When Amanda Spratt fronted the post-race press conference in Innsbruck, almost 12 months ago to this day, the expression on her face was one of elation. Spratt and the Australian national team had made it clear that the 2018 UCI Road World Championships were a target, and the shining silver medal around her neck was evidence of a job well done.
Kieran Pender

Cycling Central
26 Sep 2019 - 8:28 AM  UPDATED 26 Sep 2019 - 9:42 AM

While there was none of the usual runner-up remorse that afternoon, in the weeks and months that followed Spratt has reflected on her second-place finish behind Anna van der Breggen in Austria. That reflection has led her to one conclusion: silver is not enough. “I can win the world title,” Spratt declares. “That’s what I am aiming for.”

This week the Australians are in Yorkshire, northern England, with their eyes on rainbow stripes. Both the women’s and men’s teams believe they are legitimate contenders to conclude the world championships with gold around the necks of their respective leaders.

The women roll out on Saturday morning local time for a 150-kilometre challenge, enduring almost 2,400 metres of elevation across an initial route and three laps of a loop around Harrogate.

“It is a tricky course,” says Spratt. “Teams that want to win will need numbers coming into the final section because it’s going to be a tough race to control. We have a strong team.” Spratt and several colleagues undertook a course reconnaissance earlier this year and will be hoping to use that knowledge to their advantage.

“There is a common theme with the two road races,” explains head coach Bradley McGee, a former Olympic gold medallist on the track. “There are early difficulties, small roads, short climbs, nasty descents – that’s a lot of load and stress to be dealt with early. The course then transitions into the finishing circuit, and given all the hard work to get there, the latter stages will be very challenging from a strategic perspective.”

Spratt’s medal prospects were hit earlier this month with the withdrawal of Grace Brown and Sarah Roy, due to illness and injury. “It is not ideal – we really feel for Grace and Sarah,” says coach McGee. Jessica Allen and Chloe Hosking have been drafted in, the latter on a high after winning the sprint stage at the Women’s Vuelta. “It shows the depth of Australian riders in the Women’s World Tour,” McGee continues. “We are very fortunate to be able to replace in such a solid manner.”

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Watch Australia's top cyclists take it to the best in the world around the rolling roads and vistas of Yorkshire, England this weekend live on SBS On Demand and SBS Viceland.

On Sunday, the men round out the week of action with their gruelling 285-kilometre contest, including seven laps of the circuit. After a year away from the national team (due to a hilly 2018 road race), Michael Matthews returns with the hope of completing his world championships medal collection – after finishing second in 2015 and third in 2017.

“Michael is right there with the other favourites,” offers McGee. “There are a number of riders in that same category, which is the beauty of world championships racing. That makes it very hard to predict a winner. But that’s not our job – our job is to focus on our strengths, be aware of our challenge areas and put the best package together to get the result.”

With road captain Simon Clarke and super-domestique Jack Haig leading an experienced team, Matthews will be capably supported in Yorkshire. His recent victory at the Grand Prix Cycliste de Québec, a bumpy race of over 200 kilometres, will add confidence – particularly given the win saw him overcome fellow Worlds contenders Peter Sagan, Greg Van Avermaet and Julian Alaphilippe (albeit Mathieu Van der Poel was absent). According to McGee, that late burst of confidence could be crucial.

“Because of the nature of the race, the length, the potential bad weather, it will be a challenge of confidence for all the favourites,” explains the ex pro. “There will be the angel and the devil on the shoulders of all of them. You have to hold composure until the business end of the bike race.”

It has been 10 years since Cadel Evans became the first and at this stage only Australian to claim the elite road race rainbows, with his stunning solo victory in Mendrisio, Switzerland. No Australian female has ever won the women’s equivalent.

But in Yorkshire this weekend, McGee’s charges have a real chance to claim not one gold medal but two. For their coach, a veteran of several road world championships, a significant 48 hours await.

“Road Worlds are always a big moment,” he says. “A lot of preparation, organisation and deliberation goes into this. All the campaign processes – from observation to selection to guidance, and bringing the staff and equipment together – there’s a lot of work to get here. But once you are here, you need to press play and deliver.

“This is the fun part of the campaign.”

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