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Talking with Steve Sevener

Steve Sevener, aka Sev, aka 6-Gun Sevener, is a transplant originally from Wisconsin and is another prolific winner from the pro peloton who called Athens home during the prime years of his remarkable racing career.  Sev moved to Athens in the early 1990s when he was only a spry lad of 19, and over the course of the next decade grew into one of the most gifted, feared and fearless sprinters in the U.S. Sev was a prolific winner and racked up over 200 wins during his illustrious career including winning the sprint jersey at Superweek no less than 5 times, the Tour of Peru three times, and the Tour of Michigan once. Sev won races not only because of his explosive burst of speed, but also because of his bike handling ability and his uncanny ability to finagle (or force) himself into the perfect position in the closing laps or a fast race, and hold that slot until the finale, one of the most difficult feats at which fast finishers must excel. Sev was never afraid to bump shoulders, elbows and hips with the other sprinters, and in the world of professional sprinting where livelihoods and reputations are at stake, he understood the risks a sprinter must take to win are sometimes great. Sev was present during the formative years of the WBL and was also one of the major influencers whose presence and leadership helped shaped the tone, the tenor, the mood, the culture, and the overall vibe the WBL, and strands of his DNA still live and breathe in the packs of today. Sev is one of the most tenacious and scrappy individuals on the face of the planet, in large part because nothing has ever been handed to him. He’s a farm kid from the Upper Midwest and there were no free lunches growing up, he had to earn his keep, and the bike was his pathway to independence, and one he pursued with passion, focus, intensity, determination and drive, all character traits that would serve him well in life beyond the bike. We checked in with Steve and his wife, Lara, recently in their new abode in Bay Saint Louis, Mississippi:

Humble Chronicler: How are you, Sev? It’s great to finally touch base with you after you and Lara have had a chance to settle in from your recent move from Decatur. First, introduce the WBL world at large to your family.

6-Gun Sev: It’s fantastic to check in with the WBL and I have been reading all the interviews and am proud and honored to be among such an esteemed group…

H.C. …or Rogues’ Gallery!

Sev: True, I stand corrected, I’m proud to be a member of such an infamous Rogues’ Gallery! My wife, Lara, and I have three great kids, two girls and one boy: Estelle is 10 and is in 4th grade, Vivian is 8 and is in 2nd grade, and Maxwell is 4 and is in Pre-K. They’re in school here in Bay Saint Louis and Lara and I were able to adjust our work and move here from Atlanta. Lara graduated from college summa cum laude and went to law school at U.G.A. and graduated in 2001. We met in Athens when we both lived there and somehow I tricked her into marrying me—some say I out-punted my coverage. She is originally from the area and that is the reason we ended up living here—she has family here who have been a lot of help during the pandemic. Previously we lived in Candler Park in Decatur and during that time, in addition to being a fulltime mom and raising our kids, she worked as an attorney for the Southern Company, Home Depot and Hunton and Williams among others—she’s talented to say the least. We’ve been married since 2011…no, wait 2008…wait, I know, let me look at the inscription on my wedding ring. Okay, it says 11-03-07, so that must be it, November 3, 2007. You won’t bust me in the interview, will you?

H.C. Of course not, she’ll never know. Tell me a little about your move from Decatur, Georgia to Bay Saint Louis.

Sev: When the pandemic first hit and we were forced to homeschool all our kids, it quickly became clear we were in an untenable situation. Lara and I were both working full time, so we were immediately put into a bind because like so many families, we had to go to work. We both loved where we lived in Decatur and we had no plans to leave and when we initially went to Bay Saint Louis, it was on a temporary basis. We enrolled our kids in Coast Episcopal, a private school, and thought we’d close out the school year in Mississippi then go back to Decatur when the schools reopened in the fall—like most everyone, we thought the pandemic would be under control by then. But when Covid continued to linger and the public schools in Decatur remained closed, we decided to make the move to Mississippi permanent and I sold my business, Atlantis Hydroponics, as well as the brick-and-mortar stores. Atlantis Hydroponics is a business Demitri Hubbard and I started from scratch back in Athens over 20 years ago and I am very proud of what we grew the business into, but for the sake of my family, I finally accepted one of the many offers I’d had to sell over the years. I held onto two of my business Viagrow, which focuses on manufacturing all types of gardening supplies and products among other things. We have product placed in Walmart and Home Depot and we have an online presence—our goal is to become the “go-to” site for gardening supplies.   Lara works for Ernst & Young and is Global Lead Counsel - Procurement & Technology. Her job involves managing the business relationships Ernst and Young has with the dozens and dozens of other firms and providers it does business with, which as you can imagine involves complex global legal issues.

H.C. Do you enjoy living in Bay Saint Louis?

