In 2016 as defending champion, Amanda Spratt (Mitchelton-Scott) played a key supporting role in the Australian championships last January, arriving at the line together with teammate Katrin Garfoot. While Garfoot took the gold medal, Spratt proved that the Buninyong course is one on which she excels, and with a constructive off-season done and dusted, she is confident of further success.
"I am definitely in good shape. I had a good pre-season and it has been built up really steadily," Spratt told Cyclingnews. "I had my first hit out at the national crit champs on Wednesday and the shape was really good. I am probably in some of the best shape I have been in at this time of the year heading into the road race. The legs are good and I have done the work so I am confident I will have good legs tomorrow."
While Spratt has focused on her and the team's preparation for the 104.4km race, she had remained observant of the start list and the form of her rivals for Sunday.
"I think it is going to be the most competitive field we have had for years with the spread on the teams and [the fact] that it is a Commonwealth Games year. Whoever wins this is automatically selected - so there are higher stakes on this race and everyone is going to be in top shape," said Spratt, who won't be racing the quadrennial event even should she win.
"The courses changes, I don't believe will change the outcome too much. We still go up the climb nine times and it will be a race of attrition. The bunch will dwindle down I think it will be a small selection that makes that final."
One of the dangerous rivals for Spratt is Garfoot who, having left Mitchelton-Scott, is without a team this year. Garfoot's third straight time trial title on Friday was a clear warning that her condition is good, and it is one that Spratt has heeded.
"She showed in the time trial that she is in good form at the moment. We look at her as probably being our biggest competition, but having said that, we can't just focus on her," she said of her former teammate. "I know there are also some fast girls here but she is so strong at the moment and I imagine she will want to make it as hard as she can on that climb."
Former teammates Rachel Neylan (Movistar), Shara Gillow (FDJ), and Tiff Cromwell (Canyon-SRAM), plus the likes of Chloe Hosking (Ale Cipollini) and Lauren Kitchen (FDJ) are all sure to cause Spratt and co headaches, but Spratt believes that Mitchelton-Scott is deserving of their favourite status for the race and can claim its sixth win in seven years.
"On paper and overall, I think we still are the favourite because we do have seven riders on that start line and most of us can potentially win given the situation. There are a number of NRS teams that have a good number of people in the race and there are some good individuals but overall, our team would have to be looked at as the favourites," she said. "With that, there is responsibility so if a break goes up the road then everyone will look at us to chase it down. We have carried that into the national championships since 2012 so we are accustomed to having that pressure and using it in good ways."
A winner in two even-numbered years, the "good luck charm" of having family at the race is another reason that Spratt is confident of 2018 success. Of the riders who are out to stop Spratt from becoming the outright second most successful women at the champion, Kitchen is the danger name.
"Lauren Kitchen. I was really impressed with her in the criterium," she said. "I think she has come here in great shape and is really motivated being with a new team as well. She is a very smart rider as well and knows how to play the game and make the most out of the race. I see her as a big threat."
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