her job and was competing for the U.S. at the World Championships in Switzerland. Then she won two national championships. Her biggest victory came in April when she became the first American woman to win the Fleche Wallonne in Belgium. After 75 miles of racing, it was just Stevens and the defending champion, Marianne Vos, battling it out wheel to wheel on the steep climb to the finish. In that moment, she says the roar of the crowd faded away.
STEVENS: I didn't hear anything. It just went like - it was my first real experience of, like, extreme tunnel vision. All I could focus on - I was just telling myself this is now, this is when you do it, and just going, digging deeper than I've ever dug. I saw her wheel, and then I realized I was coming around and then, you know, then I saw the finish line. And it was the most, yeah, exhilarating feeling and experience I've ever had.
CARPENTER: And in late May, Stevens' Specialized-lululemon Team dominated the nation's largest women's race, the five-day Exergy Tour in Idaho, where Stevens took the overall title. That race firmed up her spot on the Olympic road race team.
STEVENS: The Olympics for women's cycling, it's one of the marquee events. You know, it's another time that we get to be on television, which, you know, we don't get a lot of television coverage. And so it's an opportunity for people to see what we do and how, you know, we take it just as seriously as the men racing in the Tour de France. For us, the Olympics are huge.
CARPENTER: Stevens has left New York and now lives between races in Boulder, Colorado. She says she misses the Central Park bike scene, but she's glad she quit her day job. For NPR News, I'm Murray Carpenter.
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