Ahead of the Australian national championships, the pre-race Orica-AIS favourites were Rachel Neylan and two-time winner Gracie Elvin. 2012 champion Amanda Spratt was flying under the radar, happy for her teammates to take the questions. Come late Sunday morning and it the 28-year-old standing on the top step of the dais having dispatched Ruth Corset in a two-up sprint for gold while Neylan won the kick for bronze. Ensuring the heavy pre-race favourites won a fourth title in five years and finished with three riders in the top four.
"Certainly it's a great way to start the year," Spratt said post-race. "The last couple of seasons I've been a bit more up and down but I've had a really solid block of training in my off-season. Certainly the Olympics is a really big goal, to start it off with a national title is really important and puts me right up there in the forefront of the peloton. This is how I want to start winning and I want to continued winning when I get to Europe as well."
For all of Orica-AIS's numerical dominance and aggressive tactics in the criterium, the team walked away with bonze. Nothing less than the gold medal was expected in the road race and it was Spratt who stepped up and delivered the victory.
Spratt, who has been with Orica-AIS since its 2012 inception, claimed a breakthrough win in Europe last season at the Giro del Trentino Alto Adige-Südtirol. Ninth overall at Euskal Emakumeen Bira, fourth at Internationale Thüringen Rundfahrt der Frauen and third in the Ladies Tour of Norway resulted with Orica-AIS elevating her status in the team to more of a protected rider for 2016. Victory in the road race justified the team decision and has also seen Spratt ensure she will be one of the rider's consistently monitored by national selectors regarding Rio selection.
"It's going to be a really hard course from what we hear and I think Australian women's cycling is in a really strong position," said Spratt. "We finished last season with the highest number ranking we've had in the last coupe of years, we were fourth I think, which allows us to have four riders in Rio so we really want to keep that momentum going into this and try and get that fourth rider in Rio, which will be a good advantage. It's looking exciting when you have so many riders in contention there."
The London 2012 course wasn't ideally suited to the characteristics of Spratt as she finished outside the time limit. The Rio course should favour the climbing strength that Spratt possesses and therefore it's no real surprise that she will be targeting several big European races with similarities to the Olympic parcours.
"Knowing that Rio is going to be a really tough course some of those hilly races are going to be important," she said. "We have the women's WorldTour for the first time this year so my big targets will be some of those hilly WorldTour races. We are looking at Trofeo Alfredo Binda - Comune di Cittiglio in the third weekend of March, La Flèche Wallonne Féminine which is in mid-April, and overall having good consistency in those classics but mainly those hilly one-day races are what I am targeting."
Spratt will first debut her new national jersey at next week's 2.2 Santos Women's Tour, followed by the 1.1 Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race on January 30 before heading to Europe and continuing her bid for a second Olympic games campaign.
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