Elvin and Spratt lead Orica-Scott's ambitions for Australian road title
Women's team aiming to complete sweep, adding to criterium and time trial titles
Two-time Australian road race champions Gracie Elvin and Amanda Spratt will co-lead the Orica-Scott team at Sunday's 2017 race, aiming to secure the team's fourth green-and-gold jersey of the national championships and claim a third individual national title.
Time trial champion Kat Garfoot and criterium champion Jessica Allen are two other cards that can be played by the Australian team, which will start as the overwhelming favourite for a fifth win in six years.
While the team has options and quality in its eight-rider squad, Orica-Scott will be missing four-time medallist Rachel Neylan.
"I won’t be the sole leader, but it is a course I know I can win on. I have two times now, and I know with my training and preparation I definitely have the form here to win," said 2012 and 2016 champion Spratt.
"It is one of those races where anything can happen, but the important thing is we know we are going in with a strong team. Kat just won the time trial, Jess Allen is in great form and Gracie has won it twice before. We have riders who we know can win on this course. For us, the main aim is to ensure Orica-Scott are on top of the podium."
Having claimed a confidence-boosting win at the Mitchelton Bay Cycling Classic on the tough Portarlington circuit, the 29-year-old is looking to become the first rider since Elvin in 2014 to defend her title.
"I finished my season in Europe a month earlier than normal. I have had a really big training block but you are not really sure how you are going against everyone else until you get to the racing. Bay Crits was nice confirmation of that. In training I had been feeling great and feeling good but to actually get there and race and know the legs are good and get the win on Portarlington, one of the toughest criterium circuits, that was good for confidence," she explained.
With her major target the Tour of Flanders, Elvin isn't at the same level as she has been in January in previous years. As a former winner, though, she can't be discounted and, should the opportunity present itself, she will have a crack for the title.
"From experience now I have learned to deal with that pressure and it is definitely easier when you don’t come in as defending champion. I know from the last few years I have put a lot of pressure on myself and when you walk away without the jersey it is really hard - even when you have a teammate who has won it," said Elvin, who had her preparation disrupted with her race bike mistakenly being sent to Dubai rather than Australia on the flight home from New Zealand last week.
"This year for me has been more of a slow build after the World Championships, which is another thing that has taken away from the pressure. I am not here to be definitely winning it but there's also that chance I can. It is great to have a strong group of guys here to race with so I am pretty excited to see what we can throw at everyone."
With her role to be decided as the race plays out, Elvin explained that she is expecting a tough day in the saddle with an unpredictable outcome.
"We haven’t made a clear plan yet, but we do have a lot of cards to play," she said. "For me, it is looking after myself and my teammates and taking opportunities where we can see them. There will be a lot of other strong girls racing - national level and professional girls - and we also have riders who haven’t raced yet like Tiff Cromwell. There are going to be a few surprises for us."
Also name-checking Cromwell, Spratt went further when outlining the riders most dangerous to Orica-Scott, with 2015 champion Peta Mullens firming as a clear threat.
"I think riders like Lauren Kitchen, she is always in good shape at this time of the year and I think she will be one of the big ones. Peta Mullens, we have seen her at the Bay Crits, and she is definitely in great form," Spratt said.
"Shara Gillow just got second in the time trial and is one to watch. Even some of the national series girls are preforming strongly such as Lucy Kennedy, Shannon Malseed as well. Kate Perry, who got bronze in the time trial. These are all riders who we will be looking at and watching.
"We are going there with a lot of numbers but that doesn’t mean the race is given to us on a platter. You have to really work for it too. When you have smart and strong bike riders in there, there is every chance they can win. For us, it will be about using the numbers as best as we can."
Having enjoyed a successful start to the championships, Orica-Scott are undoubtedly keen to add the road race to their early season haul, but for Elvin it won't be overly disappointing should they miss their target.
"So far everyone has been really happy with the results," she said. "Bay Crits was a great way to start the year for the girls and the last two days of racing in the nationals has been really great and there is a great vibe in the team. While the road jersey is probably the biggest goal for the team I think the way we have conducted ourselves so far has been a really great thing and a great way to start the year."
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