After almost a decade of Anna van der Breggen dominance, April 2022 saw the coronation of a new Queen of the Ardennes.
Before smashing her way through it, Marta Cavalli of FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope had been tapping politely at the door of success for some time. In 2020 and 2021 she seemed to collect top 10 finishes like they were Pokemon cards, but a podium’s top step always eluded her.
Then came Amstel Gold Race. It was a victory the team had targeted and worked for.
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“Our goal was to achieve as much as we could in the first races,” she tells The Cycling Show this week, available to watch on discovery+. “My motivation was really high.”
Cavalli ‘comes of age’ with Amstel Gold success
Cavalli attributes her breakthrough to a recalibration of her approach:
“I worked all the winter with this focus in my mind,” she says. “I did more quality training. Less, but more focused on specific efforts. To be able to react, for example, to big attacks like Annemiek [van Vleuten] or [Elisa] Longo Borghini and be ready to attack these riders.”
It was certainly effective at Amstel Gold Race. In the closing kilometres, having made it into a select group of seven, the Italian sprung a surprise attack over the top of the Cauberg. Cavalli rode solo to the Valkenburg finish line to claim her first victory at WorldTour level and her team’s first of the season of any kind.
Last week, at Fleche Wallonne Feminine, she doubled up. Making it to the top of the Mur de Huy with only Van Vleuten for company, Cavalli had enough left in the legs to punch the pedals and pull past the Dutch star for a famous victory.
'Absolutely phenomenal performance' Cavalli claims Fleche Wallonne with stunning sprint finish
Although unable to make it an Ardennes hat trick at Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Cavalli can be more than satisfied with her spring campaign. The target for the summer is, unsurprisingly, the Tour de France Femmes, which returns at the end of July.
“For our team it is a big goal,” says Cavalli. “Maybe the main goal because, as I learned last year, they are mainly motivated to be good in each French race.”
Though individual opportunities may come her way, her primary objective will be to support team-mate Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig, who is expected to compete for the overall race victory.
“We want to fight for the yellow jersey,” Cavalli says.
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The race, she believes, will come down at least as much to what happens away from the mountains as the battles that are sure to take place on Le Grand Ballon and La Planches des Belles Filles:
“A lot of climbers are not used to riding on gravel or on cobbled sectors and in the Tour de France that will be the key to stages and also to the general classification,” Cavalli says. “I can ride in front, guide my captain. The goal is to arrive safely in these stages and maybe save energy, not just physically but mentally, for the next stages.”
For the 24 year-old, more than just sporting glory, the race offers the opportunity for the sport to capture the public’s imagination once again.
“We want to show how beautiful cycling is,” she says.
As Cavalli sees it, “it’s a loop. If more people fall in love with women’s cycling, more people will see us, and more TV and media can be interested. [That means] more sponsors, more money, more teams and if a lot of people support us - photographers, video-makers, you for example, this show - more people can understand what women’s cycling is. Because it’s not the same as men’s. It’s the same sport but different feelings.”
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