Sev: Bay Saint Louis is a small city about forty minutes from New Orleans, so we are within striking distance of incredible music venues, amazing restaurants, and a unique culture with several eye-opening attractions, especially for a naïve farm boy from the Midwest. [Editor’s interlude: Naïve my arse.] For example, I suppose many locals have been to the French Quarter so often it’s not so special, but for me, it’s so quirky and distinctive, it never gets old. Bay Saint Louis itself is located on the Gulf Coast on the west side of the Bay of St. Louis and has a population of about 15,000. It did take a minute to settle into the slower-paced lifestyle, but our kids are happy and enrolled in a quality school, and Lara and I have adjusted our work and are both happy with our routine. Life is hectic with three small kids, but very rewarding. [Editor’s interlude: Sev’s kids have a lot of energy. A lot of energy.]  We do miss our friends in Decatur though.

H.C.: Where did you grow up?

Sev: I grew up in Grafton, Wisconsin, about 20 miles north of Milwaukee, so I am a huge Green Bay Packers fan. I lived on a farm where we grew our own food, and raised chickens, turkeys and cows. We kept horses for fun and I did a lot of “horse apple shoveling” growing up, which is what we called …well, you know what it is. Grafton is very close to Lake Michigan so we fished a good bit too.  

H.C. You were a skater in your early days. Tell us about that.

Sev: My parents started taking the family to a “Social Roll” at a nearby skating rink on family night and we’d skate for fun. I started speed skating and racing by age 10 and eventually joined a skate team. My parents purchased a roller-skating rink when I was about 12 and then I could and did train all the time. I also set the record for 1,500 meters when I was 12 years old. A lot of my fellow skaters and I trained on our bikes and that’s what lead me to cycling. So had I not ever roller-skated I would probably not have made my way to the bike. [Editor’s interlude: I have seen Sev roller skate and he can skate backwards, on one leg, and even with a boombox on his shoulder—the boy’s got game.]

H.C. How did you transition from speed skating to bike racing?

Sev: One day I entered a bike race on the track in Kenosha and I won. It was the Citizens category, age 13-14. I raced Citizens because it didn’t require a racing license and I couldn’t afford one, but the bug bit me after I won. I found out the track sponsored a series of upcoming races and there was a nice racing bike for the winner of my age bracket, so I talked my parents into purchasing a license for me and my mom drove me to the track in Kenosha every week and I won the racing bike, a Roberts Track bike I was so proud of. I also started winning $100 - $300 a week, which for a kid without a driver’s license was an enormous amount. I was 14 years old with a new bike and a pocketful of cash and I was all in at that point.

H.C.: How did you progress from that point?

Sev: I joined the Kenosha Wheelman and raced on the track and also began racing on the road. The 7-11 Team was the biggest team in the U.S. at the time and there was a 7-11 Juniors Team with about 7 riders or so who lived in or close to Wisconsin, Robbie Ventura, Bobby Julich and Kent Savitt among others, so I was butting heads with those guys right out of the gate. I remember when I was racing in the 15–16-year-old category, my mom drove me 6 hours to a national level race in Minnesota. The top 3 finishers earned an automatic bid to Nationals and the field was stacked with riders from 7-11. I finished 2nd in the race but was relegated for a yellow line violation. I was devastated but I had the attention of all the riders on 7-11. Later that year I was run over by a car and everyone assumed cycling was over for me forever, much less nationals later that same year. I somehow managed to recover and in another showdown with the entire 7-11 Team, even though I didn’t have the nice equipment they had, I still bridged a 2-minute gap to Tommy Matush, a 7-11 rider who was solo, and though he beat me in the sprint, they asked me to join the team after the race. So I started racing with the 7-11 Junior Team when I was 16 and in 1986 and we raced Nationals on the famed Morgul-Bismark course. We also began running into another racer our age at the national races about that time, Lance Armstrong. He didn’t know how to race a bike yet, but he won every damn time trial he entered.

H.C.: What teams did you race for after 7-11?

Sev: After 7-11, I raced for Louis Rich Turkey with Paul King. Paul and I also raced for Turin, a team based out of Chicago, and I met Chris Waskevich, Chris Hayes and Lyoyd Tabing among others and we had a very strong line-up. Then I raced with Zenith Data Systems, Duckhead, Athens Bandag and Zaxby’s. We had strong lineups on all the teams I raced for but I think I scored my best wins during the mid-nineties when I raced for Bill Riecke’s Athens Bandag Team.

H.C: At what point did you move to Athens.

Sev: Zenith Data Systems folded and Al Jeffers put together Duckhead, a national level team based in Athens, so I moved there in the early 90s. I fell in love with the town, the cycling scene was fantastic, and it was a college town with a good vibe. We had raced the Athens Twilight before so we had some familiarity with the town. Paul King came down for school around the same time, I met this new lawyer who rode a bike named POP ( daddy of the roads ) AKA Crowe, plus a slew of others who were rolling into town during the same period, we started knocking out very long training rides during the winter on the weekends, others joined in, and soon we were calling it the Winter Bike League. It’s incredible the WBL is still rolling because it’s fast approaching 30 years. Good night, how old is Crowe? {Editor’s Interlude: None of your damn business.]

H.C.: What do you remember about the first WBL rides?

