Defending Santos Women's Tour champion Amanda Spratt (Mitchelton-Scott) is relishing the hardest edition yet of the Australian race. The 30-year-old won the opening stage last year, never looking back as the three following stages were all decided in bunch sprints
In 2018, the Santos Women's Tour has been elevated to UCI 2.1 status. Accompanying the elevation in status is a rise in climbing metres with hilltop finishes on stages 2 and 3 of the race - a welcome change to the parcours for the punchy Spratt.
"It is a very different race this year to what it was last year. This year, having the three road stages is better, it raises the professionalism of the race as a whole," Spratt said, highlighting the difficulties of the 122.4km stage 3 from the Bend Motorsport Park to Handorf.
"It is going to be a tough stage. The tour is not going to be one until that stage is finished. Gaps can form all the way to the finish. It is a brilliant course and we are really excited by it. It is more of a classics type in the final but even in the start with possible crosswinds, it will be really exciting."
Fourth at the national championships Sunday suggests Spratt has again enjoyed a fruitful off-season and can continue her successful string of results across the Australian summer. Taking confidence from her result, Spratt headlines a strong team for the four-stage race, and with the likes of Annemiek Van Vleuten and Lucy Kennedy also pinning on race numbers for Mitchelton-Scott, Spratt is embracing the spread of talent on her team.
"It is not just me who can win stages and the overall here," she said. "Three or four of the team could be in the position, and that helps to take the pressure off. We are just going to go out there and enjoy it."
With the race arguably suiting her strengths more so than any previous years, Spratt has further reason to be buoyant in her chances for a repeat win of the blue jersey.
"What we saw last year was that is was set after stage 1, and there weren't really enough time bonuses after that to get the time back on me," she said. "It will be completely different this time. You could have the GC set after stage 2, and 3 three is so exciting. Particularly in those last 10 kilometres, even four kilometres, you have climbs, a technical finish then really steep hilltop finish.
"I imagine you could be going really well and then your legs just blow up on the final climb on stage 3 and you can lose a lot of time. It is going to be really important to be saving energy when you can this week, having a good team around you and just picking your moments."
Looking at potential rivals, Spratt earmarked the UniSA-Australia team.
"In terms of the GC contenders here, I think probably more of the Australian riders just being this time of the year," she said. "We are all in really great shape. Shannon is in great shape. The UniSA team are a really strong line-up. They could be a national team at a world championship.
"But you should never underestimate your opponents," Spratt said. "We saw last year with Janneke Ensing coming from Holland. She stepped off a plane 24 hours before from winter to summer and was smashing it."