On Saturday I tuned in to a livestream to watch Evie Stevens set a new women’s UCI Hour Record. If you’d have asked me 10 years ago whether this was something I’d ever be doing I probably would have looked at you very confused. I grew up playing competitive sports but had no idea women’s bike racing existed. It was not something I ever saw — not on TV, not in magazines, not online.
Like many girls, my first adult bike (a full-suspension Diamondback), was gifted to me by a boyfriend. Despite using it to tool around on local trails, I didn’t develop any real cycling skills or knowledge until 2010. That’s when I began training for a Half Ironman, which I signed up for, in large part, to pull myself out of the depression I sank into when that same boyfriend proposed and I declined.
I had no idea how to train for a Half Ironman, so I joined the Asphalt Green Triathlon Club, which is based in New York City, where I promptly moved after we split — fulfilling a lifelong dream. Part way through the year one of the male coaches noticed that a group of us newbie girls were strong but, as he put it, “had no idea how to ride our bikes.” He volunteered to mentor us, meeting with us every Friday morning in Central Park to work on things like shifting and pacelining. It was my first taste of riding in a group at speed and I loved it.
The hard work paid off and I completed the Half Ironman. But I wasn’t sure what to do next. I needed another big goal but had no desire to do a full 140.6. It was then that I heard that a couple of guys from AG Tri wanted to start a bike racing team. I wasn’t sure I could afford it or even that I’d enjoy focusing solely on biking, but my interest was piqued so I went to the info session.
Except for me, three women from my little Friday morning riding posse, and maybe one or two other ladies, the entire room was full of guys. At the end of the meeting, we girls naturally huddled together, looked at each other, and basically agreed, I’ll do it if you do it. And that’s how “X6,” the women’s portion of the Asphalt Green Cycling Team (AGCT), began.
Through AGCT I found what I had been missing since my collegiate soccer career: A close-knit team. We woke up early to spin and squat and stretch. We drove each other to races and comforted each other when someone got dropped or lapped. Every new experience brought a range of emotions, from feeling scared and shy to excited and invincible. And together, we navigated it all. Soon, my life revolved around this team.
We communicated largely through a private Facebook group, but the women’s cohort also started our own Google Group, which we used to email each other back and forth ALL DAY, EVERY DAY. It was a place to talk strategy, crack jokes, and discuss issues that were ours and ours alone (“that’s vaginal” quickly became a favorite catchphrase). It was also a place to share links to stories and videos about professional cycling, a sport most of us knew next to nothing about except maybe, sadly, Lance Armstrong.
But that quickly changed.
A rider by the name of Evie Stevens kept popping up in conversation. Like us, she started racing through the CRCA while working a full-time job. Rumors had it that she had ridden away from her field at the Green Mountain Stage Race on a bike with a granny gear, passing even the pro peloton. Evie quickly turned pro herself and won the Time Trial National Championship in 2010, cementing her status as a local legend. When my teammate won the CRCA’s Women’s Intro to Racing Clinic our first year racing, it was only appropriate that she was gifted an HTC-Highroad jersey signed by Evie.
Evie was us and we were Evie. All those days that we sat at our desk jobs, staring out the window and emailing each other about the next time we could ride our bikes, we took comfort in knowing that Evie had once likely done the same.
That’s not to say we thought we were going to go pro. We had just finally found something in the sport that felt like “ours.” We had someone to cheer for. Someone who made us want to dig deep. Someone who made it seem not so silly that a group of women in their late 20s were going to bed early on Friday nights so they could ride their bikes around in circles early Saturday mornings. It made us feel that in some small way, what we were doing for ourselves was important.
But just as we were getting acquainted with and getting excited about women’s professional cycling, HTC-Highroad, the team Evie was riding for, folded. We were devastated. Thankfully, some important people stepped up and the group was reborn as something even better: Team Specialized-Lululemon.
Suddenly, in 2012, with the backing of two large sponsors, Team Specialized-Lululemon was everywhere. Being an Olympic year, articles about Evie continued to pop up in major outlets like The Wall Street Journal. Specialized put out a series of team videos, like the one below, which my teammates and I devoured, and ran ads featuring Evie in national magazines, which I tore out and hung up in my work cubicle, much like I did with Mia Hamm pictures in my childhood room.
My teammates and I were OBSESSED. Suddenly we had not only one rider, but an entire team we could identify with. Of course, these women had always existed, but now we had access to them. We could see them joking around and training hard and nabbing the top step of the podium. Sure, our amatuer women’s cycling categories often felt like an afterthought at the races we attended, but we were going to race them anyway. Because we were worthy. We had to be. There were women just like us riding at the top level of the sport and no one could pretend there weren’t. We could see them now.
One weekday morning while cooling down from a lead-out practice in Central Park, two of my teammates spotted an animal of familiar stripes on the side of the road. They hit their brakes, almost causing a pile up and swung their heads backwards. It was Evie. In her Specialized-Lululemon kit. Shooting with NBC Sports. We pulled off the road and just stared at her until we got the nerve to interrupt and ask for a picture. Or maybe she noticed us creeping and came our way. Honestly, I have no recollection. I just remember that she was gracious with her time and we were on a high for the rest of the day, much to the detriment of our actual jobs.
And then she tweeted at us. And we, a group of adult women with successful careers and husbands and a million other things to be excited about, lost our proverbial shit.
At the time we had no way of knowing that this would be the first of many interactions with Evie. Over the next few years, as Evie solidified her place in the sport, she also began giving back — through lectures and fundraisers — often in NYC. She answered our questions, posed for more pictures, and even rode with us through the streets of New York. Although she was now a cycling celebrity on a global scale, she still managed to feel a little bit like she was “ours.”
At the same time, my teammates and I also deepened our relationship to the sport. We eventually broke away from Asphalt Green and formed our own women’s team, CityMD Racing, gathering new sponsors and designing our own kits. We brought on riders who were new to the sport and began volunteering at the same CRCA Intro to Racing Clinic where we (and Evie) had gotten our start. One year we even registered as a domestic elite team and a few of us got the chance to race against Evie at the Philadelphia Cycling Classic — something none of us could have ever imagined happening. Myself and another teammate even went on to work for the company that made Evie mainstream: Specialized.
I think this is why, when Evie set a new women’s UCI World Hour Record on Saturday, I couldn’t help but cry. Like me and my teammates, Evie found cycling later in life and through hard work and her willingness to take risks created something that not only changed her life, but the lives of countless others as well. The fact that so many people were tuning in to watch and support a female cyclist — the fact that it was livestreamed at all! — was astounding.
When I was younger, I didn’t know bike racing was a possibility for me. Today, because of Evie and women like her, millions of little girls won’t have that problem. They’ll have access to the people and the sport that have made my teammates and I stronger, healthier people—women who don’t turn around when they walk into a room and only see men.
You can also read this story on Bicycling.com.