A chat with Amanda Spratt: ‘I feel my best years are still to come’
Amanda Spratt is aiming high. “The dream is to win more races, to be world champion and Olympic champion,” she tells me. “The dream is to win with my team because I feel my best years are still to come.”
Now 32 years young, the Australian champion is ready to start the most important part of her season. With two big goals on the horizon — the Giro Rosa and the World Championships — and a new contract with Mitchelton-Scott, Spratt has much to look forward to.
“I just came down from altitude in Switzerland,” she says, her voice energetic. It’s clear right away that she is a person with a positive vibe on life. Thinking about it, I have never seen a picture of an angry Amanda Spratt.
As her big target races approach, Spratt admits to feeling a sense of nervous anticipation. Earlier in her career, that feeling might have led to her spending energy in races when she didn’t need to. That’s something she’s working on.
“Yeah that nervous energy is still there,” she smiles. “I remember my very first World Championships in Verona [in 2004, in the junior ranks – ed]. Marianne Vos was there, Ellen van Dijk, Marta Bastianelli — all riders that are still on top of their game now. I attacked and attacked and saw Vos just patiently waiting at the back of the bunch … and becoming world champion!
“When I won the Giro [Rosa] stage two years ago, that nervous energy was back for a bit. The team had been protecting me and Annemiek [van Vleuten] the whole day leading up to that final 15-kilometre climb. We had done a recon of the climb and knew exactly where the steep bits were. Annemiek attacked first and whittled down the field. When she got caught, it was up to me.
“I was surprised to get such a big gap and kept looking over my shoulder maybe a few too many times. But I won the stage and it’s a great memory. Saving energy is still on my list of ‘things to improve’ though.”
Spratt has learned a lot over the years and cherished working with some of the biggest names in women’s cycling; riders like Judith Arndt, Emma Johansson and, of course, Annemiek van Vleuten.
“You learn a lot by just watching them,” she says. “For me it took a while to climb up the ladder in cycling. I was really good as a junior and then the jump up was hard for me. I knew I was going to make it but I also kept looking at riders like Vos or Van Dijk who seemed to make that transition effortlessly. In the end it also appeared I had an injury where my sciatic nerve caused me so much pain. I had surgery on that back in 2008 and then gradually came to where I am now.
“I owe a lot to riders like Annemiek. By just watching her you learn so much. It’s no coincidence she is on top of the world. Everything she does, she does with full commitment, especially that final 1%. I also feel that the level of the entire team is lifted because of her. You can also always ask her questions and she helps you out. For that I am grateful.”
Next year Spratt will be the dedicated team leader of Mitchelton-Scott, a team she’s been with since the beginning, in 2012. Annemiek van Vleuten, with whom Spratt has been teammates since 2016, is moving on to Movistar.
“There were other options for me but I asked myself at this point in my career: what do I want to achieve, what are my goals, and what do I need for that?,” Spratt says. “In the end Mitchelton-Scott was the logical choice. I also feel a lot of loyalty towards the team and towards Gerry Ryan who has been supporting the team from the start. I feel I am still progressing as a rider and that my best years are still to come. I want to spend those years with Mitchelton-Scott.”
Spratt has been champion of Australia three times already, including in 2020, and finished in the top ten on six other occasions. She’s also finished on the podium at the Road World Championships twice, placing second in Innsbruck in 2018 and third in Yorkshire in 2019. She’ll head to the 2020 Road Worlds later this month as leader of the Australian road race team.
“I have to complete the collection, don’t I?,” she says. “The new course in Italy is different than Martigny, in Switzerland [where Worlds was supposed to be before it was cancelled due to Swiss coronavirus restrictions — ed.]. I think Italy is harder. In Switzerland we had a pretty long run-in towards the mountain and then a 15-20-minute climbing effort. Italy is more go from the start with shorter climbs.
“It will be a more tactical game with narrow roads too. I think it will be a more dynamic and open race. We as the Australian team have to play the game by numbers and take it up against the orange squad from the Netherlands.”
The women’s peloton has put on quite a few great races in the past few weeks; races that were exciting from start to finish like GP Plouay, La Course, and Strade Bianche. Some riders like Van Vleuten and Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig would like races to be their full 160 km, UCI-appointed maximum distance but Spratt feels longer races are not always better.
“We haven’t disappointed so far when it comes to bringing excitement, have we?,” she says. “In Australia the viewing figures for La Course were higher than ever before and SBS are showing the daily highlights of the Giro Rosa for the first time now. There is a demand for it.
“I feel like it doesn’t always have to be super-long stages where we have breakaways up the road caught in the final ten kilometres. In the end we proved that we make the race exciting, no matter the distance. Longer races of over four hours can be more boring than shorter and more dynamic races.”
Spratt started cycling from a young age. Her father and grandfather took her and her younger brother to the BMX track. Her first world championships were the BMX Worlds in Melbourne when she was 11. She has done a myriad of other sports but ended up doing track and road cycling from the age of 12. As a junior she won the rainbow jersey in the points race in Los Angeles.
“When you see old videos of me throwing a discus you know why that wasn’t for me,” she laughs. “The hand-eye coordination is way off. I also tried swimming and gymnastics but cycling came out on top. From a young age I have had such a terrific support network in cycling. I had the opportunity to ride the junior world championships in Verona in 2004 and then continue through the Australian Institute of Sport [AIS].
“Coming from Australia it’s not always an easy road. Some states are actively encouraging girls to ride and others aren’t. You just need to go to Europe and that’s not always easy. I went through AIS for which I am grateful. I would never have made it without them. There are also girls like Chloe Hosking and Sarah Roy who had a different route. They just went to Europe, did kermesses and got noticed.”
The rider from New South Wales sees a future in helping other riders succeed in their careers. She is a real team player and loves the team aspects of the sport. Even now on Mitchelton-Scott she loves helping others progress but she also still sees many things she wants to improve herself.
“I love seeing the riders on my team grow,” Spratt says. “When I look at myself, I always see things to improve. Even when I just won a race, I think of the things I could have done better. The most prominent things on my to-do list are to improve my sprinting and climbing. My trainer Gene Bates and me have a great partnership. I also need to learn how to save energy better, especially when I am team leader next year and ride against Annemiek and not with her.”
Spratt has finished a Bachelor of Communications degree during her career and got a university certificate in business when she was injured over 10 years ago. She splits her time living between Italy, in Livigno and Gavirate where the AIS base is located in the north of Italy, and in Switzerland where her partner, a physiotherapist, lives. In Italy she finds a country that she has a love for — the food, the culture, the coffee, and the racing.
“The Giro is special,” she says. “It’s the only Grand Tour we have and it’s usually very varied with 10 races in one. I once wore the maglia rosa after that stage I won in 2018. When you say in cycling that you have the maglia rosa people know what it is.
“This year the course is very balanced with a team time trial that is not too long. We have flat stages and climbing stages but not the super-long climbs of previous years. Due to the absence of an individual time trial, the time differences won’t be as big as previous years.
“I’m really excited for the Giro. This has been the period I want to be in great shape for and I feel like my level is good now. Our aim is to win with the team. That’s my favorite thing about cycling: working as a team and winning as a team.”