She is the revelation of the spring. Winner of the Amstel Gold Race by catching out the favourites before the red flame and of the Flèche Wallonne by being the strongest on the Mur de Huy, Marta Cavalli changed her profile during the Ardennes Classics. Now sure of her strength, the world n°6 confirmed this at the beginning of June with a new success at the top of the giant of Provence, the end of the Mont Ventoux Dénivelé Challenge. The 23-year-old Italian is now widely feared. She dreams of claiming the pink jersey in the Giro this summer and wants to support her teammate Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig in her quest for the general classification in the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift.
During your climb of the Ventoux, you were seen glancing at the Tom Simpson stele. What does this victory on these slopes laden with history mean to you?
It's a new step up for women's cycling. We entered a new dimension. It was a great feeling to be the first to arrive at the top of a cycling monument. There was a huge turn-out of people on the side of the road. It was a great day for us.
You were born in Cremona, in Lombardy. Is that where you grew up?
Yes, and I still live there! I only leave home for the races. I know it's not the ideal place to train. It's very flat, the winter is cold, it's foggy... But I like it! I don't fancy moving at the moment.
Are you still living with your parents?
Yes, we live together.
Like Alberto Bettiol, when he won the Tour of Flanders in 2019.
Of course, sometimes it's nice to be independent. But it's good not to be alone at home and to have someone to help you, especially when you travel all year round. But I'm still young. I'll probably think about it in the future, but not for the time being!
Did cycling come into your life through your father?
Yes, but it also comes from my grandfather, who loved the sport. He used to manage a youth team, about 50 years ago, and my father raced as an amateur. From the time I was 2-3 years old, I went to see him race every Sunday with my mother. There were always bicycles around. I think that made the difference!
"I knew right away that this was the sport for me. And today it's my profession!" How old were you when you started?
I was 11 years old. I waited a bit! I started doing artistic gymnastics and volleyball, among other things. Eventually I told my parents that I wanted to have a go. There was a small youth team near Cremona. I knew right away that this was the sport for me. And today it's my profession!
What motivated you to start at the age of 11?
Because it was an individual sport, maybe. I wanted to show all my determination and strength in an individual sport. In the end, I learned that it was not just about that. For example, at the Ventoux, it wasn't just my victory, but that of the entire team.
What is your first memory of the Tour?
One of the very first is Chris Froome... running on foot on the Ventoux.
Did you think about this during your race?
Yes, a little! The day before, I looked for videos of the Ventoux, to try to memorize the turns, and I also came across this one.
When you were young, did you go and watch the Giro, or other races, from the roadside?
Yes, and still today, because I still love it! In 2013, the last stage of the women's Giro was a time trial that finished in Cremona. I went there with my father and took a photo with Marianne Vos. I look at it sometimes and think: "I was young, I knew nothing about women's cycling and now I'm racing with Marianne!"
Did you have an idol?
Yes, Mark Cavendish. Once the Giro sprints were over, I would get on my bike and try to imitate him on the road! Maybe that's one of the reasons I got into cycling.
Was it a dream of yours to become a professional rider?
No, I didn't really think about it. It came naturally, year after year. When I think back, I ask myself how I ended up doing it!
Was there another profession that you wanted to do?
No, not that I can recall.
What did you study?
I was a science student in high school. I went to university but it was hard to reconcile with cycling. I had to stop. But I think I'll go back in the future, because I like studying. For now, I have decided to put all my energy into cycling.
What does it mean to you to know that you can beat anyone in a race as tough as the Flèche Wallonne?
A lot of things. Before, I was never sure of myself and this uncertainty used to drain me of a lot of energy. Now I know I can do it. And so do the people around me. They trust me. It's a whole new dimension. But on the other hand, nothing has changed in my life. I'm still with the same team, I want to go in the same direction. I've just gained confidence in myself.
Does this change your outlook for the Tour de France? Is the plan still to support Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig or will you race for yourself?
No, it's still the same game plan. I'll go to the Giro for the general. And I will support Ludwig in the Tour. We have had a look at the final three stages, I liked them! We will have our opportunities and I am sure it will be a great experience. The team is motivated, we have already won a lot. We will go to the Tour with determination.
What would be a successful Tour?
If we can wear the yellow jersey for just one day, that would be great. But we also want to make a splash, to put on a show for the people and cycling.
Track racing was your entry point to the top level. Do you still compete on it?
Not really. In training sometimes, because it's good exercise and good for the head. But having decided to improve in the mountains, it wouldn't be a good idea to combine road and track again. Before (until 2020) I raced a lot with the national team. The track allowed me to understand what kind of efforts are made for me. I have developed technical skills there. On the track, you are always flat out and you have to make decisions quickly. This helps me on the road. I am confident when the speed is high and riding downhill. It has helped me to become a complete cyclist.