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Amanda Spratt is raring to go in 2021 after undergoing a leg operation last fall but results will take time.
The Australian had surgery to fix an iliac artery endofibrosis in October of 2021 and only returned to full training in December. After a long time off the bike, and very little training, Spratt made her return to racing last month with the Santos Festival of Cycling — a series of bike races that have been held in place of the Tour Down Under due to recent COVID-19 restrictions.
There was no pressure for her to perform as she’s still in recovery, but Spratt was there to help her teammate Ruby Roseman-Gannon, who won the overall title. With little form in her legs, it was hard to say just how well Spratt’s operation helped, but there were some good signs.
“It was a bit harder to in some ways, because I’m not really fit at the moment, I’m still very much going through my rehab and getting building-up again,” Spratt told VeloNews. “The first day was just this huge shock to the system and didn’t feel great at all but I did feel better the second day and felt better again, the third day, and also the fourth day.
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“For me, that was probably the biggest thing in terms of my recovery and rehab that I took out of it is that I was getting better every day. That’s something that for the last year and a half that just was not happening at all.”
With some race days in the bank, Spratt can look to the future and her European program. Having had a long stint at home in Australia, something she hasn’t been able to do recently due to COVID-19, she returned to Europe last week and is ready to get her season underway at Strade Bianche and Trofeo Alfredo Binda next month.
As in Australia, those races are opportunities to get her form back ahead of bigger goals at the Ardennes classics, the Tour de France Femmes, and her home world championships in Wollongong.
“I’m definitely eyeing off Flèche and Liège to hopefully be in good form there,” she said. “We’ll see how the first peak comes after the time off, certainly still have a lot of work to do, so I’m not putting too much pressure on myself. But definitely looking ahead to that and then to July and September as well.
“I think it’s still going be a long road back. Don’t expect any big results until sort of six months after the operation so that’ll be around mid-April. Until then, I’m not putting too much pressure on myself at the moment, but I know there’s a lot of big goals coming up this year, and a lot of them are later in the year as well.”
Struggling with the unknown
Spratt knew something was wrong for some time. The Australian rider, who has two world road championship medals and podium finishes at the Giro d’Italia to her name, had been struggling for months throughout the 2021 season but she couldn’t put a finger on what was causing it.
Initially, she had blamed it on the lingering after-effects of a concussion she suffered following a heavy crash at the Giro d’Italia Donne back in 2020. But as time went on, she still couldn’t shake it off and by late summer 2021, she knew she had to find an answer.
“I’m a rider that always gets stronger throughout races. Others start to get weaker and tired, and one of my biggest strengths was that I could do some of my best efforts on day nine or day 10 of the Giro and that just wasn’t happening,” Spratt told VeloNews in a recent video call.
“Then, I went to the Olympics, then the same thing. As soon as it got really hard, my legs just exploded. It was really devastating day for me. I knew something was up there and it just didn’t make any sense.”
Spratt went to the Australian Cycling team doctor Kevyn Hernandez, who suggested she get checked out for iliac artery endofibrosis. Through Hernandez and her BikeExchange team, she was fast-tracked for an appointment where it was confirmed she had the condition — a relatively common one for endurance athletes, particularly cyclists — which restricts blood flow to the leg.
To fix it, Spratt would need a procedure that would use a section of a vein to replace the affected portion of the artery. There would also be a long period of recovery as the vein strengthened, but Spratt was happy to finally know what was causing her troubles.
“It was definitely a relief to have an answer. Because I was thinking, I’m really doing everything right, following my training, and I really believe in my training and have a great relationship with my coach as well,” she said. “I’m the sort of person that likes a plan or likes to know what’s next and set goals and work towards them. So, it was really good just to have that answer, and then say this is really shit, but it’s also good to have an answer.”
Spratt had to spend six days in hospital following her operation in mid-October and it was a further six weeks before she could touch her bike again. In order to allow the vein to bed in properly — without putting too much strain on it — she had to wait until late December before she was able to ramp up her training.
“For the first six weeks, I couldn’t do any riding at all. I was doing some walking, and a little bit of swimming, but even then, it was hard to keep my heart rate low enough. And then I could start to sort of do a little bit on the bike, but I mean, it was not much at all,” Spratt said.
“I just put on a good Netflix series and felt like just moving my legs, but nothing was really happening. That was quite hard, but I had a really great support network around me that sort of kept me focused.”