Australia's Amanda Spratt is one of a handful of favourites that could win the world title in the elite women's road race at the 2018 UCI Road World Championships in Innsbruck on Saturday. She has the support of a seven-rider team, a course tailor-made for her and the motivation to fight for the rainbow jersey.
"I realise after the season I've had that I'm one of the favourites, and it's not a position that I've ever been in, but this season has been incredible for me, and I've taken a huge step up," Spratt told Cyclingnews.
"My main emotion at the moment is excitement. I'm relaxed, and I don't feel a lot of pressure because I think that there are other women in the race that have more pressure on their shoulders than me.
"When they announced the Innsbruck course, though, I was looking at it as an opportunity for me, and that it would be a big goal for me."
The women will race 156.2km that starts in Kufstein and combines a long hilly loop (84.7km), which includes a 5km climb to Gnadenwald, and three shorter circuits that have a climb to Igls on each lap before a descent to the finish line in Innsbruck.
"If you want to be good at climbing than you need to be climbing a lot - that's simple," Spratt said. She described some of the changes that her coach Gene Bates made to her training program to prepare her for the challenging parcours at the Worlds.
"We knew the course demands and that we have to race the final circuit three times. It's about a 20-minute climb, and so I've done a lot of efforts that were tailored toward that effort. I'm a dynamic climber and I like the change of pace.
"I came to Innsbruck in October by myself, booked it all, and rode the course. I've known the course for a year and what I need to do to be good, and that has helped me with my whole focus. My biggest goal coming into this season was the Ardennes Classics, Giro Rosa and the World Championships."
Spratt has had one of the most successful years of her career, meeting nearly all her targets; winning the Santos Women's Tour Down Under and Emakumeen Bira. She also won a stage at the Giro Rosa and briefly wore the pink leader's jersey before her teammate Van Vleuten went on to win three stages and the overall title. She was third at Amstel Gold, fifth at Flèche Wallonne and second at Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
"The Ardennes were great. I couldn't have asked for a better Ardennes, maybe a win," Spratt said. "The Giro went great for the team and me. It showed that I improved my climbing. I was also very consistent this year whereas in other seasons I've had some races that went well.
"Every time it's a hilly race, I'm there, getting results and so the consistency has been key for me. I've done more climbing and more altitude camps, and so it's all been targeted toward the Worlds."
Spratt will have support from on-road captain Tiffany Cromwell, Brodie Chapman, Grace Brown, and Shara Gillow, along with Sarah Roy and Lucy Kennedy, who she races with on Mitchelton-Scott.
"Tiffany and I did junior Worlds together in Austria 13 years ago, and I trust her feeling and awareness on the road, and I think she will be a big help," Spratt said.
"I also have Roy and Lucy here, who I race with all the time, and so I'm used to them. Then we have three riders who have never raced before; Brodie, Grace and Lucy, so they have those nerves and excitement ahead of their first Worlds, but I like that energy and those nerves; it's a good mix."
"We are going into the race with a clear plan. It doesn't matter that we're not racing together all year. We know what the goal is and everyone is committed."
One of the other favourites for the road race is her Mitchelton-Scott teammate Annemiek van Vleuten, who won her second consecutive world title in the individual time trial on Tuesday. She will be racing for the Netherlands, a team that also has another top contender in Anna van der Breggen.
Spratt also noted other national teams such as the Team USA that will field Katie Hall and Megan Guarnier, and the Italians with Elisa Longo Borghini and Sofia Bertizzolo.
"We have to consider how the Dutch are going to play out the race because they have the two best climbers in the world – Anna and Annemiek – and they showed in the time trial that they are both on amazing form right now," Spratt said. "They will want a hard race, and we can use that for me. I want a selective race as well; a selective, hard race is good."
There's no doubt the race will be hard, but Spratt said that she is ready for the challenge; feeling well-trained and mentally prepared to end her best-ever season on the top step of the podium in Innsbruck.
"It's a great opportunity for me this year," she said. "I haven't gone into any other World Championships feeling excited about having a possibility of winning.
"It's a course that suits me. I've proven that I can climb with the best and it's a great opportunity, and I'd love to win the jersey this year."