Tour Down Under: Inside the peloton with Twenty20's Erica Clevenger

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 on Stages 1 and 2:

Stage 1, Jan. 11:

Let me start by mentioning that the courses set out for us by the Tour Down Under organization are
amazing! It’s going to a spectacular week of racing to kick off the 2018 season.
We started today with a hilly, 72-mile stage on the outskirts of Adelaide in Gumeracha. We (Team TWENTY20) pre-rode the two-lap course and concluded that things would really start to heat up the second-time around after a sprint at the start/finish and later, QOM points up for grabs.

Not before we had finished the neutral rollout there was a crash, which proved to be a trend throughout the day. The peloton was noticeably on edge from start to finish. It was a really hot day with a high around 94°F but luckily, we pulled car No. 1 in the caravan, which made getting water a whole lot easier!
Like we had predicted, things really started to pick up on Lap 2. It is no secret that the Australians are
in good form, having just had their national championships and midway through their race season.
Many of those from the northern hemisphere are just dusting off the cobwebs from the offseason and it
showed on the couple of hills. Unless of course, you are Emma Grant (adopted Tucsonan and former
resident of the Homestretch Foundation). Emma was the first to attack up the hill for the QOM (mile 54)
as was only bested by Sabrina Stultiens of Waowdeals.
A strong attack was made shortly after the QOM by Rachel Neylan (UniSA-Australia). Whether or not people decided not to follow or couldn’t is unclear to me but I know which camp I was in! She built up a lead of over 1.5 minutes before being overtaken by the main peloton with less than 2k to go.
In the end it was Annette Edmonson (Wiggle High5) with the W followed by Giorgia Bronzini (Cylance) and Lauretta Hanson (UniSA-Australia) respectively. We had hoped to make an impression with our sprinter Marlies Mejias but she got caught behind a crash in the last 300m or so. We are looking forward though to her next chance to show what she’s got!
This being our first race together, and the first time any of us have been to the Santos Women’s Tour Down Under, we weren’t sure what to expect from each other or ourselves. I think we were all impressed with one another and I personally couldn’t be happier with the team atmosphere. We have such a great group and this race is almost like an early season training camp where we can have some fun, aim to get some results, and get a good measure of where our fitness is at.
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Stage 2, Jan. 12:

Stage #2 was absolutely brutal! Given that Annette Edmonson on Wiggle High5 is a known sprinter and today’s finish was on a climb, the GC was wide open. The women on UniSA-Australia (the Australia National team) blew us to bits with a flurry of attacks from start to finish. Side-note, they are all SUPER nice. It wasn’t just their attacks though that made the day tough. While yesterday’s heat made for a struggle despite our best effort to acclimate, today began in a steady rain and finished with winds over 20mph.
I was definitely feeling the day before in my legs, but I decided not to care because hey, I’m racing my bike in Australia and that’s pretty freaking cool. The first time up the QOM climb (not for points) was the hardest and came just over 5 miles from the start.

I did my best to be in the front, and just made it to front half of the pack split where I started seeing attacks fire. I followed one that looked promising and got a bit of distance but none got away. That particular move just about broke me but somehow I managed to recover and stay in the pack for the second time around to the QOM. This time was slightly easier but not by much.
From there we rode northeast and I finally found a moment to head back to the car for some water. That was the only time any of us got water today because the pace was so brutal and someone attacked through the feed zone. I found this particularly cruel and it was made worse by the fact that we entered into a section with a gnarly crosswind that had everyone completely strung out.
This was yet another moment in which I thought I would be dropped but eventually everyone came back together. After the smallest moment of respite, we passed the sprint point (though I was completely
unaware of this) and headed towards the final climb to the finish.
The attacks continued and I followed a couple of them that again got a bit of distance but none panned out. After that I just prayed to make it to the finish and luckily I think many in the peloton were doing the same because I found a nice grupetto and rode tempo up the climb to the finish. UniSA-Australia’s efforts paid off and it was Katrin Garfoot with the win followed by Lucy Kennedy and Amanda Spratt.
It was an absolutely brutal day and I was proud to have finished and participated in the race in some way. I’m still in disbelief that I am here and have such an awesome team to race with!
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Photos and videos by the Santos Tour Down Under