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Stevens on track to take down Longo’s all-time hour record

COLORADO SPRINGS (VN) — A push from Davis Phinney, a slow roll-out, and two-time U.S. national time trial champion Evelyn Stevens set off on the fifth of six efforts in Thursday’s training plan, 10 days out from her hour record attempt.

“I’m very confident she can do it,” Phinney said, smiling. “She’s tough.”

If Thursday’s track session is anything to go by (and it is), Phinney’s confidence is well-placed. Stevens is on pace not just to surpass the 46.882 kilometer mark set by Bridie O’Donnell in January, but to smash it. Her goal is more than 1.2km farther, 48.149km, the distance set by Jeannie Longo in 1996 using a superwoman position and who knows what else.

The hour is a combination of math problem and mental fortitude, and that’s where Thursday’s session will prove useful beyond mere physiological adaptation.

The training day consisted of a series of six progressive efforts, starting well below her target pace and finishing above it. Data from her power meter and an oxygen sensor on her right quad was sent in real time to coach Neal Henderson’s laptop. After each session, her blood lactate was tested. All of the data will combine to produce a pacing strategy for next Saturday.

A final session behind a motorbike, driven by Henderson and outfitted with twin GoPro cameras, was performed at Steven’s target pace of 48kph, but, thanks to the draft, well below her threshold. It was an effort intended to train the mental side of the hour record equation, allowing Stevens to feel the speed and the banking at full throttle without actually dipping into the red. Riders can’t check power figures during the hour record, and so gaining a feel for the pace is crucial.

“Thinking is bad. Just going is what it’s going to come down to,” Stevens said. “I’m learning, feeling it. One of the best things I’ve done is just thinking, ‘pedal.’ Because if I start thinking 53 minutes, 12 minutes, if I think time, I’m just going to be in a dark place.”

Stevens will use the front-facing go-pro footage, recorded at her target pace, for further mental training.

Her attempt takes place at the 7-11 Velodrome in Colorado Springs, just next door to USA Cycling’s headquarters. The formerly open-air concrete track was covered by a massive dome late last year, making it usable for a record attempt (wind makes any outdoor track unsuitable). Located at 6,000 feet, Stevens will see a benefit of lower aerodynamic drag, but the rough surface (relative to a wooden track) will increase rolling resistance slightly. The high altitude track in Aquascalientes, Mexico is faster, but Stevens wanted to stay closer to home.

“Being near Boulder is huge, it’s my happy bubble. It’s exciting to be an American trying to break it in the U.S., too,” she said. “To go to Mexico, maybe it’s faster, but then you have to lug all your stuff. I think it’s kind of nice to be able to do it where you’re from.”

Henderson, who as Stevens’s coach is less concerned with happy bubbles and more concerned with happy math, still believes that the Colorado Springs track is a good option.

“On the whole, it’s a net gain versus sea level,” he said. Despite the rougher surface, the lower air density in Colorado is worth between one and two kilometers, depending on rider speed.

Specialized has provided a track version of its Shiv time trial frame, and Stevens will run a pair of Zipp discs (narrower on the front, and stiffer on the rear) along with an ultra-thin track version of Specialized’s Turbo Cotton tires on race day. “There are two of these bikes in the world right now, and I have both,” Henderson said.

Early in the process, she went to Specialized’s wind tunnel to get a precise drag figure for both her position and her hour record equipment, figures that Henderson used to perform the basic calculations that suggested she could take the record. Her position remains the same as in any time trial, and that’s a good thing.

“Only three riders I’ve tested have been able to produce their best power in a time trial position,” Henderson said. “The first is Rohan Dennis. He set a PR during his hour record. The second is Taylor Phinney. The third is Evelyn Stevens.”

The precise power figure she’ll be shooting for is still a secret. But watching her power figures bounce up and down on Henderson’s laptop during her 48km effort — her race-day target — suggests something in the neighborhood of 270-290 watts. That would be enough for her slight, 120-pound frame to hit the mark.

Assuming Stevens can hold the power, her coach knows what she’s capable of — she will break the record next Saturday, February 27. Her aerodynamics have been quantified, her pacing set with the help of Thursday’s efforts. That Stevens and her team are shooting far beyond the current record is an indication of their confidence.