Spratt claims 15th in women’s road race
Published 8 August 2016 (AEDT)
Amanda Spratt was Australia’s top finisher in a brutal women’s road race at Copacabana Beach which saw the treacherous course once again prove a major factor in deciding the Olympic champion.
The Australian quartet of Spratt, plus debutants Gracie Elvin, Rachel Neylan and Katrin Garfoot, played their cards perfectly in the early stages of the 139km race and were well poised to factor in the medals in the closing stages of the punishing course.
However, as featured in the men’s race one day earlier, the famed Chinesa Vista circuit tested the world’s best with the field exploding on the final climb. Dutch rider Anna van der Breggen won gold in a sprint to the line over Emma Johannson (Sweden) and Elisa Longo Borghini (Italy).
Spratt finished 15th overall, four minutes behind van der Breggen, while Rachel Neylan finished five minutes off the pace in 22nd place and Gracie Elvin in 49th.
“If you look at the podium there today there is a really fair podium, they are three of the top riders in the world at the moment,” said Spratt, who praised the Australian women’s cycling program which rose from ninth to fourth in the year lead leading into the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
“Australian women’s cycling is ranked the highest we have been in years. And this is probably the strongest team we have fielded in an Olympic Games in the last three or four.
“We all race together all year with our trade teams so we have that element of trust, we were well prepared and confident and I think that showed in the way we raced.
“I gave it everything, I personally couldn’t anything at the end of the day and we all finished that way, so we can all be happy with our ride.”
Hot and windy conditions greeted the 67-strong pelotonat Copacabana Beach with a number of breakaways punctuating the opening coastal stretch of the race and the first of two laps of the testing Grumari Circuit.
The tricky two-kilometre cobble section at the start of the circuit, which interrupted Porte’s campaign twice on Saturday, caused havoc again with Australia with Elvin and Neylan suffering mechanicals – with Neylan forced to make a bike change after puncturing.
However, despite the energy used to get back into the race, Australia well positioned just past the halfway point with three remaining riders Spratt, Elvin and Neylan in the mix. After earlier being involved in a number of attempts to bridge an early breakaway, Garfoot’s team job was done after 55km.
Elvin then formed part of a seven-rider breakaway which highlighted the run towards the Chinesa Vista circuit located 30km from the finish, and although establishing a lead of over one minute, the group was absorbed on the climb.
While much of the race’s pace had been dictated by moves of the major teams including Australia, USA, Great Britain, Germany, the Netherlands and Italy, it quickly became every rider for themselves with the field exploding as the pace lifted on the climb.
Pre-race favourites including Marianne Vos (Netherlands), Megan Guarnier (USA) and Lizzie Armitstead (Great Britain), plus Spratt and Neylan, were among those who lost contact.
The decisive move came on the final climb with Annemiek Van Vleuten (Netherlands) attacking from a select group including Mara Abbott (USA), Anna Van der Breggen (Netherlands), Emma Johansson (Netherlands) and Elisa Longo Borghini (Italy). Van Vleuten went solo and in a near replica of the men's race on Saturday, she crashed heavily while in the lead and lay motionless on the side of the road as Abbott, Johansson, Longo Borghini and Van der Breggen continued to the finish. Team officials confirmed after the race Van Vleuten was in a stable condition in hospital.
“The course was brutal, but we knew it was a tough course with a little bit of everything,” said Spratt. “But each course you are going to face is going to be different, we knew it was a course for the climbers and we picked a team to suit that.
“It was very aggressive race and the mixture of the climbs, and the wind and the cobbles and the final climb to finish, it made for a brutal course.
“I just didn’t quite have the legs to keep with the top climbers, but I am happy with 15th.
“I gave everything I could on the day and this is what I could produce, I have no regrets.”
Neylan didn’t hide her disappointment for not being able to deliver a better result for Australia.
“We put our best foot forward today, unfortunately we didn’t have the result in the end we all had really hoped for,” said Neylan. “We had some bad luck with mechanicals and some bit of troubles on the first lap of the Grumari circuit, so that took a fair bit of energy.
“But we have to be happy with the way we came into the race and how we stuck to the plan.
“Personally I am disappointed that I didn’t have the legs in the end to match it with the top girls on the climb.
“It is the Olympic Games, you want to have big performance, and I did everything I could today. I am disappointed, but I don’t have any regrets.
“But I am extraordinarily proud to be standing here in the green and gold. There are highs and lows. That is sport.”
Fellow debutant Elvin praised her teammates, and in true Aussie spirit, congratulated the medallists.
“I did everything I could today, I didn’t have great legs but I kept fighting and I very proud of myself,” Elvin said. “And I am really proud of my team mates, we kept talking throughout the whole day, and we stuck to the plan.
“We had a few moments that we weren’t in control of the race, and we did the best job we could out there today, but we just weren’t the best.
“But like Amanda said, the podium are worthy winners and we are so happy for them.”
Garfoot will now line up in the women’s individual time trial on Wednesday which begins at 08.30am (9.30pm AEST), with Rohan Dennis to tackle the men’s from 10am (11:00pm AEST).