Minutes after Marta Cavalli crossed the line dejected, finishing second on the Giro Donne’s penultimate stage she was smiling for the press. Though she had not achieved her aim of a stage win, second overall will be confirmed provided she finishes in Padova on Sunday.
For the second day in a row the 24 year-old FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope rider had been able to dictate the race. And while she was unable to put pressure on race leader Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar), she had turned third place with a 41 second deficit into to second place with a buffer of 4-18 over Mavi García (UAE Team ADQ).
“Yesterday after the stage, I was so happy because finally I did the race I expected,” she explained, shouting against the podium announcer a few metres away. “Last evening I spoke with my coach and he said, ‘you have one day more in the pocket, you can do another day like today.'"
The team tried to control the race but on the first of three ascents Italian climber Gaia (Realini Isolmant-Premac-Vittoria) and eventual stage winner Kristen Faulkner (Bike Exchange-Jayco) got away. Then, on the descent Cavalli’s team mate Brodie Chapman was part of a four woman group who headed up the road, putting in place the team’s stage strategy of having someone ahead to help out if needed.
Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig and Evita Muzic helped out on the climbs but on the final, punishing ascent of Passo Daone it was Cavalli’s moment, taking the lead after García attacked but achieved little.
“When we arrived at the last climb I thought only to win the stage because it was so important for me during this Giro. I never I attacked I just kept my pace, and I tried to push harder in the last five kilometres of the climb, it was really hard.”
Van Vleuten stayed with her to the top, and though the Dutch woman was distanced on the descent they joined together with Realini and Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo)
“We tried to really go full gas to close the gap to Faulkner, because it was my dream to win stage in this Giro. I am now sad and disappointed because a lot of people came here to support me and I think they deserved a win."
Two second places, one third and fourth place on the race’s only mountain top finish alone would be enough for most, but second on GC is the realisation of the team’s ambitions for the year, along with Cavalli winning both Amstel Gold and Flèche Wallonne in the spring.
The team have matured hugely in the last four years and, barring disaster will finish in Padova on Sunday as by far and away the race’s best team. They started with three classy climbers in Cavalli, Uttrup Ludwig and Muzic and will take the same core to the Tour de France Femmes, with Cavalli switching roles to support Uttrup Ludwig in the GC battle.
Her performance on home soil over the last 10 days has seen Cavalli develop from a promise into a real GC contender and she is hopeful for the future.
“I'm confident,” she asserts with total authority. “I already did a big jump with my coach and with my team, we know I have some a gap to close but I can improve. We just have to go step by step, don’t push too much and wait for my body’s answer and we will see where I can go. For the moment I'm really happy about what I did until today.”
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