Team BikeExchange has passed the Strade Bianche leadership onto Amanda Spratt after the departure of two-time winner Annemiek van Vleuten, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be resting all their hopes on the Australian rider's shoulders at the opening race of the Women’s WorldTour.
The 33-year-old has had two top ten finishes at the Italian race, with seventh as her best result, though the team has spent the past two years delivering Van Vleuten to the Siena finish line first. Now that the Strade Bianche defending champion has moved onto Movistar, that’s opened up the opportunities for others with a number of the riders on the squad having delivered top-ten results in the past.
In fact the last time the dominant Dutch rider wasn't on the start line for the team at Strade Bianche was 2018 and that's when Lucy Kennedy finished fifth in what was her debut Women’s WorldTour race while Spratt came seventh. In between the pair was Janneke Ensing, who was racing for Alé Cipollini at the time. Both Kennedy and Ensing will line up alongside Spratt for Team BikeExchange's Strade Bianche squad in 2021 bolstering hopes the team can stay at the top of the result list on Saturday, just with a different rider this time.
“Amanda will be our leader, but we have a very strong group who give us more opportunities,” said Sport Director Alejandro Gonzalez-Tablas.
The punchy hills of the twisty and undulating 136 kilometre course provide plenty of opportunities for attacks and splits with the race through the hills of Tuscany featuring 8 sectors of gravel roads, taking up almost a quarter of the course. The race which was added to the women’s calendar in 2015 was shifted to August last year, delivering uncharacteristically hot conditions, and this year will open up the Women’s WorldTour racing after COVID-19 led to cancellations early in 2021.
“At Strade the goal is to have a strong start of the season. The riders have been training very hard during the winter and they already have some experience of the route, which is exactly the same as the previous year, and the riders know well where they have to be aware of dangers and aware of possible breakaways,” said Gonzalez-Tablas.
The race is one of the early tests for the new incarnation of the Australian-based squad, which has shifted up a gear in recent years to become one of the top three teams in the women’s peloton, however the majority of the top-level wins came from Van Vleuten. The team now has four new members, including Ane Santesteban who finished in the top 20 at the race last year, and while Spratt is clearly a leading card, the game plan is likely to be much more variable.
“I’m really excited to be at the start of Strade Bianche. For sure, it’s one of my favourite races on the calendar and it’s always so epic and iconic with the gravel roads," said Spratt. "We are going there with a strong team and I will race for the first time with Ane Santesteban. Lucy Kennedy will have her first race in Europe coming back in from Australia with Georgia Williams, the new, New Zealand road race champion.
“My shape is good, and I think it was good to start with such a tough race as Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and I’m happy to have that in the legs before Strade.”
Anna van der Breggen took a solo win at the 1.Pro Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, while Amanda Spratt came across the line in fifteenth in a group 26 seconds back.
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