Sev: Ha, a common theme running through these interviews is we had to rely on Crowe for directions in the early days of the WBL because the rest of us were from out of town and we didn’t know the roads. So Crowe would pick a city and we ride towards it on roads we knew up to a point but many times we were flying by the seat of our pants as far as directions and getting lost was not a rare occurrence. But the rides were a blast and we always made it home no worse for the wear, and I made great friendships in Athens and in the WBL. Some of the others I remember who were riding in the WBL in those days were Doc Moye, Robert Rivers, Greg Morocco, Paul King, Jason Spruill, Ryan Barnett, Jon Atkins, Clay Parks, Chris and Tina Pic, Nat Dunn, Bill Oyster, Eric Lemaire, David Martin (RIP), Drew Johnston, Jesse Lawler, Tommy Mulkey, Jeff Lee and Canada Dave Irving. There are many, many others.

H.C.: Do you have a favorite WBL route?

Sev: Alto is so damn hard that it’s tough to beat. It wasn’t my favorite because it was the most enjoyable but because it was a great way to gauge your fitness against others as the season approached. It could be either a rude awakening or confirmation your winter season has gone as planned. If you’re having a bad day on Alto you’re going to be exposed, there is simply no way to hide on a 6-hour ride over 115 miles with over 7,000 feet of climbing. It makes me tired to think about it.

H.C.: What are some of your more memorable wins?

Sev: Winning the sprint jersey atSuperweek for 5 years in a row (1995-2000) was special because the races are all close to my home. Superweek is a famous series of two weeks of races, both road races and crits, in Wisconsin that attracted an international field. Sprint points were awarded in all the races and there was a race everyday so to win the jersey was exhausting because I had to race so much—I had to learn to gauge my efforts. Over the years I won about half-a-dozen individual races including Whitefish Bay and the Sheboygan Crit, and those were always special. Wining individual races were always more difficult because I was using so much energy sprinting during the mid-race primes for points, so I couldn’t afford to sit back and wait to unload in one furious kick like others. Winning the sprint jersey in Peru for 3 years was also special, as was the sprint jersey in the Tour of Michigan. Winning Gene Dixon’s Tour de Town in the rain was also a memorable win because it was such a hard, technical course. Winning the Quad City Crit twice is something that’s memorable, as was winning the Moline Crit in the same series. Winning a Worlds Qualifier by going solo when I was 17 and rode for 7-11 is still special. One of the most memorable still is when I won a stage in Peru and after the finish I was literally mobbed by the crowd. Over 50,000 people lined the 2-mile circuit and they were so excited they rushed me after the finish and were grabbing my clothes, my hair, my bike, anything. The police had to surround me with batons drawn and riot shields up and circle around me as we pushed through the crowd. Now I know what Mick Jagger feels like.

H.C.: What’s one of the funnier things you’ve had happen during a race?

Sev: In 1994 I was racing the Atlanta Grand Prix, an international level race, and lots of big name Euro riders were in the field. The race was over 100 miles and we raced on 7-mile circuit through downtown Atlanta. I was racing up 10th Street and riding by Peidmont Park at one point and all the motorcycles carrying cameramen (gender neutral) started circling around me and pointing the cameras at me. My imagination ran wild and I started thinking I was being singled out as a potential winner and someone to watch. I tried to look cool and thought, “I hope they are saying some good things about me. It wouldn’t be totally unreasonable that I am a favorite for today, especially if I get to the line with leaders, I am going pretty good.” Suddenly, I felt super gassed, my tempo dropped, and riders started flying by me on a little hill. I started to panic and couldn’t figure it out. Then, I realized someone was pulling on my bike from behind and I turned and started to yell, “WHAT THE F---,” then I said, “Oh, Lance, What’s up?” Turns out Lance Armstrong was tugging on my rear triangle with two fingers and snickering—he was the one being filmed. Lance and I knew each other from our younger days and he was saying “Hello.” He was wearing his World Championship jersey he’d won the year before so it was pretty cool, and the clip made it on television. I was riding beside Crowe at the time and introduced him then hoped he wouldn’t say something to embarrass me. [Editor’s interlude: That little quip is uncalled for.]

H.C. I can’t let you go until I ask about your famous Athens Twilight after-parties. Can you tell us a little about those?

Sev: It’s true, every year after Twilight I hosted an after-party and at one point I think the entire pro peloton knew about it. I’m sworn to secrecy when it comes to my after-party but let’s just say Jell-O shooters were always involved and my hot tub was always cranking. Sleep was not in the cards the night of the after-party and I’ll always remember the night Jonas Carney stayed up all night after the Twilight and won the crit in Monroe the next day. Good times. I think that was when Chris Waskevich coined the derisive phrase “disco sprinters” to refer to Jonas and myself and our ilk.

H.C.: You are exactly right! Waskevich, like all of us, reviled the disco sprinters in public discourse but secretly wanted to be one! Thanks for taking time to take part in our wintertime chat series, Sev, and we wish you and Lara and your amazing family much success during the year.

Sev: Thanks very much and it’s been great to check in. Here’s to a great 2021 and I will see everyone soon. In the meantime, Long Live the WBL!

Humble C

(March 2021)