Puzzled by a season of underperformance culminating in a disappointing Olympic Games in Tokyo, Amanda Spratt (Team BikeExchange) went looking for answers and found that this was far more than just a poorly timed patch of bad form after the Australian rider was diagnosed with Iliac artery endofibrosis.
Despite now facing surgery in the off-season and months off training the Australian rider – who has a silver and bronze World Championships medal and two Giro d’Italia Donne podium finishes – is pleased to see the end of almost a year of doubting and questioning herself.
“I definitely felt relieved to have an answer,” said Spratt in a statement. “For myself, but also for those closest to me who put so much time and effort into helping me try and be my best. It’s definitely been a struggle to race this year and to not know why I couldn’t be at my best.
“There is no linear progression with this condition. You are still able to have some good days littered amongst the bad days, but for me in the last months, as the condition worsened, I struggled to have many good days at all.
Spratt, who uncharacteristically hadn’t found her way to the podium this year, is a rider who knows all too well how to rise to the challenge at key events, which is why it was such a surprise when at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, on a course that suited, the rider delivered a DNF.
“I have been racing for so many years,” said the 34-year-old. “I know that I am the type of rider that excels in the hardest races. When everyone starts to get tired in a tour, I only get stronger. This is one of my biggest strengths. Yet this year I noticed that I couldn’t back up each day.
"My performances got worse and worse and if I reached the finale of a race, my legs were the first to explode. I had bad sensations that I haven’t had before and, in the end, the Tokyo Olympic Games road race was the tipping point.
“In that race I had great legs. Until I didn’t. I couldn’t even push 200 watts anymore. It was of course an event that I had been training relentlessly for; a major goal of the season. The come down after the Olympics was incredibly difficult because I just couldn’t understand what had happened or why. I pride myself on my professionalism and covering every little detail.”
Australian Cycling team doctor Dr Kevyn Hernandez then suggested Spratt should be checked for artery endofibrosis. By mid-August it was concluded she had Iliac artery endofibrosis and that if she wanted to continue as a professional cyclist then surgery was the only option.
“This is a significant surgery which can involve releasing the arteries along with bypassing the narrowed segment with a vein graft,” said Team BikeExchange Dr Steve Baynes “It requires very careful post-operative rehabilitation and the return to full training will be after five to six months.”
Spratt said that, while she was aware that it was a serious surgery with a long recovery, she fortunately could see many good examples of riders who have come back from it in full force.
“I don’t have to look far for inspiration with my current teammate Sarah Roy and former teammate Annemiek van Vleuten, having both undergone the same procedure that I will this off-season,” said Spratt. “I’ve spoken with both of them, and I know their help and guidance will benefit me hugely in the recovery period.”
The 2020 season wasn’t the most successful of seasons for Spratt either, but understandably so as there were not only the pandemic interruptions, but she suffered an injury at the Giro d’Italia Donne just before her big season goal of the World Championships.
However, particularly with her being the natural successor as team leader with the departure of Annemiek van Vleuten to Movistar, 2021 was expected to be the year where she had ample opportunity to build on her strong results of 2018 and 2019. Now, that time will hopefully come in the latter part of 2022 and 2023 instead.
“During 2018 and 2019 I felt like I started to show myself and those around me what I am really capable of,” said Spratt. “This injury has made me realise that I still have so much I want to achieve in this sport. I’m not ready to give up and I already see many big goals coming up in the next few years. The Tour de France Femmes and the Wollongong World Championships are two realistic goals for me. I also can’t wait to be back racing an Australian Summer with good legs in 2023.”
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