Evelyn Stevens bought her first racing bicycle while working as a fund manager in 2008. Nervous of New York’s traffic, she left it in her Manhattan apartment and hung bags on its aluminum frame.
Yesterday, she raced at the London Olympics.
It was the latest notch in the cycling career of 29-year-old Stevens, who in 2009 quit her Wall Street job helping to manage a $480 million fund at Gleacher Mezzanine to try and become a professional rider.
The 5-foot-5 (1.7-meter) Stevens said she’s using savings from banking bonuses to “cushion” the blow of lower earnings. She began her career as an investment-banking analyst at Lehman Brothers Inc., leaving in 2007 before the bank collapsed.
“I was able to save a lot of my bonuses,” Stevens said. “I don’t have to survive on a $10,000 or $8,000 purse from cycling. If I hadn’t been in investment banking, I wouldn’t have been able to be at the Olympics.”
She was 24th in yesterday’s Olympic women’s road race, finishing among a group including teammate Shelley Olds that was 27 seconds behind gold-medal winner Marianne Voss of the Netherlands. There were 66 riders at the start.
Kristin Armstrong, the U.S.’s defending time-trial gold medalist, crashed about halfway through the 87-mile race in driving rain and finished about 20 seconds further back just ahead of the other American, Amber Neben.
Stevens said it took her about 10 miles of riding to get accustomed to the thousands of spectators lining the route.
“It was surreal, I was kind of staring at everything that was going on,” Stevens said, a rain coat draped around her shoulders at the finish line. “It was literally one of the most incredible experiences of my life.”
Stevens's other cycling marks include a stage win in the women’s Giro d’Italia, victory at Belgium’s Fleche Wallonne and two U.S. national time-trial titles. In her third year as a professional, she said she is still learning her new trade on a team sponsored by Morgan Hill, California-based Specialized Bicycle Components Inc.
While there’s a “big discrepancy” from what she once earned, Stevens said her quality of life has improved. After leaving behind a 90-hour working week in banking, she lives in Girona, Spain during the European racing season and Boulder, Colorado.
“In New York there’s pressure, and it’s kind of negative, everyone was stressed,” Stevens, dressed in U.S. team tracksuit and lycra three-quarter length pants at the London Olympic Park, said July 27. “I don’t get so much money now but my quality of living has gone up.”
Back in 2008, Stevens, who had played on the Dartmouth College tennis team, said she was nervous about taking her first $1,000 aluminum Cannondale Corp. bike out for a ride in New York traffic for the first time.
“I was very uncertain about how to ride it,” Stevens said. “I was so nervous of traffic. Then finally I started taking it up the West Side Highway and I would ride it all the way up to the 96th street and cut across.”
She said she built up confidence after a class at the Century Road Club Association at 5 a.m. with 50 other women including actors, lawyers and teachers in Central Park. She soon started to win interstate races.
Stevens would cycle on a home trainer after work from 9 p.m. until midnight to prepare for the weekend events, Phil Krall, a former colleague at Gleacher, said.
“On Monday mornings at work, I would ask her how she did,” Krall said by telephone. “She would always say ‘Oh, I won.’”
Gleacher, which specializes in buying debt in leveraged buyouts, has since been renamed Arrowhead Mezzanine LLC and relocated to Greenwich, Connecticut, said Krall, who is senior managing director.
Stevens worked on deals including Lehman’s 2008 acquisition of a stake in bicycle component maker Sram International Corp., Krall said. Her next assignment is a nine-day stage race in France in August
“In investment banking when you’ve finished a deal, you get a gift for what you’ve done,” Stevens said. “But there’s nothing in the world that comes close to winning a race, it’s the best feeling in the world.”