Shelley Evans (Peanut Butter & Co. TWENTY12) went into the Tour of New Zealand looking for some training and left the race with the overall leader’s jersey in her debut UCI stage race.
“It went way better than expected. I went into it thinking it would be a great training race for me before Worlds,” stated Evans. Evans has been selected to represent the US in the upcoming UCI Track World Championships in Copenhagen, Denmark, scheduled for March 24-28. She will be competing in the Points Race and the Scratch Race.
“Qatar was a really bad experience for me,” continued Evans. “I didn’t race well at all. My head wasn’t in it. I got better everyday but was not happy with the result. When I heard I had the opportunity to race in New Zealand I was ecstatic. Here’s an opportunity to get my fitness up. Racing is the best training. I can’t get that training anywhere else. I was really grateful for the opportunity from USA Cycling.”
“We went into the race knowing we had Amber Neben, one of the best riders in the race by far. We were all planning on racing for her. It just turned that the first couple of stages had some climbs and we were able to drop some of the sprinters. It came down to sprints and I was able to win the first day. After getting one victory I was pretty stoked and I wanted to run with it. Our team director was pretty unbelievable and really brought the best in all of us. He believed in me and told me that I would be in the leader’s jersey. I looked him in the eye and told him, okay, I’ll do it.”
Evans proved to be very difficult to beat in a sprint at the Tour of New Zealand. She held off an attack from Giant Pro Cycling in stage 2. “I won the first day and the second day was pretty similar,” stated Evans as she described the stage win. “The stage was difficult but not difficult enough to drop me. I was able to sprint for a win and now I am in the yellow jersey with 20 seconds on people.”
Amber Neben won the Time Trial in stage 4, but Evans was able to finish 24 seconds behind Neben in second place. The stage 4 win was a relief for the USA National Team. They made a tactical error in stage 3. They allowed the lead group to get away. “We sort of botched the circuit race (stage 3),” explained Evans. “It was difficult without the radios because we didn’t know how far the break was. The team rode so professionally. It was unbelievable. We come from different trade teams. We came together on the National team and rode like a team.”
“I didn’t sprint for the finish on the circuit race but we caught them on the line and I did not lose much time. I was really confident. The team director then told me that I really earned the yellow jersey and he wanted to keep it on my shoulders. He told the team that we came into this race thinking Amber was going to be the leader…but that the race was coming down to the sprints and I proved that I could do it. I believed I earned it but the team gave me the responsibility to hold the yellow jersey. I was happy to do that.”
Evans proved that she could win. In the final stage, a 35km criterium in Wellington, Evans won a 20 strong sprint and claimed her 4th stage win and the overall title.
“The last day was a crit. I was pretty happy because we are crit racers here in the States. That is what we do. It was wonderful to end in a crit. I received a leadout from Amber Neben, which was unbelievable. Somebody of her class giving me a leadout is something I never would have imagined. It was a great experience. I left the race feeling very confident and strong.
Evans did not rest on her Tour of New Zealand laurels. She and her Peanut Butter & Co. TWENTY12 teammates headed for the Merco Cycling Classic last week where she placed second behind Ina Teutenberg (HTC-Columbia) in both the Downtown Grand Prix and in the Foothills Road Race. This proved to be a very successful weekend for Evans.
“I am excited about Worlds now,” Evans stated. “My focus is 100% on Worlds now.”
(Note: Evans is currently racing the Tour of Murrieta. She placed second in the criterium, third in the time trial and is sitting in second place in the Omnium after these two events behind teammate Lauren Tamayo)