Following her victory at La Flèche Wallonne Féminine on Wednesday, Marta Cavalli (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope) now sits one race victory away from a famous and rare Ardennes treble.
The Italian was among the riders to watch at the start of the hilly Classics 10 days ago, but few would have predicted that she would be two from two after winning the Amstel Gold Race and Flèche. She is now seeking to become the only woman after Anna van der Breggen to do the triple this Sunday at Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
To claim her second victory of the season, Cavalli outfoxed Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) on the final run to the line, having made it across the Dutch woman who made her move at just over 500 metres to go on the steep slopes.
Heading around the right-left on the Chemin des Chapelles before the long sweeping bend to the finishing straight, Cavalli worked her way past Liane Lippert (Team DSM) and Demi Vollering (SD Worx) as she jumped onto Van Vleuten's wheel, holding steady there until the closing metres, where she unleashed her race-winning sprint.
"For me it's a big surprise because in Amstel I won in a different way," she told reporters in the post-race press conference. "I surprised everybody with an attack but today I was just in the best shape of all the other riders.
"It's a surprise for me because we planned a good tactic for the race and the team worked so hard for me, but I didn't expect to be able to push in the last 100 metres more than Annemiek and make a difference.
"I tried to stay as calm as possible because I know that in the last metres, the Mur de Huy is less steep and if I have a little bit of energy left in my body, I can push here," she added. "Then I tried to stay in the wheel and wait until the end to be sure to not fail close to the finish line because we saw a lot of time some riders try to anticipate too much and after they didn't find the legs for the final. Then I wait and in the end the timing was quite perfect."
Cavalli, who said that she was surprised to win Amstel after stealing away from an elite lead group just after the final climb before the finishing straight, said she felt the same emotion after Flèche having beaten the veteran Van Vleuten, a rider with a long history of success.
Her win also comes just three days after riding a punishing Paris-Roubaix Femmes, where she finished fifth. Cavalli said she was still in pain from the 125km race across the harsh cobbles of northern France.
"It's not the best preparation because still yesterday and also today I had pain in all my body and my back and arms are still hurting," Cavalli said. "It's not easy to recover from Roubaix especially if you have Flèche in front of you.
"It was quite a surprise to race today because in the beginning of the year this race wasn't in my plan. Maybe if we have to replan the season we avoid Roubaix, but we like this kind of feeling to be maybe different than everybody and listen my body."
Cavalli will now head to Liège-Bastogne-Liège to seek the third part of an Ardennes triple only achieved three times in history across both women's and men's pelotons. She noted that she doesn't have expectations for La Doyenne, but will seek to stay quiet until the final and hopes to arrive at the finish as part of a small group.
"This morning I didn't have expectations for Liège because I'm really confident with my shape," she said. "I did three good races in a row, and I have nothing to lose. I will play quiet and wait until the last climbs.
"I know Liège can also be a good race for me, but sometimes the final result is decided in a sprint. I would like to arrive in as small a bunch as possible. Never say never. I have three days to recover, we'll do some recon, and we'll wait for Sunday without pressure."
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