The greater meaning of Evelyn Stevens’ UCI Hour Record
It wasn’t all about inking her name in the world record books.
Absolutely, becoming the fastest woman on Earth mattered to Evelyn Stevens as she turned over the pedals on a concrete track with her first-time aim of breaking the women’s elite UCI Hour Record today in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The extreme exertion, focus and mental toughness merited the prize.
For the first 45 minutes, all she could think about was staying present. Pedal, push, pedal, push, she thought. Repeat.
During the last 15 minutes she squeezed every ounce of energy from her small frame, weaving slightly in the final laps.
“At one moment I thought about what [Eddy] Merckx had said,” Stevens recalled, “about it being the worst feeling ever. He was right.” That was how Merckx had described his one-time hour record trial.
Her bid, however, signified much more than slotting her name at the top of a list. It meant something larger than herself. Grander, even, than the apex of athletic triumph.
“It was a great chance to showcase women’s cycling in the U.S.,” Stevens said during the press conference following her successful effort.
The choice of venue brought home her point: USA Cycling’s headquarters occupies a slice of property a handful of miles from the U.S. Olympic Training Center Velodrome where Stevens ticked off 47.980 kilometers in an hour. That distance outdoes by about 1.1 km the most recent record, which Bridie O’Donnell set in January in Australia. O’Donnell had bested Molly Shaffer Van Houweling’s world record of 46.274 km, accomplished in Mexico last September.
Seated in the velodrome, Stevens acknowledged both women. “I want to thank Molly and Bridie for doing it first,” she said. Taking on the challenge takes buckets of courage, she added. Lots could go wrong. They risked not setting new records after investing many, many hours of training and preparation, as well as – at least in Van Houweling’s case – significant expenses for travel and equipment. Brit Sarah Storey gave it a go seven months before Van Houweling, and missed the mark by 563 meters.
Following several U.S. women’s elite hour records, Van Houweling became the first in 12 years to write a new chapter for the women’s elite UCI Hour Record by beating Leontin van Moorsel’s 2003 distance of 46.065 km. Basically, Van Houweling got the sixty-minute contest ball rolling again for women. She brought attention to the challenge’s demands and idiosyncrasies.
Without her attempt, maybe Stevens would have been riding with her Boels Dolmans Cycling Team in Europe today instead of tracing 140-plus circles on a concrete track and demonstrating that women and juniors can achieve greatness when they set a goal, work toward it and show up for it.
Van Houweling attended the event as a live blogger for VeloNews. With the sting of losing the top spot now muted, she found herself excited for what Stevens might accomplish. The law school professor in her early 40’s couldn’t help absorbing ideas for improvement; she’d like to try again for what she called “at least a personal best.”
When it was suggested that she played an important role in stimulating women’s hour record endeavors, Van Houweling appeared modest, saying her early start under the new rules had its advantages. “In some ways that was part of the logistics of my attempt – getting everything lined up that I needed to while doing it soon enough that I didn’t have to compete with the likes of Evelyn Stevens’ record to set my record,” she said, chuckling.
Then she recognized the meaning of her accomplishment as an elite amateur. “To be in the record books with these stars of professional women’s cycling – being in their virtual company in that way, that’s pretty exciting.”
Van Houweling can’t wait to see who’s going to take a shot at becoming another fastest woman in the world.
Stevens looks forward to it as well. “I hope this kicks off more women trying for the hour record,” she said. “I have a feeling more women will come out and go for it.”
As a result of the well-marketed and viewed event today, quite possibly more women will go for it for the first time — for the majority, on a smaller scale, but still significant personally. Appearing in public wearing body-hugging bike shorts. Joining a group ride. Learning how to ride single track.
They will know Stevens, Van Houweling and O’Donnell are cheering for them.
For insight into Steven’s mental and physical preparation and motivation, see this VeloNews piece.