An early attack from Mitchelton-Scott put the rest of the peloton on the back foot, and Amanda Spratt made the most of the opportunity to sprint to the victory ahead of 40-year-old Justine Barrow (Roxsolt-Attaquer) in the Australian national road race.
The final sprint was technically where the race was won for Spratt, but the early attack on the third lap of the Buninyong circuit, supported by teammate Grace Brown, was where the majority of the peloton was put out of contention for the title.
“We wanted to have a bit of surprise tactic,” said Spratt, “normally everyone is waiting, waiting, waiting. We thought why not turn it on its head and already go on the third lap.”
“I’m very excited. This was the first big goal for the year, I was hoping to focus on the road race this year. It’s a bit different from normal, I came into the race as the sole leader this year. We had a really solid plan and I’m grateful for the team for backing me… proud that I could pull it off.”
The first lap saw a crash split up the race, and when the peloton made it back to the base of Mt Buninyong for the third ascent of the climb, it was the audacious attack of Brown and Spratt, with Barrow following, that saw the peloton powerless to answer. With still over 80 kilometres left to race, an organised peloton might have stood a chance at bringing the race back together, but with the two strongest teams at the race up the road, the main group struggled for cohesion.
“We had Gracie Elvin riding really hard from the start and then we had Grace Brown launch a phenomenal attack the third time up the climb,” said Spratt. “It was only her and I away up the climb initially and then Justine Barrow came across.
“We were expecting more people but we thought ‘we’ll roll with this’. It was a dream race really, I owe a lot to Grace Brown it was great to see her on the podium.”
The group of three inexorably built their lead over the next few laps, stretching out their gap to two and half minutes with five laps remaining in the race. In the chasing peloton, riders were being dropped in chunks as the pace increased on the ascent of the QOM.
With four laps remaining, an attack from the peloton saw defending champion Sarah Gigante forcing an elite selection among the chasers with only Shara Gillow (FDJ Aquitane Futuroscope Nouvelle), Jaime Gunning (Specialized Women’s Racing), Kirsty Deacon (Veris) with Lucy Kennedy (Mitchelton-Scott) shadowing the move with her teammates up the road in mind.
The attack didn’t stick and came back together to form a much larger chasing group, but cooperation that had been there had been disappeared at that point and the break’s advantage pushed out further as they came into the final laps.
Spratt picked her moment to attack on the second last ascent of the Mt Buninyong, with 22 kilometres left to race. The effect was that while the 40-year-old Barrow was able to follow, Brown dropped off and had to fight her along behind the lead pair. Brown was able to nearly get back in contact on the last lap, and hung just behind the top two until the pace accelerated and she was left to ride in for the bronze medal.
Barrow and Spratt cooperated well, with the advantage expected to be with the Mitchelton-Scott rider, who possessed the better sprint and a wealth of experience racing as one of the top riders in the world.
Spratt made some surges on the final ascent of Mt Buninyong, but Barrow was able to respond and tried her own counterattack over the top of the ascent with Barrow able to answer. The pair swapped turns into the finish, but with Brown closing the gap down, Barrow still needed to ride tempo on the front.
Spratt launched her sprint and immediately looked the winner, jumping away from Barrow and claiming her third national title.
“I felt confident I could beat her (Barrow) in a sprint,” said Spratt, “it wasn’t a big concern if it came down to a sprint. I knew that she’s a very strong rider, I looked through the recent results from the Tour of Tassie, Tour of Bright and she’s definitely someone right at the top of my list. I do follow the NRS (National Road Series) while I’m home and keep an eye on those results.
“Regardless, I’m in good shape here, I tried to attack and I couldn’t get away. I was very impressed.”
Spratt has made a habit of winning national titles in Olympic years, with her previous road titles coming in 2012 and 2016. Spratt joked when asked if the prospect of Olympics on the horizon gives her more motivation.
“Maybe, yeah,” laughed Spratt. The pressure is on now to keep going until 2024, geez!”
The silver medal was a just reward for Barrow, with the 40-year-old showing up her juniors with her formidable climbing ability. The story of her journey through cycling is an inspiring one, check out the article on Cycling Central that details her performance.
Brown swept into the finish just nine seconds down on Spratt and Barrow, with visions of perhaps making a late comeback like Michael Freiberg in the mens national road race a year prior.
“We were in a really good position and I just worked really hard to keep extending that lead,” said Brown. “I did have that image of Michael Freiberg in my head, I kept pushing in those last two laps up the climbs, trying to keep in contact with the girls, but once I got to the one kilometre marker I knew they were too far ahead.”
“My ride today surprised me quite a bit, I didn’t think that I’d be as strong on the hill. It definitely helped me being able to ride it at my own pace. I’m really happy with where I’m at.”
Emily Herfoss (Roxsolt-Attaquer) capped off a superb championships for her personally by attacking on the final lap from the peloton, coming in solo ahead of the peloton five minutes and 41 seconds behind Spratt. Chloe Hosking cleaned up the sprint behind, but the most significant aspect of the bunch kick was that Jaime Gunning (Specialized Women’s Racing) took out the Under 23 womens title after being lead out by her teammates.
Sarah Gigante (TIBCO-SVB) finished second, with Ruby Roseman-Gannon (ARA Sunshine Coast) taking the bronze medal after finishing in the next group on the road.
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Written by Jamie Finch-Penninger