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Marta Cavalli (FDJ-Suez-Futuroscope) has been one of the breakout stars of the 2022 season.
The 24-year-old Italian came good on her potential in the spring with standout wins at the Amstel Gold Race and Flèche Wallonne. She backed that up with second overall to Annemiek van Vleuten at the Giro d’Italia Donne and now she’s ready to shine at the Tour de France Femmes.
Cavalli is quickly becoming one of the toughest competitors in the bunch and neither she nor her coaches know how good she can get.
“I started to improve at the beginning of the year, and I’m still in this way. We don’t know when I can stop my improvement,” Cavalli told VeloNews in a video call recently. “We are also really looking forward to the next years because we’re actually not in a rush. We will take our time and we’ll see how it works.”
Cavalli’s rise to the top hasn’t been a sudden one. She has shown promise since stepping into the pro ranks as an 18-year-old. Top-10 performances in races like Omloop Het Nieuwsblad back in 2018 with Valcar-PBM — the same team that has developed talents such as Elisa Balsamo — showed she had plenty to give.
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It was results like those that attracted the attention of the French FDJ squad, which she joined last year. Like many Italians, she’s spent a lot of her early racing career on the track. But that has taken a back seat in recent seasons, and she gave it up completely when she stepped up to the WorldTour.
The Italian is now fully invested in the development project that her team has set out for her and her teammates.
“Last year, they proposed to me a project to grow, then I married [committed to – ed.] this project, because I know I want to be involved in a longer-term project,” she said. “They have all the people that can help me to improve, from the coach to the materials. When they saw my improvement, also the sponsor became involved more, and they invested more in the team and then they saw other improvements. Now we are in a loop that everybody is more focused on the improvement because everybody wants to see how much further we can go.”
Cavalli’s and her team’s investment in her development has reaped big rewards so far this season from the classics to the Giro. Her persistent performances are giving Cavalli a growing sense of self-belief that is then going back into her racing.
“I gained a lot of confidence in the last month. Amstel was a surprise, I really enjoyed this victory. It made me really proud because tactically we made a really good plan and it worked out. And it makes me a little bit more confident,” Cavalli said. “Huy [at Flèche Wallonne -ed] was a really important strength show for me because I show that I can beat the strongest rider in women’s cycling in Van Vleuten. And during Giro, I confirm that I can be at a really high level.”
Going all-in for Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig
With some of the best results of her career so far this season, Cavalli wants to take her form into the Tour de France Femmes later this week. She could be a dark horse for the overall classification, but Cavalli says that her primary intention is to support Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig in her GC ambitions.
Cavalli hopes to be able to set up the Dane on the major climbs and help put the team’s rivals under some strain.
“We already know that I’m good in stage races because my body reacts really well after a few stages,” Cavalli told VeloNews. “I think I will be at the start of Tour with more confidence again. Now I know where I can make the difference and where I will suffer. I would like to avoid situations that are worse for me, and maybe I can be the first rider that proposes a good pace on the climb like strong effort or something like that. I can play the stage as I prefer, and I also can talk to the team about how I can manage the climb for them.”
Uttrup Ludwig and Cavalli have not raced together much this season since riding to a 2-3 at the Setmana Ciclista Valenciana back in February. They had been due to take dual leadership at the Ardennes classics but Uttrup Ludwig was sidelined by COVID-19 for much of the spring, and then Cavalli crashed out of the Vuelta a Burgo in May.
The two finally got a proper stint together at the Giro d’Italia Donne with Uttrup Ludwig supporting Cavalli to second, while also riding to sixth overall herself. Uttrup Ludwig is only two years older than Cavalli, but she has a wealth of experience as a leader that the Italian is keen to learn from.
“I like [working with her] because she’s strong and she’s a good leader, she can guide me and tell me what she prefers that I do,” Cavalli said. “I’m pretty sure we will have a good feeling during all the race because it’s really important to be close and to speak about everything she feels and how I feel so we can think with one mind and stay focused and stay together, especially in the hardest moments.
“We already have a good base together and we can do really good races. We will see day by day, but it’s important to start in a good mood for the first stages when the race will be the hardest. The legs will talk.”
While neither Cavalli nor Uttrup Ludwig is French they will be riding for the top French team in the race and will have to absorb the attention that this will bring. Cavalli says she’s ready to leave it all out on the road for her team and the French fans.
“I’m already mentally ready to be surrounded by about a million people who want the picture,” Cavalli said with a laugh. “I know is a big goal for the team and so all the team can be a bit stressed about that.
“I can really understand the feeling of being in a French team and in a French race because it’s the same for me to be in an Italian race. I will give all my heart and I will push all my energy on the road because I know how important it is to shine in this race for the team.”