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Amanda Spratt takes leadership at BikeExchange after Annemiek van Vleuten’s departure

Amanda Spratt steps into the captain's seat at Team BikeExchange following the departure of Annemiek van Vleuten.

In a nod to the cancelation of the Australian international cycling calendar, we are turning our gaze Down Under for a week of feature stories, interviews, historical analysis, and other content to celebrate Australian cycling as part of Aussie Week.

The 2021 season stands to be a big one for Australian rider Amanda Spratt, and everyone within the UCI Women’s WorldTour seems to know it.

In recent calls with Spratt’s competitors and teammates, a familiar sentiment has emerged: Riders are excited to see Spratt take the lead at Team BikeExchange following the departure of the squad’s longtime star, Annemiek van Vleuten.

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“I’m really excited for Amanda Spratt — am I not supposed to say that?” said American Ruth Winder of Trek-Segafredo. “She’s a really strong rider and there’s been times when she’s not been allowed to chase and I think adding her to the chase will be good power.”

“I’m so happy for Spratty — she is awesome and I thought sometimes she’s been neutralized by Annemiek,” said Winder’s teammate Tayler Wiles. “She’s so strong.”

Hearing that praise elicited an ear-to-ear grin from Spratt during a recent Zoom interview. Spratt’s anticipation and excitement for leadership at BikeExchange this season became evident after just a few questions.

“Annemiek has been such a strong leader for us in the past, but it’s exciting to step into that leadership role,” Spratt said. “There are many times in the last seasons when I truly worked hard for her and didn’t have all the opportunities for myself. So it’s an exciting challenge.”

Amanda Spratt showing off the new colors of Team BikeExchange. Photo: Team BikeExchange

Spratt has spent her entire professional career with the BikeExchange squad (formerly Mitchelton-Scott and Orica-AIS), and in recent years she’s blossomed into an all-rounder who excels in hilly terrain and on medium-sized climbs. She owns three GC wins at the Tour Down Under and two podium finishes at the UCI road world championships.

Missing from her palmares is a big WorldTour win at a classic. There’s a logical explanation for the missing results, of course. Spratt’s progression has occurred under the vast shadow cast by van Vleuten, who has been the most dominant rider in the women’s WorldTour since 2016.

In recent years Spratt has often played second fiddle to van Vleuten, sacrificing her own ambitions in classics and stage races to pull back early breakaways, or ramp up the pace just before van Vleuten’s winning moves.

She’s gotten some opportunities to lead, but it’s been difficult to find opportunities amid van Vleuten’s dominance.

“I think I’ve been one of those riders who’s been slower to develop confidence and that winner’s mindset, and what I need to do is be there in the point end of the race saving energy for when it’s needed,” Spratt said. “The team has put confidence in me, and my teammates have put it in me too, and I’m the first one to get angry if I didn’t get the result if the team backed me.”

Of course, van Vleuten is gone now, having moved to Team Movistar in the offseason. Van Vleuten’s departure has led to ample prognosticating amongst the riders, managers, and fans as to the balance of power in the 2021 UCI Women’s WorldTour. Movistar now joins the elite circle of top teams, alongside the Team SD Worx (formerly Boels-Dolmans) team of Anna van der Breggen, the Trek-Segafredo squad of Lizzie Deignan and Elisa Longo Borghini, and the Jumbo-Visma squad of Marianne Vos.

Where does that leave BikeExchange? Spratt believes the team’s combined strength will keep it in the mix for wins.

“Obviously there are changes heading into this year with Annemiek, but from my opinion, I think our team is going to be stronger,” she said. “How we can work together and build each other up as a unit and be there together — there’s more balance across the team and that’s going to be an exciting part of the year.

I think four or five years ago there were just one or two teams, and you could pick the winner for the harder races,” Spratt continued. “We go into the one-day classics and there are 10-15 riders now who could win, and for me, that’s going to make it a lot more exciting.”

How that team strength plays out on the road is yet to be seen. It’s a safe bet that the team will back Spratt at the hilly Ardennes classics and at the Giro Rosa. Cobbles specialists Grace Brown will lead the squad into the heavy classics. Opportunities for climber Lucy Kennedy and sprinter Teniel Campbell — among others — could open up at one-day races and stage races.

Lucy Kennedy tipped Spratt as the squad’s primary leader and said the chain of command won’t be as cut-and-dry as it was during van Vleuten’s tenure.

“Spratty is clearly our leader now but I think it will be a little more spread out with more opportunities for different riders, and we have a lot of riders who can win races,” Kennedy said. “It will be a little bit liberating for more people to have opportunities and to back each other throughout the year.”