Stephens wins 2020 Tour de l'Ardeche
When Lauren Stephens took second overall at the 2015 Tour de l'Ardeche, she made it a personal mission to someday reach the top step.
Today, the Texan realized that vision as she slipped the pink leaders jersey over her head on the final day, sealing the overall title after seven days of demanding racing across southern France's hilly terrain. Stephens also collected the green jersey as winner of the points classification.
Team TIBCO-Silicon Valley Bank couldn't have asked for a more motivating outcome in its first European stage race of the season. Along with Stephens' GC win, Kristen Faulkner soloed to stage honors on day four.
"Lauren proved that she is more than capable of winning at this level, showing a tremendous amount of confidence, calmness, grit, and determination this week," team director Rachel Hedderman said.
Stage 7 - Savasse to Beauchastel
The final stage was relatively short (98km) and flat. Hedderman said many teams had different priorities, which worked in the team's favor.
"It turned out to be good for us, as the sprinters' teams wanted to control the race for a stage win," Hedderman said. "Our focus was to ride at the front when necessary to make sure Lauren was protected and in position at key points in the race."
The team brought Stephens safely to the line, and Nina Kessler topped the day off with a fourth place in the sprint.
It takes everyone
Tour de l'Ardeche had plenty of highs and lows, and each rider played an essential role in creating a successful outcome.
"I'm super proud of how the team rode this week," Hedderman said. "From day one, everyone fully committed to the team goal. Before the race, we said that our goal was to win the overall, and fulfilling that is pretty sweet. I am most proud of how the team came together, stepped up, and took on the challenge."
After surviving "the hardest race she has ever done" at last year's Ardeche, Leah Dixon proved how far she'd come, initiating the daylong breakaway on stage 3.
"Leah made a comeback after a tough stage 2," Stephens said. "She was straight in the break on stage 3. This allowed me to recover from cramping on stage 2 and give me the legs to win the race."
It's been a year since her last stage race, but Shannon "Dash" Malseed was still a reliable presence at the front each day, ensuring the team was represented in early attacks while looking after Stephens.
"When I lost her wheel, Nina was straight on the radio directing Dash, 'move left. Okay, good. Now, move back right,” and boom, I was right back on Shannon's wheel. She dropped me off in perfect position for the final climb."
A crash might have put a premature end to Diana Peñuela's race, but she remained an integral part of the group, from helping with dinner prep at the campground to handing out bottles in the feed zone.
"It was like she was with us the whole way," Stephens said. "Diana and I have spent the last month training together preparing for this race. On stage one, I slipped toward the back as she was coming back from a mechanical. As she approached me, she said we had to move up immediately. Without a question, I was straight on her wheel. She was right. Just as we got to the front, the attacks started going."
Team leader Nina Kessler played a pivotal role in guiding the team each day.
"Hearing her on the radio choreograph the approach into the final climb today was very cool," Hedderman said.
Winning stage 4, Kristen Faulkner surpassed all expectations in her first race in Europe. Her sheer strength and willingness to learn have already made her a valuable teammate.
"On stage 6, her job was to stay on my wheel to help me if anything went wrong," Stephens said. "Multiple people informed me that I had a “bodyguard.”
"And last but not least, mechanic Adrian (Hedderman), and soigneurs Jan Goessens and Tara Gins worked so hard and deserved to be mentioned," Hedderman said. "This race is an incredibly tough one for the staff with day after day of early starts and late finishes, but their hard work meant everything ran smoothly, and the riders always had what they needed to be at their best."