It had been more than a year of doubts, frustrations and questions for Amanda Spratt, culminating in a Tokyo Olympic Games road race where, despite unrelenting hard work, medal hopes were replaced by a DNF. Discovering that the unexplained run of patchy form was down to Iliac artery endofibrosis late last year, however, delivered an explanation and a plan which means one of Australia’s top cyclists is now lining up at the Santos Festival of Cycling to begin her journey back toward the form that has seen her take to the podiums of some of the world’s toughest races.
After having surgery in the Netherlands to remedy the blood flow limiting condition in the middle of October and then enduring nine weeks of minimal activity – no easy feat for a long term cyclist – the long-term BikeExchange-Jayco rider was able to begin training in Australia late in December.
“Now I'm just regaining fitness and building up again and the opportunity came to the start of the Santos Festival of Cycling and we thought it could just be a great way to mix up the the rehab and get back with the team,” Spratt told Cyclingnews in an interview this week.
“It's been really exciting watching Ruby [Roseman-Gannon] and Alex [Manly] race Nationals so it’s a chance to get back in the racing with them and mix it up a bit, get a bit of intensity in the legs. I'm sure I'm going to suffer like hell in those four days of racing based on the strength I saw at Nationals from everyone. I go in there with different expectations, obviously, than normal but am feeling just as excited.”
The Santos Festival of Cycling starts on Sunday January 23, delivering three road stages and finishing with a criterium. The race, which is replacing the cancelled Tour Down Under, will see WorldTour professionals, like Spratt and her BikeExchange-Jayco teammates, race against top domestic teams in an Australian National Road Series event.
From rough days to a plan
Spratt has three wins to her name at the international editions of the Women’s Santos Tour Down Under, from 2017 to 2019, and was regularly making a mark and stepping up to the podium in the most prestigious races through 2018 and 2019, from the World Championships to the Giro d’Italia Donne. However, she started to strike difficulties that just wouldn’t let up near the end of 2020.
It started with an ill timed crash at the Giro d’Italia Donne in 2020 that also ruined her chances on a favourable World Championships course and then as she launched into what was set to be a big 2021 there were some signs at times that the recovery in training wasn’t the same, though with good days still coming on occasion and a few obvious hindrances thrown in, including a nasty stomach bug at key season goal Liège-Bastogne-Liège Femmes, explanations kept cropping up to mask the bigger issue.
"It's one thing in training to get tired or not recover well but when I got to the races ... I mean, I knew I'd been on a steady development path, just getting better and better and really was becoming one of the best climbers in the world and expecting myself to be on the podium in the toughest one day races," said Spratt. "Then all of a sudden I was getting dropped and not able to finish, or finishing well below what I knew I was capable of. I knew that I was still trying to do all the hard work, and I just couldn't.”
Then came the crunch point after the Tokyo Olympic Games.
"I definitely had some really down days, especially immediately after the Olympics, because everyone knows that was such a huge goal of mine and something that I worked towards," said Spratt. "Everyone knew it was really disastrous, by my own standards. I didn't finish. I was dropped as soon as it got really hard, so that was definitely really hard to deal with it and I was definitely questioning things."
It was a tough situation made even harder by the circumstances, straight to the plane and into a long flight with plenty of time alone to think and dwell.
"I was really upset and had some really rough days there but had really great support around me that helped me get through those first initial days and then it was more just that mindset of trying to figure out what's wrong,” said Spratt. “Thanks to the AusCycling doctors and then my own team doctors and medical staff we were able to get the appointments pretty quickly and it was almost like a relief to get the diagnosis .. now we have the answer we can start thinking ahead and planning ahead.”
Even better than before
Now Spratt, who started racing bikes at the age of nine, is facing up to a new stage of her career, with the 34 year old elated to be back riding after what was, for her, a huge stretch off the bike.
"I just found myself smiling the whole ride when I was out of there,” said Spratt of her first time riding after surgery. "Now it just feels like a cool challenge to regain that fitness and really with an aim to to get back to the level I was and even better than that."
Given how high that level already was, Spratt is clearly hoping to be a formidable adversary once she rides back to form and hits the key targets in her 11th season as a professional cyclist.
“I had nine weeks off for the surgery, it's a long time, but it's like a refresh button," Spratt told Cyclingnews."Now I just feel like it was a really big surgery and I don't want to have had it for nothing so I have that extra motivation now to be able to get out and race my bike and ride my bike. I just want to make the most of it.
“I remember what I was like a couple of years ago, chasing medals at World Championships and chasing the rainbow jersey and being on the podium at the Giro and Ardennes Classics, so I really am motivated to feel that again and to challenge myself with the best.”
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Simone joined the team as Production Editor based in Australia at the start of the 2021 season, having previously worked as Australian Editor at Ella CyclingTips and correspondent for Reuters and Bloomberg.
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