• Amanda Spratt has the support of a strong team heading into the 2018 Womens World Championships Road Race (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Amanda Spratt heads into a hilly world championships in Innsbruck with the climbing ability to win the race and a strong squad to help her do so. No one on the Australian squad is underestimating the task, but there's an optimism that Spratt has a real shot at becoming Australia's first female to win the elite womens road race at the world championships.
Kieran Pender

29 Sep 2018 - 9:46 AM 

For Lucy Kennedy and her Australian teammates, Saturday’s mountainous 156.2 kilometre course to determine the 2018 female world champion represents a journey into the unknown.

“It is quite an unusual course for the Worlds, and for women’s racing in general,” Kennedy tells Cycling Central. “We don’t often do races with this much climbing, so it is a bit unclear how it will all unfold, because it’s long and it’s hard.”

The race begins in the town of Kufstein before heading towards the tough Gnadenwald climb. It then hits a circuit with a profile resembling a Toblerone block, as the women do three ascents of the Igls climb before a finale into Innsbruck.

“The climb on the circuit is not itself a super hard climb – it’s no Zoncolan – but it is long and you do it three times in 156km,” continues Kennedy. “That’s an unknown.”

For the 30-year-old Queenslander, just being in Innsbruck is a huge achievement. Kennedy made her World Tour debut this year, swapping office life as a traffic modeller for a professional cycling contract. But throughout an injury-plagued season it seemed doubtful she would pull on the green and gold.

“When this course was first announced I thought it was definitely something to target, but during the season it became less and less likely I would be here,” she admits. “So I’m very excited to be here and in very good form.”

Kennedy’s current strength could prove crucial to the ambitions of compatriot Amanda Spratt, who was named as team leader when the Australian squad was first announced.

“Amanda Spratt is in fine form,” says technical director Brad McGee. “The Worlds have been a big focus for her all season and she has the full support of her teammates.

“The girls have climbed their way to number two in the international rankings, which shows the depth across Australian women’s cycling,” he continues. “There’s full commitment there. It’s all coming together nicely.”

Alongside Spratt and Kennedy in Australian colours at the start-line will be a mix of youth and experience. New faces Grace Brown and Brodie Chapman join experienced trio Tiffany Cromwell, Shara Gillow and Sarah Roy to ride in support of Spratt. McGee points to the younger two as proof of the present strength of cycling in Australia.

“Grace Brown is youthful, talented and dynamic,” he says. “She is coming out of the domestic racing scene and is one for the future. It is the same with Brodie Chapman – she has had a standout year. Not only are the girls among the best in the world but we have some great new talent coming through, which is fantastic.”

She may have ample team support, but standing in the way of Spratt – presently the fourth-ranked female cyclist in the world on the UCI standings – is Mitchelton-Scott teammate Annemiek van Vleuten.

The world time trial champion heads a fearsome Dutch team, including Anna van der Breggen and defending road race champion Chantal Blaak. After the Netherlands swept the time trial podium earlier this week, big things are expected from the riders in orange.

“The Dutch are the team to beat – that’s very obvious,” says McGee. “Our general approach is to focus on what we can control, on our own game plan. But we have to be mindful that the Dutch are very strong – they have a lot of numbers.”

Kennedy concurs, although stresses the Australians will be keeping their eyes on the entire field.

“They are the biggest competition, but we can’t overlook some of the other teams and some of the individuals floating around,” she says. “The Americans have a good team, the Spaniards showed recently that they are climbing well.”

One advantage for Spratt and the Australians is that they know their primary rival well. Van Vleuten has raced for Australian-registered Mitchelton-Scott since 2016 – Spratt helped her to the 2018 Giro Rosa jersey, and the pair were spotted training together ahead of the World Championships.

“Fortunately these girls are racing with each other week in, week out, so they know each other very intimately – there won’t be too many surprises out there,” explains McGee. “It will come down to which team and which rider can put their plan into action best.”

While Spratt and van Vleuten may have trained together for Saturday’s race, McGee insists there won’t be too many smiles in the peloton tomorrow.

“It’s very healthy relationship,” he says. “There’s a lot of competitiveness. I am sure whoever wins the other one will be there to congratulate them. But in the race it’ll be on, I can tell you that.”

Whatever the road race brings, Kennedy is delighted to be helping a teammate and friend who has supported her through a challenging 2018.

“Spratty has shown that she is one of the best riders in the world,” observes Kennedy. “She has the full support of the team and deserves a really good result. She has been a great help for me this year during the hard times, so it’s awesome I can ride for her on Saturday.”

The womens world championships road race will be broadcast on SBS Viceland from Saturday 10:55pm AEST, with the full race streaming from 8:00 pm AEST on Cycling Central and via the SBS OnDemand App.