There is one race that you can be pretty sure Amanda Spratt is going to circle with a huge target every year and that’s the Tour Down Under in January.
The Australian has won the event three times and now she is chasing a fourth title at the three-day race starting January 12 on a course that has made it hard to look past her as a key favourite.
“I admit I was eagerly awaiting the announcement of the courses for this year and hoping that there might be something that finished uphill rather than all these downhill finishes we’ve seen in the previous editions,” the Lidl-Trek rider told Cyclingnews in an interview on the eve of the race.
That hope was realised, with the final stage of the event finishing on top of an iconic climb in the men’s race that has now found its way into the women’s event, Willunga Hill.
“As soon as I saw the announcement I was like ‘OK, that is really exciting and I am really pumped for that’, and for me that was straight away my big first goal of the year, it was always Tour Down Under.”
The last time Amanda Spratt won at the Tour Down Under was 2019, but her worst result since then has been third, and she was a very close runner-up to Grace Brown (FDJ-Suez) last year.
There’s no forgetting Spratt’s strong history at the race, particularly not during an interview that is conducted at The Hilton in Adelaide which goes all-out to mark its long-standing role as a race hub.
“For me there is a sense of excitement, walking up the stairs and you see your name on the steps and there is a giant version of myself staring down – that just feels cool,” said Spratt. “Especially down under I like it because my parents come and we have some family friends come often, you feel the home support.”
There is every reason for Spratt to be filled with anticipation every time she lines up at the South Australian event, given her history at it, but even more so perhaps this year than most.
For a start, there’s the summit finish, which plays right to her climbing strengths, and then also her clearly strong form at Australia’s Road National Championships where she was one of the strongest in the field on the uphill sections.
“I was pretty happy with how I went and how I was climbing so I’m feeling good for this week,” said Spratt.
That however, doesn’t mean it’s going to be anything but a battle to try and claim a spot on the top step, with strength on display among the Australian riders at the Road National Championships last week which finished with a strong lead group of 11 sprinting to the line after various splits and reformations.
“There were some really strong performances there but it does make the job at Down Under and Australian races harder because everyone is lifting,” said Spratt of the domestic strength.
She named stand-out riders as Amber Pate (Jayco-AlUla), Sarah Gigante (AG Insurance-Soudal), Emily Watts (Duolar-Chevalmeire), Nicole Frain (Hess), Neve Bradbury (Canyon-SRAM) and race winner Ruby Roseman-Gannon (Liv-AlUla-Jayco) as among the standouts. Not, of course forgetting last year’s winner Brown, who is “just going to get better and better”.
“It’s actually really cool to see. A lot of the big world tour teams too which I think is a really nice progression for the race generally,” said Spratt
There are nine Women’s WorldTour teams on the start list this year, three more than last, and a field with the international strength of riders like Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ-Suez), a returning Ruth Edwards (Human Powered Health), who won the race in 2020 and is also supported by the experiences Audrey Cordon-Ragot.
“I think in other years in Down Under you have seen a top ten that is basically Australian and New Zealand riders but I see that this year you could see a few different names up there as well,” said Spratt.
However, she will be hoping that it’s a very familiar name claiming her fourth title that resides at the very head of that top 10 after the final stage is raced on Willunga on Sunday.
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