Marta Bastianelli was just 20 years of age when she soloed to victory at the World Championships in Stuttgart in 2007, denying another youngster, Marianne Vos, a second successive rainbow jersey. Almost 12 years on, the two veterans are still to the fore, illuminating the UCI Women's WorldTour. Vos claimed the Trofeo Alfredo Binda last week, while Bastianelli leads the series after winning at the Ronde van Drenthe.
"I'm certainly very different in the head compared to 2007. I think about things very differently," Bastianelli told Cyclingnews in Bruges ahead of Thursday's Driedaagse Brugge-De Panne. "I'm very calm now, which helps me go well, and I have a family that helps and supports me in everything."
Bastianelli's year in the rainbow jersey, of course, contained precious little by way of calm. On the eve of the Beijing 2008 Olympics, it emerged that she had returned a positive test for the stimulant fenfluramine, which was contained in an appetite suppressant. An initial one-year ban was extended to two after the UCI appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
"Ten years have passed, and I think it's all been forgotten, but those experiences helped me to grow and understand people. I thought I had loyal people around me, but unfortunately that wasn't the case," Bastianelli said. "I always fought for the truth to come out, and maybe that's where I drew the strength to keep riding. It was essential for me to be able to show that I wasn't what they said I was. So now I'm back to the rider I was, and I think that's a great response."
Bastianelli enjoyed the finest season of her career in the colours of Alé Cipollini in 2018, winning Gent-Wevelgem, the Grand Prix de Dottignies and the Brabantse Pijl Dames Gooik during a purple patch in the spring, before capping her campaign with victory at the European Championships road race in Glasgow. The 31-year-old cannot point to any one explanation for her glut of victories.
"It's a question that I'm being asked a lot and, to be honest, I don't really know. I'm doing the same things I've always done before," she said. "I think it's probably a change in mentality, a different way of thinking and not getting stressed out. I'm that bit older and I'm striking the right balance between training and having a family. I've got a small child, and for me it's obviously very important to focus on that part of my life. I think it's a mix of ingredients that has allowed me to stay calm and serene. That's what has made the difference."
A native of Velletri, near Rome, Bastianelli lives in Abruzzo and, bar a brief stint with the Russian-registered Fenixs squad in the latter part of 2010, she had spent the entirety of her career with Italian teams until signing on with Team Virtu Cycling for 2019. The Danish squad is managed by American Carmen Small and boasts a cosmopolitan roster, with Bastianelli part of a small Italian contingent that also includes Barbara Guarischi and Sofia Bertizzolo.
"It's a great experience for me to ride in a foreign team, and especially one that isn't too big," Bastianelli said. "Going to a big team as a big rider is easy when things are going well, but I preferred to have a 'family' around me and I think I've found that, so I'm happy here."
Bastianelli hit the ground running with Virtu, winning the sprint for second behind Chantal Blaak at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in her first race, and then landing the Omloop van het Hageland the following day. Fourth place at Strade Bianche and victory at the Ronde van Drenthe put Bastianelli atop the Women's WorldTour rankings – a position she maintained after placing seventh in De Panne in a bunch sprint won by Kirsten Wild.
On Sunday, Bastianelli will look to defend her title at Gent-Wevelgem, although the following weekend's Tour of Flanders is perhaps the centrepiece of her spring campaign.
"I've won Gent-Wevelgem already, so I'd like to be on the podium in Flanders. I'll do everything for that," she said.
Later in the year, meanwhile, Bastianelli will target the World Championship road race in Yorkshire. The course appears well-suited to her talents as a fast finisher with the ability to survive on the climbs, and national coach Edoardo Savoldi has already designated her the likely leader of the squadra azzurra.
"We believe in it a lot. I'm happy that the national team is showing so much faith in me for this, like they did for the Europeans. We're working together to prepare for Yorkshire. I think it's a Worlds where I can do well. It would be an honour to wear the rainbow jersey again. I'll do everything I can to make that happen, although it's important not to focus too much on that objective right now," Bastianelli added. "Not when there are other important races right now."