Last year’s Giro d’Italia Donne is probably one Amanda Spratt (Team BikeExchange) would like to forget. After two years of stepping up onto the podium, all while supporting the race winner, she walked away with an injured shoulder, concussion and more than just her goals for that race in tatters. The Australian rider’s injuries meant that hopes of shifting up the podium steps at World Championships, on a course that suited, disappeared as well, along with much of the rest of her season.
All in all, 2020 was a year that promised so much for Spratt – between Olympics, Worlds and the Giro d’Italia Donne – but delivered little. Expectations of top performances shelved, the aim to race again before 2020 as a team helper became enough – which she managed to do at the Tour of Flanders – as there was no time for looking back.
“It was about doing a good job there and then already looking ahead to the next season and knowing that my biggest goals are still coming around,” Spratt told Cyclingnews. “I feel grateful in road cycling that we do race so regularly that even if your biggest goals are taken away, there’s always another goal coming up.”
The year of 2021, in particular, offers plenty. At the start of the year Spratt stepped up into a bigger leadership role at Team BikeExchange, with the dominant force of Annemiek van Vleuten having moved onto Movistar, meaning Spratt would no longer be playing second fiddle at races like Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the Giro d’Italia Donne. Also, there was a rescheduled Tokyo Olympics on the cards, with little doubt that she would be selected to play a leading role for Australia on the climb heavy course.
Deciding not to start the year in Australia as usual – which came with the uncertainty of crossing borders and the training interruptions of mandatory quarantine given the COVID-19 pandemic – meant there was no pressure to find form early for races like the Australian National Championships, where Spratt is a three-time winner,
“It just took away a lot of the stress I’d normally have in December, January, where I know I want to be in good form for Nationals,” Spratt said. “I’m never in peak form for Nationals, but I know I work hard in December to be in good enough form that I can race well.”
Instead it was a slow build up, that delivered a solid 12th at Strade Bianche near the start of the season while the form built nicely toward one of the races that Spratt has on the top of her wish list for a win, Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
“I feel like everything was tracking really well into Ardennes and I was certainly in really good form there,” said Spratt who started her Ardennes campaign with fourth at the Amstel Gold race. “And then I had a stomach bug the day of Liège so that unravelled everything for me.”
It meant grappling not only with the impact that it had on her fuelling but also the inconvenience of being out in lycra on the road trying to race while coping with the inevitable consequences of that stomach bug. Even then she finished 10th, not what she was looking for, but some small victory under the circumstances nevertheless.
“In hindsight, people have made me realise that actually that was a really good result considering the circumstances,” said Spratt, who took second at the race in 2018. “But again, I always say that that is a big one day I’d love to win in my career, aside from the World’s or Olympics. It looks like it’s another year before we get there.”
Freedom and responsibility
This year was anticipated as one where the opportunities would open up, with Spratt the most obvious choice to step up for a leadership role once Van Vleuten moved on. She had, after all, already stepped into the key leadership role for Australia at Worlds, and delivered in that position with a third place in the road race in 2019 and second in 2018.
Not that the burden of leadership would always fall on her shoulders, with a number of riders slated to take their chances in the races that suited. Grace Brown, in particular, is one of those that seems to have thrived in the more opportunity rich environment. In her third year as a professional the 28 year old took her first Women’s WorldTour win at Brugge-De Panne and then another at Vuelta a Burgos, as well as becoming a podium regular.
It has, however, been a while since Spratt has had the opportunity to celebrate a win or step up onto the podium in Europe. Third at Worlds in 2019 was her last time on the steps of an individual podium in Europe, though she did spend plenty of time there when she headed back to Australia in 2020. It is also more than two years ago at Emakumeen Bira that she took an individual win in Europe.
Spratt, has undoubtedly had more than her share of bad luck to grapple with during this period, but there has too been a period of recalibrating this year given the changed team dynamic.
“Probably for me personally, it has been a bit more of an adjustment moving into that leadership role and just also accepting and realising that when we had Annemiek there, maybe sometimes I did have a little bit more freedom and I could try more things as Annemiek was always there to to finish it off in the end,” said Spratt. “So now it’s also just realising that I do have to play things a little bit differently in the races sometimes and a lot of the time I may be that last person we have, so it’s more about stepping into that role and accepting that and staying calmer, not panicking as much.”
“I found in the earlier races I was wasting a bit too much energy and trying to cover things that last year I could get away with, because my role was not the very final role. Now it’s just a matter of realising that I can’t do that anymore and it is much about how smart you are, as how strong you are as well. So yes, it’s been a little bit of an adjustment, but something I’ve stepped into quite well now.”
Finding the podium again
It’s an adjustment and slow build to form this year that we could well have seen the results of already were it not for the stomach bug at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, though the scene is now set for the 10-stage Giro d’Italia Donne which starts Friday July 2 with a team time trial.
It’s a race where Spratt finished third, while working to support the winner Van Vleuten, in 2018 and 2019. Granted, before she crashed out in 2020 she didn’t look to be heading toward as high a finish, though the punchy finales so prominent last year weren’t her favoured terrain. It is the longer climbs where she tends to make her mark, taking the mountains classification in 2018 and coming second in that category behind her race winning teammate in 2019.
Spratt has been named as the leader for Team BikeExchange at the Giro d’Italia Donne this year. That means she will have a strong team behind her that knows how to win but the squad will also be trying to replicate the successful pattern of 2018 and 2019 where they had multiple strong cards to play, with Van Vleuten and Spratt. As Spratt steps up to lead the charge this year, she’ll have the backing and strong alternative GC string of handy climber Ane Santesteban who came seventh in 2020 racing for Ceratizit-WNT while in the first half, with a team trial and individual time trial, Brown is likely to fire.
“We’d love to have options and it doesn’t need to be all about me for sure. I like to play the game,” said Spratt. “So if we can have numbers there and my teammates are going really well, then I’ll be there to support that. We definitely want to have numbers up there.”
Numbers, and chances for a variety of rides to try for stage wins, with the team also including Janneke Ensing, New Zealand champion Georgia Williams and Australian champion Sarah Roy. Though ultimately, the number the team really wants is one that puts them on the GC podium, preferably the top step.
When Spratt was asked if she thinks she can give the top of the results table a nudge again this year, she answered: “Yeah, I hope so.
“It’s more like a course of two and three years ago and in both of those years I was on the final podium.”