Lauren Stephens wins stage two of Joe Martin Stage Race
American takes commanding lead in the overall after strong breakaway performance
After a chaotic first stage raced in sunny and dry conditions, a nervous peloton braced for another hard day out under a downpour in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
The 69-mile (111-kilometer) course featured 4,339-feet (1,320-meters) of climbing and finished up the short but challenging Mount Sequoyah climb. Attacks quickly started to fly out of the peloton as soon as the flagged dropped to signal the start but the team rode brilliantly to control the bunch. When the race descended into the Devil’s Den, the team protected Lauren and worked together to keep her in position. On the subsequent climb, knowing Lauren was feeling great today, our squad kept the pace high. When a handful of riders attacked to gain points for the queen of the mountains jersey, Lauren went with them. By the time the group had crested the climb, only Lauren and four other riders remained. They managed to create a gap over the peloton and quickly extended their lead to around four minutes, where it would stay for the rest of the race.
“I decided to force the pace there,” Lauren said. “We dropped one of the riders, so then we're down to three. And then I tried one more time to get it down to two riders but I wasn't successful so the last 20k we had three and we all continued to work well together. At one-and-a-half kilometers to go is the bottom of a steep climb up to the finish. We slowed quite a bit so I dropped off the back and attacked into the bottom of the steep section.”
In the span of just 1,500 meters, Lauren Stephens put 37 seconds into her rivals, soloing to victory.
The American has years of experience racing the Joe Martin Stage Race, but today’s finish was different than in prior years. The team knew that today’s stage would be decisive, so they came into the race well prepared.
“This course is a little bit different. The two times I've done this finish before, I've been helping teammates so this was my first time to race this particular finish for myself. Before the race started, we went to recon to this finish. When I was riding it, I was really thinking about how I would race this climb because I hadn't raced it before so I definitely have experience from being here,” Lauren said.
Lauren now wears the race leader’s jersey with two stages remaining. Tomorrow is a 4.8-kilometer time trial in hilly Devil’s Den State Park and the following day is a 33.5-kilometer criterium through downtown Fayetteville.
“Today I just thought about how every second I could get today is a second I don't have to get tomorrow,” Lauren said. “I feel good. I'm definitely climbing really well in this peloton, so I feel like I can also win the time trial. But of course, you just never know what happens on race day. So I'm really happy to go into the TT with this lead.”
Congratulations to Lauren and the entire team on a superb ride today!