Annemiek van Vleuten and Amanda Spratt will return from injury to the Mitchelton-Scott line-up for Sunday's Tour of Flanders, with the team also boasting recent Brabanste Pijl winner Grace Brown, Jess Allen, Gracie Elvin and Sarah Roy, who took fourth place at Gent-Wevelgem last weekend.
It makes the Australian WorldTour squad the team to beat this weekend, but they'll face strong challenges from road race world champion Anna van der Breggen and her Boels Dolmans temmates, Trek-Segafredo – with Lizzie Deignan, Ellen van Dijk and Elisa Longo Borghini – and last year's winner Marta Bastianelli, providing she and her Ale BTC Ljubljana teammates are given the all-clear to race after pulling out of Gent-Wevelgem due to a positive coronavirus test within the team.
Van Vleuten fractured her wrist in a crash at the finish of stage 7 of the Giro Rosa last month, and was forced out of the race while leading overall. However, the Dutchwoman subsequently wore a cast to take part in both the World Championships road race at the end of September – where she finished second – and Liège-Bastogne-Liège at the start of October, where 28th place prompted Van Vleuten to take a break from racing to let her wrist heal and build for Flanders.
"I needed some sun and a different training area to energise myself and my body again," said Van Vleuten, who travelled to Sardinia. "After Liège, I noticed my level was not so good anymore and I needed a solid block of training if I wanted to compete at Flanders.
"I realise this could be the last race of the season, and for me, after five years, also my last one with the team," she said, referring to both the worsening coronavirus situation in Europe, which could yet cut the already shortened season even shorter, and the fact that Van Vleuten will make the move to Spanish team Movistar for 2021.
"My wrist is still painful, but the pain is getting less every day. So, all good signs with this that my wrist is ready for some cobbles," she said.
Spratt is returning from the concussion she sustained in the same crash as Van Vleuten at the Giro Rosa. The 33-year-old Australian had hoped to return to racing at the World Championships, but was advised to keep resting and ensure that she was fully recovered before resuming competition.
Despite the presence of her team's two biggest names, the in-form Grace Brown will surely also be given the freedom she's enjoyed at recent races, taking second place at Liège and winning the Brabanste Pijl, and she, Spratt and Van Vleuten will be able to enjoy strong support from Jess Allen, Gracie Elvin and the in-form Sarah Roy.
It will also be Elvin's last Tour of Flanders following the Australian's announcement last week that she would be retiring from professional cycling at the end of the season.
The 31-year-old finished second at Flanders in 2017, but appears content to try to enjoy the race and to help her teammates as much as possible.
"The team has shown that we're in good form and working well together, and it's exciting for me to see riders like Grace step up in these races," Elvin said. "I want to share my love and experience of this race one last time with my teammates and just have some fun and give our best on the day."
Sports director Alejandro Gonzalez-Tablas added: "Obviously, the team is really motivated after some great performances over the last few weeks, with Grace taking second at Liege and winning the Brabantse Pijl, plus Roy was there at the finish in Gent-Wevelgem, too.
"So, we have a great group of on-form riders, and this will allow us to race widely and not play only one card," he said. "We have Annemiek coming back into the team, too, after missing the last two races, and that will give us even more options.
"The great news is that we also have Spratt back after her crash at the Giro Rosa, and she is always an asset to have in the team as a road captain with her experience," said Gonzalez-Tablas.
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