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Stephens a GC threat in Tour of the Gila

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Lauren Stephens (TIBCO) during todays winning ride.

Lauren Stephens (TIBCO) during todays winning ride. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Lauren Stephens (Team Tibco-SVB) pretty in the leader's pink jersey

Lauren Stephens (Team Tibco-SVB) pretty in the leader's pink jersey (Image credit: Tom Ewart)
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Lauren Stephens puts in one of the many attacks that happened today

Lauren Stephens puts in one of the many attacks that happened today (Image credit: Mark Gunter)
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Lauren Stephens (TIBCO) staying out of trouble at the front.

Lauren Stephens (TIBCO) staying out of trouble at the front. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich)
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Lauren Stephens (TIBCO) takes a corner in the crit.

Lauren Stephens (TIBCO) takes a corner in the crit. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich)

Lauren Stephens smashed the Tour of the Gila time trial on Friday, winning the 26km test by 25 seconds over her nearest competitor and pulling herself into second overall in the stage race. Now just nine seconds behind leader Mara Abbott, the Tibco-SVB rider finds herself in the unexpected position of contending for the overall classification.

“It was awesome. The time trial here last year here was a breakthrough in my career,” Stephens said. “I never thought I’d be in contention for this race, so it’s exciting to be where I am and see how far my team can take it.”

"We're here with a small squad, we only came with five versus the six we're allowed," she told Cyclingnews. "To come out with a stage win and move up in GC is phenomenal."

Stephens is in fine form after taking out the overall victory in the Joe Martin Stage Race, but after claiming USA Cycling's overall National Race Calendar in 2014, she has set her sights on loftier goals for this year, and will not target the series.

"Last year I won the NRC and it was a target, but this year my goals are on an international level. I'm focusing on the UCI races we have here in the USA. I'll be in Tour of California for the stage race and time trial," she said.

In 2014, Stephens parlayed overall victories in the Joe Martin Stage Race and Cascade Classic into the series title, but the NRC looks quite different this season. Cascade is off the calendar, and the early-season stage races are followed by the Winston Salem and Philadelphia Classic one-day races and the North Star GP.