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American women star at Tour de l’Ardeche as Ganzar wins stage, Stephens takes GC lead

Lauren Stephens has attacked into the lead at the Tour de l'Ardeche with two stages remaining.

American cyclists are on a tear at the Tour de l’Ardèche stage race in France.

On Monday U.S. rider Leigh Ann Ganzar of Rally Cycling won the fifth stage of the race, a 134.5-kilometer route from Pont du Gard to Ruoms, in a two-up breakaway with countrywoman Lauren Stephens of Tibco-Silicon Valley Bank.

The race was buffeted by crosswinds throughout the stage, and aggressive riding saw a 12-rider breakaway go up the road early. American rider Emma White made the move and continued her lead in the ‘Rush’ classification, which awards points at intermediate sprints.

Stephens and her teammate Nina Kessler also made the breakaway, and the two helped Rally drive the pace. As the group hit 35km to go the peloton pulled within 20 seconds, and Ganzar attacked alongside Nicole Steigenga (Dolcini – Van Eyck Sport). Stephens, seeing her opportunity to move up on GC, attacked too.

“With about 25k go we had a gap of 1:15,” Stephens told VeloNews. “The gap yo-yo’d a bit with a few steep climbs close to the finish but in the end, we had a gap of 1:14.

The two dropped Steigenga on the final climb and headed to the finish together, where Ganzar took the sprint.

“It feels amazing to win for the team,” Ganzar said. “We have been working really well together all week so having two of us on the podium today, plus Emma in the rush jersey is such a great way to reward the team and the staff for so much hard work.”

The breakaway benefitted both women — Stephens jumped up from second place overall into the race lead. With two stages remaining Stephens leads the race, but is tied on time with Spanish rider Mavi Garcia (Alé BTC Ljubljana).

Garcia won the opening stage, a 90-kilometer hilly road stage into Bourg-St-Andéol, and fended off attacks from Stephens and her Tibco-Silicon Valley Bank teammates in the ensuing stages, winning stage 2 ahead of Anna Kiesenhofer (Team Austria), with Stephens in third.

Stephens and Tibco-Silicon Valley Bank kept the pressure on. Kristen Faulkner won Tibco-Silicon Valley Bank’s first stage on Sunday’s 4th stage, which concluded with a summit finish to Mont Lozère, just ahead of Stephens.

The race now tackles a mountainous 137-kilometer route on Tuesday before concluding with a flat and fast 98-kilometer stage on Wednesday.

The last American champion was Tayler Wiles, who won the overall in 2015. Stephens was second place that year. She said she intends to defend the jersey.

“We have two more days left and I’m excited to be defending the jersey so late in the race,” Stephens said. “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.”