A day ahead of the start of the 2019 Women's Tour Down Under (January 10-13), defending champion Amanda Spratt says that she's identified where she and her Mitchelton-Scott teammates will try to get the upper hand and gain time – and try to make it three overall wins in a row for the Australian.
The 31-year-old pointed to Friday and Saturday – stages 2 and 3 – as the days most likely to have the biggest impact on the race, when the race finishes on Mengler Hill in the Barossa Valley and on a gradual climb up to Stirling, respectively.
"I think that the Mengler Hill stage [stage 2] will be the first real GC day," Spratt told journalists at the pre-race press conference at the Hilton Adelaide on Wednesday.
"Mengler Hill is a tough climb, but it's never just about the climb itself; it's about how hard the race is beforehand. It can be quite open there – quite windy – but a lot depends on how hard it's raced coming into the climb, and obviously we hope it's raced hard. Any race that finishes on a two-three kilometre climb like that is going to be hard, and we're going to see time differences there for sure," she said.
The following day from Nairne to Stirling uses a finishing circuit based on the one that's been used a number of times by the men's race, and the winners there have often been riders who can both climb and sprint – such as Jay McCarthy and Michael Matthews – although out-and-out sprinter Caleb Ewan and true all-rounder Tom-Jelte Slagter have also won there, making it a difficult one to call.
"I think that stage 3 to Stirling could possibly be the most exciting stage," Spratt said. "I think it really depends on what happens on the Mengler Hill stage, and how big the time gaps are.
"I think there could be quite a few surprises on the Stirling stage," she continued. "You can't really say exactly what type of rider it's going to suit right now. It really depends on how it's raced. But, for me, that could be the real deciding stage as well."
Spratt said that it's no secret that she and Mitchelton-Scott are at the race entirely committed to taking another overall victory.
"There are limited opportunities for that, but stage 2 and 3 are definitely the two main chances," the Australian said. "But we're confident that we know the course. I've ridden both of those stages; I know them really well, so we know where the opportunities are.
"We definitely have to get things right, and we've definitely learned some stuff from the Australian national championships as well, which we'll use in this race. But we're confident that we have a strong team here, and that we can use our numbers well."
Spratt will have the backing of teammates Gracie Elvin, Sarah Roy, strong climber Lucy Kennedy and newly crowned New Zealand and Australian time trial champions Georgia Williams and Grace Brown. But she said that she knows that the other teams' strong line-ups won't let Mitchelton-Scott have it all their own way.
"I think Trek-Segafredo are certainly a strong team," she said, "and then Ale Cipollini, and CCC-Liv, who are here with Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio, who's another strong GC contender.
"I just see every year that the quality of the field is growing," said Spratt. "We're seeing more international teams coming here and strong world-class international riders, so I think that's really increasing the competition.
"I certainly think that this year there's a really strong field, and I think we're going to see some different tactics and different scenarios, which is going to create some exciting racing."
Spratt said that being an Australian rider at an Australian race – and the defending champion at that – is an exciting prospect.
"I just love the way that this race is getting so much bigger, so quickly, and I love the support we get from the sponsors and the organisation," she said. "I think it'll be a really good show, so I'm really happy to be here."
Watch the Women's Tour Down Under stage 1 highlights video below.