Amanda Spratt went into last year's Giro Rosa as a domestique hoping to help her team to victory. But when her teammate Katrin Garfoot fell ill and had to abandon ahead of stage 5, Spratt stepped into the void to take a breakthrough result at the only Grand Tour on the women's calendar, with fifth place overall.
This season, with Garfoot departing the team over the winter and a string of top results behind her, Spratt now has the honour of being nominated joint leader for the Mitchelton-Scott squad alongside last year's third-place Annemiek van Vleuten. Spratt tells Cyclingnews that even she wasn't expecting to do what she did, and heads towards this year's race brimming with confidence.
"Last year, I went into the Giro with the idea to turn up in the best form possible to just support Annemiek and Katrin Garfoot. In the end, Katrin was sick and pulled out and I kind of got put into that role as second leader. I think I surprised everyone, myself included," Spratt told Cyclingnews. "This year, I go in with a lot more confidence, knowing that I can do it and I can get through the 10 days well.
"I think my climbing has stepped up a lot this year and it has been a big focus. Certainly, with the Giro being a lot more climbing focused it gives me more confidence there. Our whole team has stepped up and we have riders to cover all situations as well. Obviously, Annemiek is in great shape, we've also got Lucy Kennedy coming back into the team. She's in great shape too. We've got options and a lot of riders who can do well."
Like Van Vleuten, Spratt chose to spend much of June training at altitude after racing Emakumeen Bira, where she led home a 1-2 with her Dutch teammate, at the end of May. Spratt went to Livigno in the Italian Alps for three weeks with her teammate Kennedy, while much of her team competed at the Women's Tour.
As much of the peloton returned home over the past two weekends to contest their national championships, Spratt eased herself back into racing with the SwissEver GP Cham – Hagendorn, where she took a comfortable solo win. The time away from racing has given Spratt a chance to clear the decks mentally and now she's ready to go all in at the Giro.
"I think I'm in a good place. Also, when I'm a bit more mentally fresh, it also works better for me. I'm a bit more excited and I'm on the start line really ready to suffer and kill myself," she said. "The Giro this year is going to be really hard and all the harder stages are going to be in the last half of the Giro, so I think for that fact alone it will be really important."
Hard is a word that is used a lot when discussing this year's Giro, particularly with the inclusion of the Monte Zoncolan for the first time in over 20 years. The formidable climb comes on the penultimate day of racing and is likely to be the decider when it comes to the overall standings.
"I'm excited. It's a good step for women's cycling. It's the closest thing that we have to a Grand Tour so it's good to be able to challenge ourselves on such hard terrain," said Spratt. "I love the Giro because there's a mix of everything. There's the team time trial and then we have the flatter sprint days and then we really go into the mountains. For sure, it's going to be the strongest rider that wins."
The team time trial will also be a big focal point for the Mitchelton-Scott squad in particular as they look at testing themselves in the discipline ahead of the World Championships in Austria in September. The squad has been based just down the road from the team time trial route in Verbania and plan to give it a thorough going over in the build-up to the race, which begins on Friday.
"With the team time trial first, it's not really long but you can gain a few seconds there," explained Spratt. "I think the way everyone performed in the individual time trial at Bira, I think other teams thought Mitchelton are really coming together as time triallists. It's something that we are working on and we're quite open about our goal to have a go at the World Championships this year as well. It's something that we're putting in a lot of time and effort into this year, with an eye on the Giro team time trial, Sweden and then the World Championships."
Best season ever
Over the past two seasons, there has been a gradual uptick in Spratt's results with a win at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race in 2016 and her first Tour Down Under title last season before her fifth place at the Giro. This year, it has all come together for Spratt in a major fashion with a second Tour Down Under overall victory, podium places at the Amstel Gold Race and Liege-Bastogne-Liege, the overall win at Emakumeen Bira and top 10s at all but one of the Women's WorldTour races she's started.
Her consistency has put her second to Anna van der Breggen in the WorldTour standings, with Mitchelton-Scott also sitting in second place in the team rankings.
"Every season I've had one result here or there but this season has been great and I've been pretty consistent," Spratt told Cyclingnews. "I started off really great at the TDU and then the Ardennes, where I had two podiums, and then winning Bira. So far this season, it has been pretty incredible and definitely my best ever.
"I've always felt like I've made little improvements. Now it finally feels like it has really been a breakthrough and this hard work is finally coming together. It's thanks to my coach Gene Bates who has been amazing with me and so fun to work with, and the team too. The environment that we have in Mitchelton-Scott has been a big driver in pushing me forwards and giving me the confidence that I can be there in the finals."