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Evelyn Stevens knows it's time to leave the road behind

Evelyn Stevens competed in two Summer Olympics for Team USA (London 2012 and Rio 2016). AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty

Evelyn Stevens burst into professional cycling with an irresistible backstory, an ideal engine for endurance and -- as she was always quick to mention -- the very rawest of bike-handling skills.

She'll end her career seven years later at the world championships tucked into the precise formation of one of the sport's top teams in its most technical event.

Stevens, 33, never could have imagined the topography of the path from her former desk on Wall Street to Sunday's team time trial in Doha, Qatar.

Hooked after entering a cyclocross race on a whim, Stevens signed up for a road cycling clinic in New York's Central Park in 2008. The following year, she quit her job in investment banking, sold or gave away most of her possessions and began pedaling toward parts unknown.

She signed her first pro contract before the 2010 season and learned racing from the ground up, sometimes literally. Along the way, she carved out an identity as one of the most versatile riders in the peloton: a time trialist and climber as well as an intrepid super-domestique who helped other riders close out victories.

"I rode for the best teams, with the best women and the best equipment," Stevens said from Nice, France, where she was training for worlds last week. "There's no event that I didn't do that I wanted to do. I didn't accomplish all of my goals, but I got the chance to go after them."

A two-time U.S. individual time trial champion and double world championship time trial medalist (silver in 2012, bronze in 2014), Stevens also won the prestigious La Fleche Wallonne one-day classic and several stage races around the world. But her distinction was as a rider who drew her own finish lines.

In 2014, frustrated by the arbitrary length restrictions on women's stage races, she devised her own "Grand Tour," stringing together 17 consecutive race days in Europe starting with the women's Giro Rosa and continuing with Germany's Thüringen Rundfahrt, which she won.

Last February, Stevens set a new women's hour record -- covering 47.980 kilometers in the allotted time -- in Colorado Springs, an accomplishment that drew 50,000 viewers on a livestream. She still can't believe that many people wanted to watch her ride around in circles.

"Looking back on it, it was insane I even thought to do that," she said. "I'm gonna go out and ride for an hour, close to 48k, have everybody watching me -- pretty much all you can do is fail. Now I'm so proud of it, as I get farther away from it. Proud of the result, taking that risk, the experience, the people around me who helped me with it. It's a lovely process to get to these goals."

It was a process Stevens knew nothing about as a wide-eyed newbie whose only prior team experience was as a tenacious baseliner on the Dartmouth College tennis team. She was initially stunned that teams employed someone to fill her water bottles and do her laundry, but she got used to it.

Other adaptations came a lot harder. It took years for Stevens to feel comfortable in the tight quarters of the peloton. She forced herself to fight crosswinds and navigate wet roads, but bad-weather riding was never her strong suit. She refined her descending skills by following young superstar Taylor Phinney on the roads around Boulder, Colorado -- part of the Phinney family's larger embrace that included mentorship and a second home.

Stevens carved careful tracks down the ski slopes of her youth rather than schussing down at full speed. Much about road cycling remained a mental stretch for her naturally risk-averse personality. "Every day I got on the bike, I was facing fears," she said. Those fears came partially to fruition in March 2013, when Stevens crashed heavily on a traffic circle in a race in Italy. She suffered a concussion and required 40 stitches and some dental work to reconstruct one of the most contagious smiles in cycling.

Stevens had a quiet Olympics in Rio. She rode valiantly in support of Mara Abbott's heart-cracking fourth-place effort in the road race, but blustery conditions on the day of the time trial thwarted her quest for a medal in her second Summer Games.

She is leaving the sport with no regrets, including her late introduction to it. Stevens was comfortable in her own skin, if not always in the saddle, when she dedicated herself to cycling in her mid-20s. She knew she always had the safety net of a college education and work experience if things didn't work out.

Stevens' success obviated the need for that exit strategy until now. She's contemplating picking back up in the financial field, although she frets at the thought of a more sedentary lifestyle and already envisions fidgeting at a standing desk. Mostly, she's looking forward to more time in San Francisco with her husband of one year, Brett Baker, a program manager at Twitter.

"I think what made me a successful bike racer and made me who I am on the bike is the fact that I started late," Stevens said. "I had to really play catch-up. It made for some big struggles on the bike. Maybe if I'd started when I was 15 years old I would have been more comfortable in the corners. But would I actually have gotten myself in that position?"

She automatically qualified for the road race in Doha, but declined the spot. Her farewell will come with the Netherlands-based Boels-Dolmans team in the team time trial, which is contested by trade teams rather than national squads. Stevens was a member of Specialized-lululemon's three straight gold-medal lineups in the event from 2012 to '14 and would love to go out on another winning note with Boels-Dolmans, the 2015 TTT silver medalist.

"I'm prepping for the team time trial, but I've stepped back and realized how intense that lifestyle can be," she said. "I started to itch for something else, to try another challenge.

"I know I could physically continue to compete at the top level for a lot more time. But I almost feel like I'm getting comfortable and kinda have figured out how to do it, and that's when you need to go. I love riding my bicycle. Not one ounce of me is sick of riding my bike. Now, do I want to go with 200 women and [speed] down a small street in Holland? No. I'm done.''