Stephens moves into race lead at Tour de l'Ardeche
Lauren Stephens leapt into the overall lead on a windswept day at the Tour de l’Ardeche after finishing second in a two-up sprint with Leigh Ann Ganzer on stage 5. With two stages remaining, Stephens is tied for first overall with Mavi Garcia. “I was happy to take second as my goal was to get as much time on GC as I could,” Stephens said after the stage. “We have two more days left, and I’m excited to be defending the jersey so late in the race. I’ve taken the jersey early in years past at the race, but I’ve never worn the jersey at the end of this race, and this year I believe I can.” On paper, today’s 134.5-kilometer route from Pont du Gard to Ruoms was one for the sprinters, but strong block headwinds created opportunities for a GC battle. The wind blew the peloton to bits in just 10km, and a breakaway of 13 took shape. Stephens and Nina Kessler were quick to jump across, aware the race leader missed the move. “I had Nina in the break with me until the first GPM, a little after halfway, where I set a tempo to be sure that Garcia couldn’t ride across on the climb. After that, the group’s organization was not as strong, and by about 35k to go, our break had only a 20-second gap.”
Knowing the field wasn’t far behind, attacks began to fly off the front of the breakaway. Stephens, Leigh-Ann Ganzer and Nicole Steigenga formed the new break and re-established a new gap of 1’14” before Steigenga was dropped, leaving Ganzer and Stephens together at the finish. “It was fantastic to see the team make the most of the race situation,” team director Rachel Hedderman said. “It was a really exciting day of racing from start to finish, with the race lead hanging in the balance all day. Lauren’s determination really paid off, and even though it looked like the break would be caught, she refused to give up. “Its been a tough five days of racing so far, and tomorrow is a hard stage, but the team is very motivated to defend the jersey.” Tomorrow's 137km stage, from Valréas to Rochemaure will be another big test in the mountains.