Joe Martin Stage Race: Lauren Stephens takes stage 2 solo victory and GC lead atop Mount Sequoyah
Lauren Stephens (EF Education-TIBCO-SVB) surged away from her breakaway companions on the final climb and won stage 2 for pro women atop Mount Sequoyah at the Walmart Joe Martin Stage Race.
Emily Ehrlich (Virginia's Blue Ridge-Twenty24) accelerated and passed Emilie Fortin (Cynisca Cycling) just before the finish banner to grab second place, as both riders finished 37 seconds behind Stephens.
"The whole team was there helping. You know, I had Noah, I had Juan, Sergio, Sergei, like everyone was there," Stephens said later. "We had everyone lined up helping, you know surfing the wheels and just right before we came in at the right time. And then on the climb, I felt really good. I just punched it at that 450-meter wall. At the final bit, just kind of surfed the wheels and 200 to go, and didn't look back.
"For sure, you know, visibility and like, in the corners the field was spread out so much. It was kind of the worst possible time for the rain to start right before we descended down into Devil's Den. But yeah, it kind of put the race in a stalemate for a while which saves my legs, you know. I was able to keep it chill, unlike yesterday."
The trio broke away with a fourth rider, Diana Peñuela (DNA Pro Cycling), after the queen of the mountains marker halfway through the race and never looked back. Remnants of the peloton crossed the finish above Fayetteville, Arkansas well behind the trio, Sarah Van Dam (DNA Pro Cycling) and Maeghan Easler (Roxo Racing) the only pair to stop the clock under three minutes, at 2:59 back.
Stage 1 winner Skylar Schneider (L39ion of Los Angeles) finished with a small group of riders in ninth place, 3:02 behind Stephens, and lost the leader’s pink jersey to the EF Education rider. Both Stephens and Ehrlich started the day in the top 10 of the GC, Stephens 11 seconds off the best time in fourth and Ehrlich 13 seconds back in seventh.
How it unfolded
The second stage at Joe Martin Stage Race offered the women's peloton a 66.5-mile (107.1km) race out of Walker Park in Fayetteville, and then back into the city limits for the traditional steep climb of Mount Sequoyah.
The lolly-pop-shaped route included two sprints, one at 13.9 miles (22km) and also at the finish, along with two QOMs at 36 miles (56.7km) and also at the finish.
Unlike the men’s stage 2 which took place earlier on Friday, the pro women’s race started with sunny skies and a flurry of attacks on the large loop from teams Amy D Foundation and DNA Pro Cycling. The peloton remained intact for the first 25 miles, largely due to the pace-setting by Cynisca Cycling and EF Education-TIBCO-SVB, as the peloton descended into Devils Den.
Emily Newsom (Roxo Racing) crashed on the descent with organisers reporting that she was transported to hospital.
At the top of the QOM, Emily Ehrlich (Virginia's Blue Ridge-Twenty24) took full points ahead of Emilie Fortin (Cynisca Cycling) and Lauren Stephens (EF Education- TIBCO-SVB).
As the second half of the race developed after the classified climb, Stephens set the pace along with Fortin, Ehrlich and Colombian champion Diana Peñuela (DNA Pro Cycling). After 30 minutes of riding, they held a 30-second gap.
The quartet began to unravel with 15 miles to go, Peñuela losing touch on the rolling terrain. The trio of Stephens, Fortin and Ehrlich pulled away quickly, leaving the DNA Pro rider 25 seconds back, while the peloton had 2:15 to make up.
As the trio made its way back into Fayetteville, they had pushed the gap from the peloton to as much as 3:45, setting up a battle for the final six miles to the finish, the final third of that tackling pitches of 13-15.5%.
At the bottom of the ascent and with the roads still dry, Ehrlich remained seated while Stephens and Fortin stood on the pedals, but none of the riders showed outward signs of fatigue.
With 2km to go, Stephens attacked at the front and rode away from her breakaway companions. Erhlich and Schuetter matched pedal strokes on the final kilometre through the neighbourhood streets, but never got the EF Education rider back in their sights.
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