By Scott Downes
It sure looked lonely out there, a single rider circling 333 meters of concrete track for sixty minutes. Yes, some 200 people – coaches, mechanics, media, photographers, and fans – milled around the infield of the 7-11 Velodrome at the US Olympic Training Center on Saturday. Spectators shared updates with friends and followers via Instagram and Twitter. And the VeloNews livestream brought what was happening to the screens of tens of thousands of viewers. But Evelyn Stevens looked alone out there – her only contact being lap times shown on the tablet at the end of coach Neal Henderson’s outstretched arm.
The Hour Record is a strange, solitary pursuit — unique in that it’s one of the few if only races comprised of one individual participant. Bike races, triathlons, time trials, running events, and most any other competition include dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of other participants who all share variations of the same agony and triumph. But here, in the Hour Record, there is only one racer, the experience is hers alone, and the rest of us are just intimate observers to the suffering.
Before Stevens clipped in for the noontime start, she warmed up on a trainer behind a small tent, away from the prying eyes of fans and media. She made her way back and forth between the locker room a couple of times, weaving nonchalantly through a few friends and fans who offered quick hugs and casual fist bumps.
To the uninitiated, an official world record attempt looked like the launch of a spacecraft. The command center full of laptops and monitors. Photographers and videographers scattered around the track. Throngs of fans along the rail documenting every move with cameras and smartphones. And UCI officials examining the bike like it was the space shuttle. The venue itself – with its newly erected dome – felt otherworldly, like “the Hab” in The Martian. Entrance required instructions to close the outer door before opening the inner door. “Don’t worry, it won’t deflate or anything,” assured a USA Cycling staffer.
Stevens’ self-selected playlist began over the loudspeakers about fifteen minutes prior to the start. The first selection was the theme music from The Last of the Mohicans, followed a few songs later by a remix of Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major. These were meant to calm the nerves, focus the mind, and relax the body before the punishment that awaited.
More fans gradually filled the rails around north half of the infield – mothers and sons, and fathers and daughters, there to watch history being made. Mechanics made final preparations to the bike, in full view of those gathered around. Stevens emerged from her prep area, snapped on her helmet and shoes, and rolled to the start line.
The place crackled. The start horn sounded. And she was off, amid hoots and hollers.
The build up of the first few laps was electric. Stevens set a smooth, steady pace. Fans cheered and snapped pictures. Things settled of course, as there was nothing left to do except wait for anyone who wasn’t Evelyn Stevens.
Bach gave way to more excitable tracks, as Stevens’ playlist moved through Shut Up and Dance, Get Lucky, Uptown Funk, and other pop favorites from Macklemore to Michael Jackson. A few people chuckled when The Beach Boys’ I Get Around came on later in the hour. Stevens did go round and round, for 144 laps with remarkably consistent times.
“I wonder what is going through her mind?” asked a woman standing at the rail of the back straightaway, just after the half hour mark. “Like is she thinking about Jimmy Johns or what?”
This was, in a way, a lunch ride.
The closer the clock ticked towards sixty minutes, the more anxious and excited the crowd got. More claps and cheers, more cowbells and clanging on the rails. Meanwhile, a toddler occupied himself in a corner of the infield by doing mini hot laps on his red Strider bike, oblivious to the historic effort taking places just yards away.
At around lap 110, Stevens began wobbling out of the fourth turn on successive laps, knocking into the bumpers on the inside line, and reminding spectators of the fragility of something so ambitious. The margin of error is just so small. One slip, one mechanical, or one bad lap is all it would take to derail her from her goal. Yet it somehow still felt inevitable that she would succeed.
And that’s exactly what she did. 47.980 km. 29.81 miles. In one hour. A new world record.
Afterwards, Stevens shook hands, shared hugs, and flashed smiles all around. At the ensuing press conference, with media and fans gathered, she thanked her coaches, support team, and USA Cycling for helping make this possible. She spoke about her strategy and her mindset. She acknowledged the intense preparation and deep suffering that goes into such a feat. And she graciously thanked the attending crowd for their vocal support.
People began to disperse. Officials congratulated one another. Mechanics breathed sighs of relief. And caterers prepped for a VIP buffet at the other end of the infield. Stevens remained seated at the table, greeting each of the fans waiting in line to meet her. One little girl, maybe 3 or 4 years old, was just tall enough to slide her ticket over to get an autograph.
Stevens was definitely not alone. Except in the record book.
Also read Nicole Odell’s Front-Row Recap:
As the end of the hour approached, you could see in Evie’s face she was digging deep. The crowd got louder, most of them congregated near the start line area, cheering and pounding on the plexiglass on the railing. Cowbells could be heard…