Tucson’s Erica Clevenger (Twenty20 Pro Cycling) kicked off her 2018 race season this week on the other side of the world against world-class competition at the Santos Tour Down Under.
Clevenger, 23, signed with one of the U.S.’s top teams – Twenty20 Pro Cycling – and is a collegiate national champion in road cycling and triathlon.
She takes us inside the race for its final days, Stages 3 & 4:
Stage 3: I didn’t realize I could go that hard!
I’m writing this now a few days after the fact as I had started Stage 3 with a sore throat and it turned into a cold.
I could not believe that Stage 3 was still harder than Stage 1 and Stage 2. Do these women never tire out?
We were meant to ride neutral around a car race track before the start, but with wind that already had me riding sideways to the start and dust blowing in our faces, the race organizers opted to have us skip that part.
I was grateful given that this was our longest stage, a 122km, point-to-point race, with around 5,000 feet of climbing and headwind nearly the whole way. To add to the pain and suffering, whenever there wasn’t a headwind, the big teams up front made sure to put the hurt on in the cross winds leaving the peloton completely strung out.
The day started with a kangaroo hopping by just before the end of the neutral rollout was signaled and the race began. Just 20 minutes later we were in the cross winds and hanging on for dear life.
Unfortunately, I was caught where I wasn’t supposed to be – near the back – and had to work my butt off to catch back on. Again, I thought my race might be over, but things came back together eventually once we hit some more headwind.
The next turn into the cross wind came in conjunction with our only feed for the day, and again attacks prevented nearly everyone from obtaining a bottle (sigh). Not much later we began climbing and people started to lose contact with the peloton. I was grateful to have stayed in and even had legs to respond to a few attempts to split the group.
Later I asked my teammate, Marlies Mejias, how she was doing and she responded that she needed water. I waited and waited for the pace to let up so that I could go back, but it wouldn’t! Finally, the group started to slow slightly and I put a bottle in the air to signal that I wanted my team car to pull up to get water. Little did I know that there was still another pitch ahead (oops) and I scrambled to get back on the peloton as the pace accelerated.
After that last attack, I was able to get back for a feed, and thankfully I made it back to the group. Marlies ended up getting 10th on the stage, and I’d like to think I played a part in that!
The QOM for the day came just 2km away from the finish, and this is where I finally lost contact with the main group. After that I rode steady with a grupetto and managed another solid mid-pack finish.
Amanda Spratt (Mitchelton-SCOTT) ended up taking the leader’s jersey from Katrin Garfoot (UniSA-Australia) who placed third in the general classification with Lauren Stephens (Cylance) moving up into second.
Later that evening we headed out to team presentation where we saw an aboriginal dance performance before doing a quick walk on stage to wave “hi” to all the people.
The best part of team presentation for me was autographing little kids’ hats and shirts. It always feels good to get little ones excited about your sport! It also was fun to be backstage and meet the people who made it happen. We met the race director, Kimberly Conte, along with Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen!
Our favorite race contact though would probably be Jan Connolly who has worked very hard to ensure we had an awesome stay here.
Stage 4: Tryin’ to keep the rubber side down!
The last stage featured a circuit in the center of Adelaide (or Radelaide). A lot of people came out and it had the feel of a big criterium race in the U.S.
The morning of, however, it became apparent that I had an actual cold. Not a bad one, but it was certainly exacerbated by the stress I had put on my body. I stayed in bed all day and made it to the start line all right but I felt a bit unsteady on the bike due to pressure build up in my ears.
Consequently, I opted to stay near the back for my safety and the safety of those around me. It was still an amazing experience as some big crowds came out to watch us race and celebrate the beginning of the Men’s Tour Down Under with the People’s Choice Classic!
I was incredibly proud of my team for the work they did during the crit. I never saw any of them at the back where I was, and didn’t want to be. My teammate Marlies scored another top 10 finish and I’m confident that as we learn how to lead her out and help her get into position she will be able to win some big races this year!
While the general classification had no major changes, Garfoot managed to snag the sprinter’s jersey from Spratt who won both the overall and the Queen of the Mountains jersey. The best young rider jersey went to Grace Anderson of the New Zealand national team.
On top of the world, down under
The Santos Tour Down Under was an incredible experience from start to finish.
This was easily the toughest race I’ve ever done, and with it being at the beginning of the season, I was happy with my result. I think the key word from my perspective was “brutal,” but in a way which makes you stronger – not just physically, but mentally.
It was truly an experience to race with teams like Mitchelton-SCOTT, Wiggle High5, and riders like Spratt, Annemiek Van Vleuten (of Rio Olympics fame), and of course Team TWENTY20.
Many teams in the U.S. are having team camps at the moment as the season hasn’t quite started there yet. While that sounds fun, there is nothing quite like flying halfway around the world with a bunch of virtual strangers and learning how to race together from the gun! For many of us, this is the highest caliber of racing we’ve yet experienced, and for all of us it was the first time we had been to Australia.
The end goal was to gain some fitness and start learning how to work together. I think we accomplished that and more! I’ve finished the Tour Down Under with new friends and teammates, and I couldn’t be more excited to see what is in store for the rest of our stay here, including the BUPA Challenge Gran Fondo, Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, Herald Sun Tour, and for all of 2018.
Main photo and videos: Santos Tour Down Under
Autographs photo: Nicola Cranmer
Red photo: Sarah Reed