For most riders, just to represent their country at the world championships is a great honour. To do...
An interview with Noemi Cantele, September 26, 2008
Fourth at the last two world championships, Noemi Cantele goes into the weekend’s road race as one of the leading contenders. Ben Atkins spoke to the Italian women’s team captain as she made her last minute preparations.
For most riders, just to represent their country at the world championships is a great honour. To do so when those world championships are in their home country is something else; if those same world titles are in the town where they were born and grew up, it's another thing entirely. If that rider happens to have a genuine chance of victory then the stage is set for a fairytale.
When we caught up with Noemi Cantele she had just returned home after racing the Giro della Toscana, a race she won last year. Despite second place on the second stage behind Dutch superstar Marianne Vos, she finished the race in 16th overall. This year she entered the race with intentions other than victory. "It was good for my goal," she says, "because I didnt want to be 100 percent there. I looked only at the first two stages and then I used it to be okay for [this] Saturday."
Ah, yes, Saturday. The worlds in Varese. Her hometown. Surely it must be a little bit exciting to have the world championships in your hometown?
"A lot, not a little bit! For me, its like a dream," Cantele explains. "Today I went on the lap for training and now I can really understand the atmosphere; the feelings are really different from the other world championships. The finish is also really special, because inside the cycling stadium, the setting is amazing."
There are quite a few cyclists based in the area; for example, a number of Australian Institute of Sport riders have their European base in Varese. No one has quite the same claim as Cantele to be the real local girl, however. "Yes, I was born in Varese, and I live five kilometres outside. I went to the university so it's really my town. I train every day on these roads, so I know everything."
With that kind of local knowledge, surely nobody will know Saturdays course as well. "I don't think so," she laughs again. "Also, its not a big city so everybody knows me, and when you train its... now the city is really ready for the world championships!"
Despite being the local girl, it seems that she's not feeling the expected pressure yet, although she expects it at some point soon. "I dont know," she said. "I think I feel less pressure than last year, I dont know why. Okay, now Im [racing] at home so I dont think that [there's no pressure], but when I go to the hotel where I will stay with the national team... Then I think it will be a little bit different. We're in Italy, and the world championships are here, and everybody wants us to do really well, so I think the pressure will increase. Its normal - its no problem."
At the last two world championships Cantele has finished in fourth place, demoralisingly just off the podium. She actually crossed the line in fifth in 2007, but fourth placed finisher Svetlana Bubnenkova has since been disqualified, so it's a pair of fourths for the Italian. It was the first of these in 2006 that was the most frustrating though, as the sprint with Great Britains Nicole Cooke was so close.
"Yes, the most [frustrating] was in Salzburg," explains Cantele. "It was really bad because I lost third position by one centimetre in the finish, and it was not so nice. Okay, last year was a strange race because I crashed and I was really good, but I was not so lucky. We made a really good race as a team so it was a little bit different." On that occasion, team-mate Marta Bastianelli rode away to finish solo and Giorgia Bronzini took bronze in the sprint.
"Now I am in my town; I was so close to the podium before, I would like to reach the podium this time!"
That crash, caused by a collapsing barrier on the course that put paid to the chances of a number of riders, also caused Cantele to change her tactics. As she explains, it wasn't for the better. "It was like when you are shocked a little bit," she continues, "Just after it I attacked with [USA rider Amber] Neben; that was not a good choice! I should have waited for the next lap, but its like a reaction from the crash - very strange. It was like I wanted to see if everything was okay because I hit my knee and my head, so I was a little bit confused. But every race is different."
A different approach in '08
In recent years Cantele has enjoyed considerable success in the latter part of the season. She has had two victories in the Grand Prix Plouay World Cup (2005 and 2007) plus overall success in the Trophée d'Or Féminin and Giro della Toscana last year. This is not entirely by design, she claims, but a feature of her own physical characteristics; this years late summer target proved to be a disappointment, however.
"I dont know why I race like this," she laughed. "I need a lot of time to get fit; I dont know, its a little bit strange. But this year it was also the Olympic Games, and I had a physical problem between Thuringen and the Olympics. It was a little bit hard after Beijing because I looked forward to this race a lot and because of the physical problem I was not 100 percent in the race. Just after it I had to change the page, reset everything and focus on Saturday."
Despite her own disappointment, the bronze medal for Tatiana Guderzo - and the silver for Davide Rebellin in the mens road race - meant that the Olympic experience was overall a positive one.
"At the Olympics," says Cantele, "I think its really good when you get a podium, because every other position means nothing. I think for Italy it was really, really positive, especially for womens cycling, because since Altlanta I think that we hadnt won any medals. I also think in the last year we have been pretty good, and I wish really that also Saturday we can be strong; be one team, really connected."
The Italian team for Saturdays world championship consists of Cantele, Guderzo, Fabiana Luperini, Georgina Bronzini, Monia Baccaille and Eva Lechner. In that list are four obvious leaders, but Cantele still feels that they will be able to work well together. "I think we are a very good team," she says, "I think we are four [leaders in herself, Guderzo, Luperini and Bronzini], but we have different qualities. We can look at different riders - I think everyone will have a job during the race, and each will be very specific. We havent spoken about this yet, but well see."
Being a good team will be vital, if they are to overcome the one person that she and most other people see as the hottest favourite for the victory. "I think the rider is [Marianne] Vos," she explained, "because she is really, really, fast and if the race is not fast then its also a big problem. Bronzini is fast, but I think that Vos is always the fastest. In Toscana she was good again and I think she will be strong on Saturday."
Luckily for the Italian team, Cantele feels that another strong team will have the same idea in mind. "At this moment Judith Arndt and [Trixi] Worrack are really fit, so I think [we] and the German team have to make the race. If we wait for Vos shell kill us! In the Olympic Games, if Guderzo didnt attack - if there was not the breakaway - Vos could win again because she has such an incredible sprint. Even if, I think, she was not 100 percent during the race. She was really hiding in the bunch and you never saw her. She is able to wait, so I think the German team and us have to find a way not to arrive with her."
Whether or not the Italian team manages to shake Marianne Vos before the race enters the Mapei Cycling Stadium on Saturday, expect Noemi Cantele to be there fighting for the medals. Maybe shell even get one this time.
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