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BIRDWOOD, Australia (CT) – Step 1: Amanda Spratt wins a stage and takes the overall lead. Step 2: Spratt holds that lead through to the end of the race.
That’s how the past three editions of the Women’s Tour Down Under have gone. On today’s second stage of the 2020 edition, Spratt and her team ticked off step 1 and gave every reason to believe that step 2 will follow.
The Aussie team was everywhere. They were one of the teams trying to split the race in the crosswinds after about 20 km. They were patrolling the front as the race entered its lumpy final 30 km. And they were the ones that ultimately tore the race apart, paving the way for Spratt’s victory.
“We really planned to put the pressure on before that penultimate climb,” Grace Brown (Mitchelton-Scott) said afterwards. “So we had the whole team on the front leading into the base of that and then Lucy [Kennedy] just smashed it up the climb and we came away with only five of us.”
This was Mitchelton-Scott making a statement. The whole squad lined out, drilling the pace on approach to and up a late ascent, shelling riders left, riding and centre.
When the dust settled with 21 km to go, only five riders remained up front. The Aussie team had three of them: Brown, Kennedy, and Aussie champion Spratt. Only US champion Ruth Winder (Trek-Segafredo) and young German talent Liane Lippert (Sunweb) were strong enough to tag along.
Five became three when Spratt put in her first attack, 14 km from the finish. Winder and Lippert followed with apparent ease while Brown and Kennedy fell off the pace. But Brown soon fought her way back and even had the strength to attack once she did.
The pattern repeated itself once Brown’s move was neutralised. Spratt attacked, Lippert and Winder followed with ease, Brown was dropped but fought back on, Brown attacked then was caught.
When Spratt attacked for a third time, Brown lost contact for good. But just as she did at last Sunday’s Australian Road Nationals in a near-identical situation, Brown battled on as best she could.
“I just tried to keep the pressure on and stay behind them so that Spratty didn’t have to work as much in that front group,” Brown said afterwards.
Spratt considered attacking again. After all, she’d started the day with hopes of reaching the finish alone. But with the way the stage was unfolding, she was happy to bide her time and work with Lippert and Winder to keep the chasers at bay.
“I could feel that Ruth and Liane were both very strong and in the end I made the decision ‘OK, at least with three of us … we want to minimise the number of people still going for that GC battle’,” Spratt said. “So you sort of have to weigh that up and say, ‘OK, actually today it’s beneficial to have three of us there’ and knowing tomorrow’s actually really, really hard. So that’s the decision I made on the road.”
It came down to a sprint between the three leaders. Lippert launched early to prevent Brown from regaining contact, but was quickly swamped as Spratt came through to take the stage win.
“I’m pretty excited actually to finish it off in the end,” Spratt told reporters later. “Ruth and Liane are both very strong sprinters as well so [I’m] pretty stoked with that to finish it for the team.”
Winder crossed the line in second, Lippert third, and Brown surged home just two seconds behind. Much of the field crossed the line within 24 seconds, including overnight leader Chloe Hosking (Rally).
The win puts Spratt into the ochre leader’s jersey. Worryingly for her rivals, she’s never lost it once she’s taken it. More encouraging is the fact Spratt’s lead of four seconds is easily the smallest she’s ever had while in ochre.
Winder is lurking dangerously in second place. She will be a big threat into Stirling tomorrow — she finished second on a similar stage last year. Lippert is looking equally impressive and sits third, just one further second adrift.
Others are within striking distance too. Hosking is at 21 seconds, Aussie U23 champion Jaime Gunning (Specialized Women’s Racing) is at 23, and sprint classification leader Leah Kirchmann (Sunweb) is at 24.
In short, the race isn’t over.
But if there’s anything that today confirmed, it’s that Mitchelton-Scott is certainly the strongest team on the startlist. Splitting the bunch again tomorrow seems a very real possibility.
Indeed, Spratt has said they’ll be looking to do just that.
“I think it’s the toughest stage; it’s another unpredictable stage, but we know it’s really tough,” Spratt said. “We saw again today, Grace is really strong, Lucy’s really strong, I’m strong. We saw we had three of five [at the front] so we have the strongest climbers here in the race, so why not use that?”
GC after stage 2