Marta Cavalli was perhaps not the expected victor at Sunday's Amstel Gold Race, but the Italian raced a canny final after making the cut in an elite lead group on the final ascent of the Cauberg.
The 24-year-old stole away on the famous climb to leave behind favourites such as Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar), Demi Vollering (SD Worx), and Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) to solo to the win in Berg en Terblijt and deliver the biggest triumph of her career to date.
After the finish Cavalli said that her Amstel Gold Race win wasn't just down to her legs, noting that she hadn't expected it, after not feeling in top form in the lead-up to the race and even during the race itself.
"The feeling is just incredible, unbelievable," she said. "The win is just unpredicted. I felt good in the last weeks, but nothing super, but sometimes the race is not just legs, but also heart and head.
"I believe in my sport director because he helped me to be ready in this moment to take the opportunity. We had nothing to lose and I'm really happy to take the win.
"The move wasn't planned because in the last 50km I hadn't got a really good feeling. Then we were called to stay in the wheel and look what can see what can happen at the top," she said of her race winning attack.
Cavalli said that her FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine-Futuroscope team, which was down Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig at the race due to COVID-19, came into 2022 with the intent to race aggressively, something she put into practice after getting into that lead group following Van Vleuten's attack on the Cauberg.
The Italian made her move as the elite group of seven women crested the top of the hill for the fourth and final climb, and moments later she crossed the line alone with her hands on her head, looking shocked at what she had achieved.
"We started the season with the motto of all or nothing and I tried and went," Cavalli said. "After 500 metres I turned my head back I saw a big gap and it was just pushing until the finish line.
"The last time Annemiek tried to make a gap and pushed harder. At the top there were just seven riders. I was back in the last wheels and then they slowed down in the front and I took the opportunity to make a gap.
"Yesterday we spoke [of] this moment when in front they slow down and in the back you have more speed. Then it happened and I tried."
Former Italian road champion Cavalli has been there or thereabouts in several major races during her career so far. She has a second place at Brabantse Pijl to her name as well as a fifth place at Gent-Wevelgem, a sixth at the Tour of Flanders, and top 10s at Paris-Roubaix, Strade Bianche, and the Tokyo Olympics road race.
She said that this win, the third of her career but a breakthrough at Women's WorldTour level, represented a major step forward, adding that she can trust herself more, too.
"I think this is the final step I needed," she said. "Last year I did a step and since the beginning of the year we were working harder to be able to battle for a win. I think that now we're in a new dimension. I have more trust in myself and it's a good thing."
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Daniel Ostanek is Senior News Writer at Cyclingnews, having joined in 2017 as a freelance contributor and later being hired full-time. Prior to joining the team, he had written for numerous major publications in the cycling world, including CyclingWeekly, Rouleur, and CyclingTips.
Daniel has reported from the world's top races, including the Tour de France and the spring Classics, and has interviewed many of the sport's biggest stars, including Wout van Aert, Remco Evenepoel, Demi Vollering, and Anna van der Breggen.
As well as original reporting, news and feature writing, and production work, Daniel also oversees The Leadout newsletter and How to Watch guides throughout the season. His favourite races are Strade Bianche and the Volta a Portugal.