Lauren Stephens wins gripping mountain stage on stage two of women's virtual Tour de France
A scintillating sprint finish capped off a thrilling Zwift mountain stage
Lauren Stephens won a thrilling sprint finish on the mountainous stage two of the women's virtual Tour de France.
The American pipped Brit Joss Lowden (Drops) on the line, having chased back to the front of the race on the descent into the finish, with Erica Magnaldi (Ceratizit-WNT) in third and Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ Nouvelle - Aquitaine Futuroscope) coming fourth.
Uttrup Ludwig and Magnaldi had broken away up the steep climb plonked in the middle of the stage, before a number of chasers got back to them on the 13km descent into the finish.
The Danish FDJ rider had tried to breakaway again in the run-in, using a power-up that made her un-draftable, but to no avail as a bunch sprint unfolded, with Magnaldi stamping on her pedals at home, opening up her sprint, before Joss Lowden came powering past with Stephens then pipping her on the line.
Tibco - Silicon Valley Bank move into first overall with a commanding lead thanks to a number of their riders taking high places on stage two, with Drops moving down to second but regaining the polka dot and young rider's jersey to take into stage three next weekend.
>>> Zwift Virtual Tour de France 2020: Everything you need to know
How it happened
Stage two of the virtual Tour de France presented the first real climbing test for the peloton, with over 600m of elevation in a centrepiece category two climb before a descent and flat run-in to the finish.
After a quiet opening few kilometres, Ellen Van Dijk started to stretch the group at the front from the comfort of her garage, briefly opening up a small gap in the foothills of the climb, her Trek-Segafredo team reduced to just three riders after Elisa Longo Borghini didn't take the start line, having been a big part of the action on stage one.
Drops' Elise Olsen, wearing the yellow jersey for her team, was dropped off the back of the group after 6.5km had been raced and the road continued uphill.
The front group continued to thin out as the riders progressed up the misty, snow-adorned climb, the 13.7 per cent gradient making life tough for all.
Erica Magnaldi (Ceratizit-WNT) was at the front of the group once again, joined by Ella Harris (Canyon-SRAM), riding at night in her native New Zealand, Joss Lowden (Drops) and Sarah Gigante (Tibco - Silicon Valley Bank).
Magnaldi decided to press on near the top of the climb, with a further incline up to the radio tower after that, stretching the group out to breaking point. Magnaldi led Lowden over the QoM point, the Brit looking to protect her team's overall lead, with Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ Nouvelle - Aquitaine Futuroscope) in third.
Ella Harris joined the trio to make a quartet heading to the high point of the day's race on the brutal gradient.
Magnaldi was out of the saddle at home, continuing to lead the group uphill, with Kristen Faulkner and Lauren Stephens also joining the front group.
Uttrup Ludwig, decked out in sunglasses indoors and pushing out 370W, then increased her pace, as Magnaldi just about hung onto the Dane's wheel.
Cresting the radio tower climb, the pair had 11 seconds on Faulkner, with Stephens, Harris, Gigante and Lowden a further ten seconds back.
Magnaldi and Uttrup Ludwig were able to take some respite, able to freewheel at points on the descent, with Magnaldi riding alongside a team-mate who was still having to push hard up the climb.
The riders behind the leading duo were starting to gain ground with 10km to go, Faulkner five seconds behind with Lowden's group now only 16 seconds behind.
After another kilometre had passed Faulkner had caught the front two, with Lowden's chasing group now only six seconds behind.
With 7km remaining, the front three were keeping their chasers at bay, partly thanks to the two Tibco riders not helping out on the front, due to Faulkner being up the road.
Acknowledging this tactical trap, Lowden attacked the group, with Stephens chasing on into the final 5km.
This halved their deficit to the leading group, and within a kilometre they had made it across to the front of the race, leaving seven riders to contest the intermediate sprint and stage victory.
Uttrup Ludwig took the intermediate sprint with 2km remaining, stamping on the pedals to launch her attack afterwards, using a power-up that made her un-draftable for 10 seconds and stringing the group out, Faulkner jumping on her wheel.
Lowden was the next to attack with 1.5km to go, with Faulkner then countering on the run-in to the finish.
Gigante and Rooijakkers were distanced going into the final kilometre, Magnaldi dug deep, grimacing on her bike as she opened up her sprint, with Lowden then starting to pull clear before Stephens came through to pip her on the line.
Women's virtual Tour de France, stage two: Mountain
1. Lauren Stephens (USA) Tibco - Silicon Valley Bank, in 47-32
2. Joss Lowden (GBr) Drops, at same time
3. Erica Magnaldi (Ita) Ceratizit - WNT
4. Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Den) FDJ Nouvelle - Aquitaine Futuroscope
5. Kristen Faulkner (USA) Tibco - Silicon Valley Bank, all at same time
6. Pauliena Rooijakkers (Ned) CCC, at 15 seconds
7. Sarah Gigante (Aus) Tibco - Silicon Valley Bank
8. Ella Harris (New Zealand) Canyon-SRAM
9. Anna Henderson (GBr) Sunweb
10. Krista Doebel-Hickok (USA) Rally, all at same time
General classification after stage two
1. Tibco - Silicon Valley Bank (USA) - 170 points
2. Drops (GBr) - 111
3. Canyon-SRAM (Ger) - 88
4. Boels Dolmans (Ned) - 60
5. CCC Liv (Pol) - 59
6. Rally Cycling (USA) - 57
7. Twenty20 (USA) - 55
8. Ceratizit-WNT (Ger) - 46
9. FDJ Nouvelle - Aquitaine Futuroscope (Fra) - 45
10. Trek-Segafredo (USA) - 26
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Hi. I'm Cycling Weekly's Weekend Editor. I like writing offbeat features and eating too much bread when working out on the road at bike races.
Before joining Cycling Weekly I worked at The Tab and I've also written for Vice, Time Out, and worked freelance for The Telegraph (I know, but I needed the money at the time so let me live).
I also worked for ITV Cycling between 2011-2018 on their Tour de France and Vuelta a España coverage. Sometimes I'd be helping the producers make the programme and other times I'd be getting the lunches. Just in case you were wondering - Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen had the same ham sandwich every day, it was great.
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