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BUNINYONG, Australia (CT) – Mitchelton-Scott didn’t want to miss out again. They didn’t want a third straight year of jetting off to Europe without the national champion’s jersey. And so on Sunday morning, on the roads around Buninyong, they went on the offensive.
They attacked early, got numbers up the road, and launched Amanda Spratt to her third Australian road title in what was a dominant display from the country’s strongest team.
The race consisted of nine laps of a 11.6 km circuit up and around Mt. Buninyong, but in reality, the race was over after three. Spratt, the big pre-race favourite, was up the road with teammate Grace Brown for company, while 40-year-old Justine Barrow (Roxsolt-Attaquer) had also made the move.
That move had come at the start of the third ascent up Mt. Buninyong.
“Normally everyone’s sort of waiting, waiting, waiting,” Spratt said afterwards. “And we thought ‘Well, why not turn it on its head and already go on the third lap?’ So we had Gracie Elvin riding really hard from the start. And then Grace Brown just launched a phenomenal attack the third time up the climb.
“It was only her and I away together initially. And then Justin Barrow came across and we thought ‘OK, we were expecting more people but we’ll roll with this.’ And we knew we just had to go hard up the climb and really try to gain time on the rest of the circuit. And that’s what we did. It was a dream race really.”
While all three leaders contributed at various times, it was Brown who did the bulk of the work in building the trio’s advantage.
“I really owe a lot to Grace Brown,” said 32-year-old Spratt. “You saw what she did — she absolutely annihilated herself for me. She worked so so hard.”
Brown’s efforts paid off. By the end of lap 3 the gap was out to 45 seconds. After five laps it was out to two and a half minutes. By the end of lap 6 — with three laps to go — the leading trio had close to three minutes. The winner was going to come from the leading trio.
Not that those in the peloton didn’t try to get across. Defending champion Sarah Gigante (Tibco) was particularly aggressive; Brodie Chapman and Shara Gillow from FDJ both tried to get away as well. But with Lucy Kennedy (Mitchelton-Scott) following moves in the peloton, each attack was nullified as quickly as it began.
Spratt attacked from the break on the penultimate time up Mt. Buninyong. Her first attack saw Brown fall of the pace, but Barrow held firm. When Spratt tried a second dig towards the top, Barrow again stayed on her wheel.
On the final climb Spratt had another two tries to shake Barrow, but again the Roxsolt-Attaquer rider held firm. But Spratt wasn’t terribly concerned about the prospect of reaching the finish with Barrow.
“I felt confident that I could beat her in the sprint,” she said. “And I guess we had good numbers. I knew that Grace was not that far behind. So I could play that card as well and say ‘OK, I’ll wait for Grace then’.
“I think that worked in our favour. So I’m really happy with the way the whole team rode that we could use that as well.”
While Brown had been dropped on the penultimate lap, she certainly hadn’t given up. With the peloton more than five minutes behind, a bronze medal was hers if she just maintained her effort to the finish. When she started the final lap less than 10 seconds behind the leaders, it looked like she might even rejoin Spratt and Barrow.
“I did have that image of Michael Freiberg in my head,” said Brown, in reference to last year’s men’s race. “I kept pushing in those last two laps after the climbs, just trying to keep within contact of the girls. But by the time I got to the one km to go I was like ‘Nah, they’re a bit too far ahead.’”
Barrow led Spratt into the final straight and wasn’t able to react when the two-time world championship medallist kicked hard. Spratt crossed the line with enough time to celebrate her third Australian road title, a big early-season target.
“The first big goal for the year was to really focus a little bit more on the road race here,” said Spratt, who’s now won the national title in each of the past three Olympic years. “I came in as a sole leader for our team; normally it’s a little bit different. But I think we had a really solid plan. And I’m really grateful and thankful to the team for backing me and proud that I could pull it off.”
Barrow crossed the line one second later to take an impressive silver medal, while Brown held on for third, a further 10 seconds behind.
It was nearly six minutes later that the peloton roared home. Among them, Jaime Gunning (Specialized Women’s Racing) who took out the U23 women’s title by finishing eighth in the combined field. Gigante was second with 18th overall, while Ruby Roseman-Gannon was third, in 20th overall.
For Spratt, the win is a solid launching pad for another big season. She’ll head to the Women’s Tour Down Under next week in the green and gold jersey of national champion, gunning for a fourth-straight title.
Spratt will have bigger goals later in the year, too. The Spring Classics will surely be a focus. And then, of course, there’s the small matter of the Tokyo Olympics. All going well, Spratt will be among the favourites for the road race.
“I believe we can win Olympic gold with the women’s road team,” Spratt said. “So that’s what we’re aiming for.”
For now though, Spratt and her Mitchelton-Scott team can enjoy the spoils of a goal achieved in emphatic style.