Three aggressive showings saw the Sydney local collect third at Amstel Gold Race, fifth at Fleche Wallonne and second at Liège–Bastogne–Liège. Spratt talked to Cycling Central about her performances and current purple patch of form.
“This is the key period that I targeted for the first part of the season,” said the Mitchelton-Scott rider. “The expectation was to be there for the finals and try to get a result in one of the races."
It was a far better return than just a single result for the 30 year-old, with two podium finishes and a fifth, even more impressive given injury and illness had threatened to derail the plan.
“It wasn’t smooth sailing moving up to it. I had a foot injury and I got the flu so I missed about two weeks of training.
“I think my expectations were a bit lower as I started the week because I felt like I might be a little underdone after missing that training. In the end I was probably a bit fresher for the races and it was a bit of a blessing in disguise.”
The pint-sized Spratt was regarded as Australia’s best climber after top performances like sixth at La Course, fifth overall at the Giro Rosa and two overall wins at the Tour Down Under. Nonetheless, the strong Ardennes results represent a first for the two-time national road race champion.
“In Amstel it was actually my first World Tour podium in a one day race,” she said. “Especially in this season with my coach (and Mitchelton-Scott director) Gene Bates, we wanted to focus on getting better at these one-day races. It’s so important for those races like the world championships and the Olympics.
“For me, this last week has proved that hard work and focus has paid off.
"This is probably the biggest week of my career and the Liège result in particular is the biggest moment of my career and the one I’m the most proud of at the moment.”
Spratt’s best seasons have come in recent years, long after her entry into the elite women's peloton in 2012 with Orica-AIS.
“It's definitely a result of a bit of maturation from my seasons as a pro, getting a bit stronger and older. Learning how to race a bit smarter sometimes. I’ve had more times that I’ve been in that leadership role and I’ve had to kind of learn to save all my energy, let my teammates work and save it all for the final.
“The other big influence has been Gene Bates who has been incredible to work with and a big part of my progression in the last two or three years. He’s always challenging me in every session and it’s never been boring.”
The focus on the Ardennes didn’t come without some sacrifice for Spratt, the Commonwealth Games road race on the Gold Coast coming at the same time as the hilly Classics. The decision not to participate came early in the piece, but it was far from an easy one for the proud Australian.
“The hardest point was actually making the decision,” said Spratt. “Gene first mentioned it to me in August and I hated the idea.
“It took me a good few months to decide that I wouldn’t put my hand up for selection. That’s probably an indication of how hard the decision was – that it took that long.
“By the time the race came around, I was comfortable with the decision and I was really excited for the girls. I’ll admit to a sneaky 3 a.m. check of my phone to see how they went.”
The Ardennes ‘week’ is a relatively new concept within women's cycling. The women's Flèche Wallonne has run since 1998, with Amstel Gold and Liège–Bastogne–Liège joining the calendar last year to match the three men’s classics over the same period. The women’s peloton has jumped at the chance to race in front of the big crowds commonplace at the men’s races.
“It already is very prestigious,” said Spratt. “We’ve wanted to have these races for ages and from last season we’ve had all three. An Ardennes rider is different from a cobbled classics rider and I think for me, for instance, I can really show what I’ve got at these races.
“They are races with so much history and even riding the course days before, you see so many people out there and you realise how big it is.
With no live feed made available by organisers for networks to broadcast live, the television profile of the women's races were a fraction afforded the men's events.
“We want to be racing these big races,” said Spratt, “and I think everyone would say how happy we are to be here at these races. For sure, Flèche Wallonne and Liège, the coverage could have been better. I think the logical next step is better coverage for these races.”
The next big target for Spratt will be the womens ‘unofficial Grand Tour’, the Giro Rosa, where Spratt will have the opportunity to better her fifth overall finish from last season. She’ll be part of a formidable three-pronged approach from the Mitchelton-Scott squad.
“Everything from here is geared towards the Giro,” said Spratt, “we’ll have a strong team there with Annemiek (van Vleuten) and also Lucy Kennedy, so we’ll go in with a number of options.”
Regardless of her performances for the rest of the season, it's been a banner year already for Spratt. A massive win is certainly not far off and the Giro Rosa seems a likely target.